UK Ends One of Finest Seasons in School History
DAYTON, Ohio – The Kentucky volleyball team concluded one of the finest seasons in school history on Friday evening, falling to Big Ten Conference member Michigan State, 3-0 (30-28, 30-23, 30-27) , in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament hosted by the University of Dayton in the Frericks Center.
The Wildcats (22-10), who showed heart and perseverance to the end of each of the three games that was characteristic of the team’s season, eclipsed the 20-win plateau for the first time since the 1993 campaign and set a school record with their third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
“This was a tough loss tonight,” UK head coach Craig Skinner said. “It’s tough any time you end your season with a loss. Credit Michigan State for serving well and keeping us off balance offensively. I appreciate our team battling tough to the every end of game, even when it was 29-26 in that last game. We had a couple of leads late in games and you have to take advantages of those opportunities in NCAA Tournament matches.”
Kentucky was led by senior middle blocker Nicole Britenriker (Cincinnati, Ohio), who recorded a team-high 12 kills on .455 hitting with eight digs. Britenriker registered double-digit kills in each of the team’s 32 matches her final campaign. Britenriker concludes her collegiate career with 1,262 career kills, including her first two seasons at Ohio State. Her kills total would rank seventh all-time at UK if each of her kills had come at UK.
Senior co-captain Kathleen Bowler (Naperville, Ill.) concluded her collegiate career after serving as the inspirational leader of the Wildcats during each of her four seasons. She was a two-time member of the Southeastern Conference Good Works Team and a member of the Frank G. Ham Society of Character.
Sophomore outside hitter Brooke Bartek (Lincoln, Neb.) finished with 10 kills for her 13th double-digit kill performance of the season. Sophomore defensive specialist BriAnne Sauer (Louisville, Ky.) led the defensive effort with 14 digs, while sophomore setter Sarah Rumely (New Palestine, Ind.) finished with 36 assists. Rumely became just the fifth player in school history to eclipse the 3,000-assist mark for her career. Rumely now has 3,004 career dishes and ranks fifth all-time in just her sophomore year at UK. Her 1,516 assists this season ranks fifth all-time on the school’s single-season assists list.
Junior middle blocker Queen Nzenwa (Baltimore, Md.), UK’s career and single season block assists leader, finished the year with 174 block assists on the year and 437 so far in her career.
Freshman outside hitter Sarah Mendoza (Winter Park, Fla.) finished with seven kills, while fellow rookie Lauren Rapp (Indianapolis, Ind.) had five kills on .500 hitting with five digs.
The Wildcats recorded an uncharacteristic five blocks in the match and were out-blocked 6-5. Kentucky hit .239 for the match and .308 in the third frame.
Kentucky broke open a 3-3 tie in game one with four consecutive points, capped off by a powerful block on the right side by Nzenwa and Rapp, to put the Cats ahead 7-3. The Spartans scored three of the game’s next four points to pull within two, 8-6, before Britenriker drilled a kill on the angle to stop the MSU scoring streak. That put-down sparked a 4-0 Wildcat run that extended UK’s advantage to 12-6 after a block on the right side by Britenriker and Rumely. The Kentucky rally forced the Spartans to burn an early timeout. Out of the break, Michigan State scored five consecutive points to whittle its deficit down to one, 12-11, and force Skinner to use a timeout. Mendoza notched a kill on the outside to end UK’s drought, but from there the two teams began trading points before the Spartans, trailing 16-13, scored four in a row to take a 17-16 advantage into another Wildcat timeout.
With the Cats down 20-18, Kentucky scored three in a row to reclaim the advantage at 21-20 after a Michigan State attack error. The Spartans kept fighting to take a 25-23 lead before a kill by Britenriker stopped the scoring streak. A Bartek kill and a Kentucky block knotted the score at 26-all heading into a Michigan State timeout. The Spartans then scored two in a row, capped off by a block in the back call against the Wildcats to go up 28-26. Kentucky responded with two points of its own, the last a kill by Mendoza, to put the teams in a 28-all deadlock. Back-to-back kills by Michigan State’s Jenilee Rathje and Katie Johnson gave the Spartans a 30-28 win in game one. The Wildcats hit .205 in the opening frame, compared to MSU’s .250 hitting efficiency.
Michigan State scored the first four points of game two and broke to a 6-2 advantage. The Spartans built their lead out to 8-3 before a kill by Britenriker on the slide stopped the MSU scoring streak. But Michigan State scored two in a row from that point to go ahead 10-4 and force Skinner to use a timeout. Britenriker registered another put-down out of the break before the Spartans scored four in a row to extend their advantage to 14-5.
With Kentucky trailing 15-6, the Cats capitalized on back-to-back MSU errors to cut within seven, 15-8. That pair of points sparked a 5-2 run that put UK within six, 17-11, after a Rapp ace. Michigan State built its lead back up to eight, 22-14, after a kill by Ashley Schatzle that caused Skinner to use a timeout. Ahead 24-16, Michigan State used a 3-1 run to go in front 27-17 before the Cats began to rally. Back-to-back kills by Britenriker and Bartek started a 4-0 Kentucky rally that brought the Wildcats within five, 28-23. The Spartans, however, were able to close out the 30-23 game-two victory.
Kentucky broke to a 5-2 advantage to begin game three, capping the run off with a Bartek kill. Michigan State cut within two, 6-4, before the Wildcats built their lead out to 8-4. After the Spartans again came as close as two, 8-6, Bartek responded with a kill to keep Kentucky’s momentum alive. From there, the Spartans scored three in a row to knot the score at 10 after a Schatzle put-down. Nzenwa and Rapp posted a powerful block on the right side to give UK back the advantage at 10-9. After another tie at 10-10, Mendoza registered a kill and the Spartans committed an attack error to give the Cats a 12-10 lead. Nzenwa drilled a kill down the middle to put the Cats ahead 15-13 heading into a media timeout.
From there, MSU scored three consecutive points to go ahead 16-15 before a Rapp kill in the middle knotted the score and stopped the Spartan rally. After another tie at 18-all, the Spartans scored two in a row to go up 19-17 and force a UK timeout. Michigan State built its lead to three, 21-18, before a service ace stopped its rally. The Cats pulled as close as two, 25-23 on a soft-touch kill by Nzenwa. With Kentucky down 29-24, the Wildcats staved off two attempts at match point with back-to-back kills by Rapp and Britenriker to bring UK within two, 29-27, and force Spartans head coach Cathy George to burn a timeout. Mischelle Nelson had a kill out of the timeout to end the game and the match with a 30-27 win.
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