Wildcats Fall to Alabama in SEC Closer
The Kentucky volleyball team dropped its final Southeastern Conference match of the season with a 3-0 loss to Alabama on Sunday afternoon in The Cave. The win clinches the SEC Western Division title for the Crimson Tide. Kentucky falls to 12-16 with the loss and closes the year with a 3-13 record in league play, while Alabama moves to 20-7, 10-6 in the SEC.
Kentucky was led by captain Amy Kaplan with 13 kills on .435 hitting and five blocks. Julie Gagnon came off the bench to tally a career-best nine kills on .421 hitting. She also had a career-best three blocks to go with eight digs. Alex Montefalco had nine kills as well, while adding eight digs. Jenni Casper also had eight digs for UK.
Alabama’s Kelley Potter started the match off with a bang, taking two of the first three points with strong kills to help guide the Tide to an early 7-2 lead. Following a UK timeout, Alabama continued to build its lead, extending to a 10-point advantage at 25-15. The Wildcats were able to grab four more points, but couldn’t overcome a commanding Tide attack, losing the game 30-19. Alabama hit an astounding .531 in the game to Kentucky’s .211.
The second game saw more even play early on as the teams fought through four early ties before Alabama earned an 11-8 lead. Kentucky called a timeout to regroup and came back to cut the lead to one on a shot from Kristen Cunningham down the middle. Bama’s Erin Heffner took kills on three of the next four rallies to put the Tide up 15-12, but the Wildcats clawed back again, coming within one at 18-17 on a block from Gagnon and Montefalco.
The Wildcats saw several more close scores before Gagnon put down her fourth kill in five plays to give UK its first lead at 21-20. Cunningham and Wallace followed with a block to give UK a two-point edge and force a Crimson Tide timeout. Alabama responded with two quick kills to tie the score at 22, and the teams saw another timeout at 23. The Tide took four straight points to lead 27-23 and then later went on game point at 29-26. Kentucky’s blockers stepped up big and allowed the Cats back in the game by tying the score at 29. Alabama hit a ball off the UK block to go on game point again, but Gagnon evened the score again with a kill to make it 30-30.
A block from Gagnon and Cunningham put UK on game point at 31-30, but the Tide knotted the score with a kill and then went on game point again after blocking a shot from Gagnon. A Montefalco hit on a free ball was ruled long and gave the Tide the 33-31 victory and a 2-0 advantage in the match. Gagnon posted a team-high five kills on .333 hitting in the game.
Kentucky controlled the tempo in game three, taking a 5-1 lead after a Tide service error. The Tide chipped away, tying the match at 13 on a Kaplan hitting error. The game saw eight more ties, including one as late as 23-23 before UK went up 25-23 to force a Tide timeout. The Tide rallied from there, tying the game at 27 before going up 28-27 on a strong kill. Wallace evened the score at 28 for the Wildcats, but Alabama’s momentum was too much for UK as Alabama rolled to the 30-28 victory on a kill from Potter.
Kentucky closes the 2004 season with a Thanksgiving weekend trip to Long Beach, Calif. There the Wildcats will face perennial powerhouse Long Beach State and American.