Volleyball Falls in Five to Alabama
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Senior middle blocker Nicole Britenriker (Cincinnati, Ohio) recorded a season-high 22 kills Friday and Kentucky fought valiantly from a two-game deficit, but was unable to complete the comeback, falling to Alabama in five games (22-30, 23-30, 30-23, 30-23, 12-15) in The CAVE.
Britenriker led Kentucky (16-6, 7-4 Southeastern Conference) with her team-leading 13th double-double of the season. Her 22 kills came on .486 hitting to complement 13 digs. Junior middle blocker Queen Nzenwa (Baltimore, Md.) followed with 15 kills and a team-high seven blocks, while setter Sarah Rumely recorded seven kills on .500 hitting with 60 assists and 13 digs. The Wildcats hit .258 for the match, while Alabama (11-9, 8-3) hit .231. Kentucky out-blocked the Crimson Tide 10-8.
A trio of Kentucky players each recorded nine kills as Sarah Mendoza (Orlando, Fla.), Brooke Bartek (Lincoln, Neb.) and Lauren Rapp (Indianapolis, Ind.) each had nine put-downs. Rapp posted five blocks to go with her nine kills. Sophomore defensive specialist BriAnne Sauer (Louisville, Ky.) headed the defensive effort with 21digs.
The Wildcats raced to a 6-3 advantage in the opening game as Britenriker capped off that scoring streak by soaring above the net to triumphantly kill a free ball down the middle. Alabama rallied with three consecutive points to knot the score at 6-6, but Rumely registered a crafty kill on second contact to put Kentucky back in front at 7-6. That put-down commenced a 4-0 run by the Cats that extended their advantage to 10-6. The Crimson Tide hung tough, cutting their deficit to one on two occasions. With UK leading 13-12, Rapp recorded a kill off the block before a ball-handling error was called on Alabama setter Brigitte Slack to put the Cats ahead 15-12 and force UA head coach Judy Green to burn a timeout.
Out of the break, the Crimson Tide scored a pair of points to come within one, but Britenriker drilled a sharp kill down the line to silence the Alabama faithful. The Crimson Tide managed to tie the score at 17 before pulling in front 21-19 on a ball-handling error by Bartek that caused a UK timeout. A kill by Rapp stopped Alabama’s scoring streak, but the Tide kept rolling to a 25-21 advantage heading into another UK break. The Crimson Tide scored the last four points of the first game to win 30-22. Kentucky hit a strong .394 in the opening frame, but Alabama had a .531 hitting efficiency in game one.
The two teams battled evenly to begin game two before the Wildcats broke a 9-9 tie with a kill by Britenriker off the block to go ahead 10-9. After two more ties, the Crimson Tide went in front 13-11 after back-to-back kills by Alabama’s Brooks Webster. Two consecutive attack errors by the Wildcats allowed the Crimson Tide to go up by three, 17-14. Britenriker notched back-to-back kills to stop the Alabama rally and bring the Cats within one, 17-16. The Crimson Tide then scored six consecutive points to extend their lead to six, 22-16, and force UK head coach Craig Skinner to use a timeout. Out of the break, the Wildcats scored three consecutive points, including a kill and an ace by Britenriker to cut their deficit to three, 22-19. A kill by Nzenwa brought UK as close as 24-20, but Alabama closed out the 30-23 game-two victory.
Alabama staked to a 9-8 advantage in the third game before Rumely registered kill and then served an ace on back-to-back plays to put the Wildcats ahead 10-9. The Crimson Tide responded with four consecutive points to extend their advantage to 13-10 and cause a Kentucky timeout. With the Cats trailing 16-11, Nzenwa, Britenriker and Rumely notched consecutive kills as part of a 4-0 rally that brought UK as close as one, 16-15. Two consecutive put-downs from Britenriker knotted the score at 19-all before an Alabama attack error put the Wildcats back in front 20-19. After three more ties, the Wildcats pulled in front 24-22 after a UA service error and a kill by Britenriker. Nzenwa and Rapp posted a resounding block on the ensuing play to put UK up 25-22 and force an Alabama timeout. The Wildcats scored five of the game’s next six points, using tenacious defense to score a 30-23 victory, capped off by a Britenriker kill.
Kentucky streaked to a 5-2 advantage in game four after back-to-back put-downs by Britenriker. Three consecutive Wildcat points, capped off by a Bartek kill extended UK’s lead to five, 10-5. An ace by Rumely extended Kentucky’s advantage to 13-6 and the Wildcats kept rolling to a 16-8 lead after back-to-back Alabama attack errors. After a kill by Nicole Britenriker put UK up 19-12, the Crimson Tide began whittling away at their deficit to come within five, 19-14. Kills by Britenriker and Nzenwa on consecutive plays extended UK’s advantage to 22-16. Nzenwa and Rapp teamed for a resounding block on the right side that moved the Cats ahead 24-18. An ace by Rapp made it 27-20 Kentucky before Alabama began cutting back into the lead. A kill by Bartek on the outside brought the Cats to game point at 29-23 before a block by Bartek and Nzenwa gave UK the 30-23 win.
Kentucky broke to a 3-2 lead in the decisive game after back-to-back kills by Rapp. The Crimson Tide responded with six consecutive points to go up 8-3 as the teams switched sides. Britenriker had three kills on four plays that brought the Cats within three, 10-7, but Alabama extended its lead back out to 12-8. Back-to-back errors on the Crimson Tide put UK within two, 12-10. A ball-handling error against Alabama brought the Cats as close as one, 13-12, before the Tide scored to make it match point and closed out the win on a block solo.
Kentucky returns to action Sunday when it travels to Starkville, Miss., to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Opening serve is set for 2 p.m. EDT and the match will be televised live on Fox Sports Net South with Bernie Guenther and Phil Bush calling the action.