Cats Make Third Straight NCAA Tournament
LEXINGTON, Ky. - For a school-record third consecutive season, the Kentucky volleyball team is among the NCAA Tournament field of 64, earning an at-large bid to volleyball's version of the "Big Dance" Sunday evening. The Wildcats begin their title quest on Friday when they face Big Ten Conference member Michigan State in Dayton, Ohio. Opening serve is set for 5 p.m. EST.
Kentucky (22-9, 13-7 Southeastern Conference) is coming off its best season since the 1993 campaign when the Wildcats finished the year at 29-4 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The 2007 Cats concluded league play in second place in the SEC Eastern Division and fourth overall.
UK was selected as part of the Madison, Wisc., regional that includes second-seeded Nebraska, in-state foe Western Kentucky and early-season opponent Northern Iowa. Host-school and 15th-ranked Dayton (32-1) faces first-time NCAA participant Lipscomb (20-11) in the other first-round match to be played in the Thomas J. Frericks Athletics and Convocation Center. The two winners square off on Saturday with a berth to the round of 16 on the line.
“It’s always a great feeling to see your name up there as one of the best 64 teams in the country,” UK head coach Craig Skinner said. “We belong in the NCAA Tournament. Our players have earned this opportunity. I am proud of what our players have done – making the NCAA Tournament is not a given. I am really excited and am looking forward to our match with Michigan State on Friday.”
The Wildcats, who are making their ninth NCAA appearance in school history, last made three consecutive postseason appearances from 1991-93. Kentucky won the NIVC Championship, volleyball’s now-defunct equivalent of the National Invitation Tournament, in 1991 before making back-to-back NCAA appearances in 1992 and 1993. Kentucky has posted back-to-back 19-win seasons for the first time since 1992-93 and have recorded 17 or more wins in three consecutive years for the first time since 1991-93. UK is 8-8 all-time in NCAA Tournament action.
Five SEC teams were among the 2007 NCAA Tournament field. Florida, LSU, Ole Miss and Alabama each were selected to participate in postseason play. The SEC has had at least five teams advance to the NCAA Tournament in three consecutive years, and had a conference-record seven league teams make the field a year ago.
The Wildcats are led by senior All-SEC second-team selection Nicole Britenriker (Cincinnati, Ohio), who ranks fourth in the SEC with 3.90 kills per game. She is also second on the team with 1.17 blocks per game and third on the squad with 3.00 digs per game. Britenriker has recorded a team-leading 20 double-doubles on the year.
Junior first-team All-SEC selection Queen Nzenwa (Baltimore, Md.), who holds Kentucky’s career and single-season block assists records, ranks first in the SEC in both blocks per game (1.62) and hitting percentage (.370). She finished the regular season ranked seventh nationally in blocks per game.
Sophomore setter Sarah Rumely (New Palestine, Ind.) is second in the league with 12.33 assists per game and ranks fifth on UK’s all-time career assists list in just her second year on the team with 2,968 career assists. She also is first on the team with 39 service aces.
Kentucky and Michigan State meet for the fourth time in school history with the Spartans holding a 3-0 advantage in the all-time series. The two teams last met on Sept. 20, 1997, a 3-0 Michigan State win in Memorial Coliseum. The Wildcats are 33-41 all-time vs. members in the current alignment of the Big Ten Conference.
Michigan State enters Friday’s match with a 19-13 record, including a 10-10 mark in Big Ten play. The Spartans, who were 8-10 away from home this year, have won three matches in a row and have posted three victories against Top 25 squads this season. Michigan State is one of the top offensive teams in the Big Ten, ranking second in the conference in kills with 16.73 put-downs per game, second in assists with 15.46 dishes per game and third in hitting percentage with a .250 efficiency clip.
Freshman setter Lauren O’Reilly is one of the top setters and servers in the Big Ten Conference. O’Reilly ranks second in the league in assists with 13.32 dishes per game and sixth in aces with 0.33 per game. Senior outside hitter Ashley Schatzle leads the team and is third in the conference with 4.50 kills per game and second on the team with 3.11 digs per game. Freshman middle blocker Jenilee Rathje leads the squad with 1.17 blocks per game and is third on the team with 2.45 kills per game.
The tournament berth marks Michigan State’s second consecutive NCAA appearance and the 12th NCAA berth in school history for the Spartans. MSU is 11-11 all-time in NCAA Tournament play.
The Big 12 Conference, the Big Ten Conference and the Pacific-10 Conference led all conferences with six teams selected. Two teams - Penn State and Stanford - have earned bids to all 27 championships. Six teams are making their initial appearances in the tournament: Cleveland State, Delaware, Lipscomb, South Dakota State, Tennessee State, and UNLV.
In the 26-year history of the championship, 10 schools have been crowned champion, nine of which are in this year’s bracket, including the defending champion Nebraska.
The 27th-annual NCAA Championships, hosted by Cal-State Sacramento, will take place Dec. 13-15 at ARCO Arena in Sacramento, Calif., with live coverage on the ESPN family of networks.
NCAA Tournament Notes
UK’s NCAA Tournament History