Wildcats Prepare for No. 20 Ohio in NCAA 1st Rd.
For the second consecutive season, the Kentucky volleyball team was among the NCAA Tournament field of 64 when it was announced on Sunday. The Wildcats begin their postseason quest Thursday, Nov. 30, when they face No. 20 Ohio in West Lafayette, Ind. Opening serve in the Intercollegiate Athletic Facility is set for 4:30 p.m.
Kentucky (18-11, 11-9 Southeastern Conference), making its eighth NCAA appearance in school history, is one of a record seven SEC teams to be awarded berths to the Big Dance this season. The Wildcats’ 18 overall wins and 11 league victories are both the highest of any UK team since the 1993 season. UK’s fourth-place finish in the SEC also was its best finish since the 1993 campaign.
The Wildcats are 7-7 all-time in NCAA Tournament action after dropping a 3-1 decision to Maryland last season in Louisville, Ky., in the tournament’s first round. Last year’s appearance with UK’s first in 12 seasons. Kentucky will be looking for its first NCAA victory since the 1992 season when it defeated Duke 3-1 in the opening round.
All-SEC Second Team selection Nicole Britenriker leads the Kentucky offense, averaging 3.63 kills per game, and sophomore middle blocker Queen Nzenwa is tops on the squad and ninth in the SEC in hitting percentage with a .335 hitting clip. Nzenwa, also named to the All-SEC Second Team, ranks sixth in the league with 1.21 blocks per game.
SEC Freshman of the Year Sarah Rumely is one of only two players in the SEC to rank in the league’s top 10 in assists and service aces. She is third with 12.41 assists per game and also third with 0.47 aces per game. Senior libero Jenni Casper, the Southeastern Conference’s all-time career digs leader, leads UK and is second in the conference with 4.79 scoops per game.
Kentucky and Ohio meet for the fifth time in school history with the Wildcats holding a 3-1 advantage in the all-time series. The two squads have not met since the 1993 season, a 3-0 sweep by the Bobcats. Prior to that, UK had won three consecutive meetings in the series, which began with a meeting in the 1980 season. Kentucky is 36-14 all-time vs. members in the current alignment of the MAC.
Ohio (28-4, 16-0 Mid-American Conference) posted a perfect record in the MAC and claimed its fourth league crown this season. The Bobcats, who are making their ninth NCAA appearance in school history, had won 21 consecutive matches before falling to Louisville, 3-1, on Nov. 25 in their regular-season finale. Ohio advanced to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen last season after wins over Alabama and Ohio State, before falling to Arizona.
Freshman outside hitter Ellen Herman leads the way for the Bobcats, averaging 4.18 kills per game after playing in each of the team’s 111 games this season. Junior middle blocker Melissa Griffin follows with 4.10 kpg and leads the team in blocking with 0.89 rejections per game. Junior outside hitter Stephanie Blackburn is averaging a squad-best 4.32 digs per game, while also having tallied a team-high 51 service aces.
“Ohio is a very experienced team. They run a very fast offense which is very difficult to defend against,” said second-year head coach Craig Skinner. “The SEC is big and physical and powerful, so that’s what we typically face. We have faced a couple of teams with fast offenses, so I think we can do some things to exploit them. Our physicality can wear them down a little bit. Their biggest advantage is their experience in going to the regional last year. They have the bulk of that team back, but I certainly feel very good about our chances on Thursday.”
Should the Wildcats advance, they would face the winner of the Purdue-St. Louis contest at 7 p.m. Friday in West Lafayette.