Wildcats Downed in Five in Regular Season Finale
The University of Kentucky volleyball team dropped a 3-2 (30-28, 17-30, 30-26, 29-31, 13-15) decision tonight, Nov. 24, at Cincinnati as it wrapped up its regular season with an 18-11 overall record. UC improves to 22-7 with the win.
Four Wildcats finished with double-figures in kills, led by sophomore Queen Nzenwa who finished with her third 20-plus kill effort of the season and tallied a game-high 24 kills. Junior Nicole Britenriker recorded her team-leading 14th double-double of the year with 15 kills to go along with a season-high 17 digs. Senior Melissa Popp and sophomore Ashlee Fisher and added 15 and 10 kills, respectively, for the Wildcats. Sophomore Alisa Pierce had a career-high 20 digs, while senior libero Jenni Casper finished with a team-high 30 digs – her third 30-dig effort of the season.
The Wildcats jumped out to a 9-6 lead in game one behind the hot hitting of Melissa Popp who opened the game with a service ace and had four kills in the early run. Kentucky continued to lead by three at 12-9 before making a 6-1 run after a kill by Tess Edwards, an ace by Casper and another kill by Popp to take a 17-9 lead. The Bearcats answered with a 6-2 run to pull to within four at 19-15 until a service error snapped the Wildcat scoring drought. Kentucky pushed its lead back to six, 23-17, on a putdown by Fisher. The Bearcats then outscored UK 7-2 to pull within one at 25-24 to force Kentucky to burn a timeout. A strong kill down the middle by Nzenwa pushed UK’s lead back to two and a pair of back-to-back kills by Britenriker made it a 28-25 Kentucky lead. The Bearcats would not go away quietly and closed the gap to one, 29-28, on a Wildcat hitting error to force UK to use its final timeout. Out of the break, Fisher used a powerful putdown to give the Wildcats the 30-28 game one win.
The Bearcats took an early lead in game two, opening the set with a 9-4 run. A UC service error snapped the streak before Cincinnati scored on back-to-back kills to go on top by six, 11-5, and force a Kentucky timeout. The Bearcats pushed their lead to nine, 14-5, which quickly led to another Wildcat timeout. UK pulled to within nine at 15-6 after a UC service error but would never pull any closer that that margin as the Bearcats dominated in game two. Trailing 22-10, the Cats scored three straight on a kill by Britenriker and a pair of Cincinnati hitting errors to cut the lead back to nine at 22-13, but that was as close as they would come. UC outhit UK .263 to .048 in the second game and went on to win by a final score of 30-17.
Cincinnati took a 3-0 lead to open game three before a kill by Britenriker and three consecutive putdowns by Nzenwa gave Kentucky a 4-3 edge. A UC kill knotted the score at four-all but the Wildcats answered with a 6-2 run behind the strength of kills by Edwards, Popp and Britenriker to take a 10-6 lead. UC outscored the Wildcats 6-3 to pull to within a point, 13-12, before a kill by Nzenwa snapped the streak and gave UK the two-point advantage. UC would tie the score at 17-all before Rumely notched a pair of kills and a Bearcat ball handling error put the Cats on top by three at 20-17.
Cincinnati cut the Wildcat lead to one, 24-23, but Nzenwa had the answer with a powerful kill down the middle to make it a two-point Kentucky lead at 25-23. The Bearcats would not back down and slashed the lead to one again, 26-25, after a pair of kills. Kentucky scored two straight on a kill by Popp and a service ace by BriAnne Sauer to make it a 28-25 advantage and force a Cincinnati timeout. UC scored first out of the break on a Jessica Elley kill, but Popp answered with another kill and a Cincinnati hitting error ended the game with a 30-26 Wildcat win.
The Wildcats came out hot in game four and took an early 12-7 lead capped by back-to-back kills by Fisher and Nzenwa to force the Bearcats to use an early timeout. Kentucky made the most of the breather and extended its lead to eight, 15-7, behind the strength of a 5-0 run that included a pair of kills by both Nzenwa and Fisher. A hitting error by Fisher snapped the UC scoring drought and started a Bearcat run that saw Cincinnati cut the Wildcat lead to three, 16-13, and force Kentucky to use a timeout. UC used a 7-0 run to come within a point, 16-15, before an Edwards kill made it a two-point Kentucky lead at 17-15. Cincinnati used a Wildcat service error and an ace by its libero, Jaime Frey, to tie the score at 17-17.
A kill by Popp gave the Cats a one-point lead at 18-17, but the Bearcats scored three straight to take a 20-18 lead. A pair of Cincinnati errors tied the score again at 20-20. Neither team led by more than one as the border rivals saw game four tied for the seventh time at 25-25. A UC hitting error and an explosive kill by Britenriker gave Kentucky a 26-25 lead and caused the Bearcats to call for time. The score was tied again at 27-27 until a kill by Myamma Hellsten made it a 28-27 Cincinnati lead, which resulted in a Kentucky timeout. Britenriker’s kill out of the break tied the score at 28 but the Bearcats took a lead on another kill by Hellsten. A putdown by Fisher tied the score for the 13th time in the game but UC scored two straight to go on to the 31-29 win and force the fifth and final game.
Following three ties early in game five, the Wildcats put together a 4-0 run on a kill by Edwards, back-to-back putdowns by Popp and a crafty kill by Britenriker to take a 6-3 lead and force a Cincinnati timeout. The Bearcats scored five straight out of the break to take an 8-6 lead which led the Wildcats to call for time. Cincinnati pushed its lead to 10-6 until a pair of UC hitting errors snapped the Kentucky scoring drought and pulled the Wildcats within two at 10-8.
UC took an 11-8 lead but back-to-back kills by Rumely and Britenriker slashed the lead to just one, 11-10, and forced a Cincinnati timeout. The Bearcats took a two-point advantage before two straight kills by Fisher and Nzenwa tied the score at 12 apiece. The score was knotted again at 13-all after another kill by Nzenwa but a shot by Fisher was called long before a kill by Jessie Nevitt ended the match and gave UC the 15-13 win.
“It was an up and down match. We played very efficiently at times and other times we had too many errors to win,” said head coach Craig Skinner. “Credit Cincinnati for fighting back and they got it done in the end.”
UK will learn its NCAA post-season fate when the field of 64 is announced this Sunday, Nov. 26, between 3:00 and 3:30 p.m. on ESPNEWS.