Wildcats Notch Senior Day Win Over Auburn, 3-2
Four Kentucky players notched double-digit kills on Friday night, led by senior outside hitter Melissa Popp’s career-high-tying 21, as the Wildcats outlasted Auburn for a 3-2 (30-21, 24-30, 30-20, 25-30, 15-13) win in Memorial Coliseum.
The Wildcats improve to 18-9 on the season and 11-8 mark in Southeastern Conference action. Kentucky’s 18 wins and 11 league victories are its most since the 1993 season. Auburn drops to 13-17, 5-14 with the loss. Seniors Jenni Casper, Julie Gagnon and Popp, and managers Philip Bennett and Abbey Buchert were honored following the conclusion of their final regular-season home match.
Popp’s 21 kills came on .263 hitting to complement three blocks and six digs, while sophomore middle blocker Queen Nzenwa added 13 kills with a team-high eight blocks. Junior middle blocker Nicole Britenriker had 11 kills on .250 hitting with 14 digs and five blocks for her team-leading 13th double-double of the season, while freshman middle blocker Heather Hausfeld added 10 kills.
Casper had a team-high 18 digs, while freshman setter Sarah Rumely had 59 assists and tied a career-high with 15 digs. Sophomore Ashlee Fisher added five key kills in the match’s final two games. The Wildcats out-blocked Auburn 13-9 and registered eight service aces in the match.
“This was another good team win and we had people step up at different times,” said head coach Craig Skinner. “Ashlee Fisher gave us a big left when we needed it at the end of game four and in game five. Our defense allowed us to transition for points a lot throughout the match. The way we served the ball allowed us to get them out of their system and they’re a pretty tough team to stop. I was proud of the effort we gave and the way we performed tonight.”
Kentucky broke to an early 9-3 advantage in the first game. Hausfeld had two kills and Rumely registered an ace during the early scoring run that forced an Auburn timeout. Out of the break, the Tigers went on a 4-0 run to come within two, 9-7, before a Britenriker kill ended the scoring drought. Leading 12-10, Kentucky went on a 4-0 run capped off by three consecutive Auburn errors to go up 16-10.
Back-to-back attack errors by the Tigers put the Cats in front by eight, 20-12, heading into another AU timeout. A resounding block by Nzenwa and Popp followed by a Tiger error capped a 5-1 UK run that put the Cats in front 25-14. Auburn ran off five consecutive points to come within seven, 26-19, and prompt a late Kentucky timeout. Two kills by Nzenwa and an ace by sophomore Alisa Pierce to end the frame gave the Wildcats a 30-21 win. The Cats, who hit .238 in the first game, limited Auburn to .070 hitting.
The Tigers opened game two on an 11-4 tear that was capped off by a 5-0 run. After Auburn extended its advantage to 14-6, Nzenwa and Rumely registered an emphatic block and Popp soared above the net on the following play to kill a free ball that brought the Cats to within six, 14-8. It began a 5-0 Kentucky run and prompted an Auburn timeout.
Auburn scored two straight to again move its lead out to five, 16-11, before a kill by Nzenwa stopped the scoring streak. Three Tiger kills and a strong block put Auburn ahead by eight, 20-12, and they kept rolling from there. The Tigers went ahead 26-16 on a kill by offensive leader Rachel Shanks before closing out game two with a 30-24 win.
Kentucky streaked to a 3-1 advantage in the third game and extended its lead out to 6-3 after a 3-0 run that included kills by Popp and Nzenwa and a Popp service ace. Two kills from Hausfeld and an ace by Pierce allowed the Cats to move their lead out to five, 10-5. The Tigers benefited from a pair of Kentucky attack errors to come within one, 10-9, before a crafty kill by Rumely on second contact ended the AU scoring streak.
Put-downs by Hausfeld and Gagnon, and a block solo by Britenriker allowed the Wildcats to go ahead by five, 15-10. The Cats kept rolling, extending their lead to 25-18 after a kill by Britenriker and a block solo by Nzenwa. UK reached game point at 29-20 on a powerful block by Hausfeld and Nzenwa on the outside before an Edwards kill finished off the 30-20 win.
The two teams battled evenly to begin the fourth game with eight early ties before the Wildcats went ahead 12-10 on kills by Popp and Nzenwa and an Auburn attack error. The Tigers then scored four consecutive points out of a timeout to go ahead 14-12. Back-to-back kills by Nzenwa and Britenriker tied the score at 15-15. After another tie at 16-all, Auburn strung together two consecutive kills to go up 18-16. Two kills by Popp knotted the score at 19-19, but the Tigers kept fighting to go up 22-20. Auburn led by as many as four, 27-23, and the Tigers closed out the 30-25 win.
The teams were tied at each point to begin game five before a kill by Popp off the block put the Cats ahead 6-5 and an Auburn attack error gave UK the 7-5 advantage. The Tigers rallied with two consecutive points to tie the score at 7-7 before Fisher got the touch called on an attack to allow the Wildcats to regain the lead at 8-7 as the teams switched sides.
Three consecutive errors by Kentucky put Auburn up 10-8 heading into a timeout. Back-to-back put-downs by Fisher tied the score at 10-10 before an attack error by the Tigers gave UK the 11-10 advantage. UK reached match point at 14-12 on a Popp kill and took the 15-13 victory on an Auburn service error.
Kentucky returns to action Sunday when it travels to Gainesville, Fla., to take on the No. 7 Gators. Opening serve is set for 1:30 p.m. EST in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.