Kentucky Ends Season with First-Round Loss to Maryland
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – One of the finest seasons in recent Kentucky volleyball history came to a close Friday with a 3-1 (30-25, 26-30, 24-30, 23-30) loss to Maryland at the Louisville Gardens in the first round of the NCAA Volleyball Tournament. The Wildcats, making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since the 1993 season, were unable to overcome a poor hitting night and powerful Terrapin blocking.
The Cats conclude the 2005 season with a 17-12 record, including a 10-6 mark in Southeastern Conference play. Kentucky hit just .137 for the match, its eighth-lowest hitting efficiency of the season, and the Terrapins out-blocked the Wildcats 17-13. Maryland advances to the second round of the tournament to face the winner of the Louisville-Western Kentucky match at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s obviously disappointing to lose a match in the NCAA Tournament,” UK Coach Craig Skinner said. “We worked hard to reach a goal this season. Give Maryland credit – you have to earn your points against them and we didn’t do that today. We weren’t able to transition and make adjustments.
“Kentucky volleyball is definitely back on the map,” Skinner continued. “Our seniors made sure that we got it there and I can’t be more proud of them. Our underclassmen certainly understand what it takes to get to get here and they want to get to the next level.”
Senior outside hitter Danielle Wallace led the way for the Wildcats with 16 kills, while freshman outside hitter Ashlee Fisher added 12 kills. Junior Melissa Popp hit a squad-best .308 on the evening and posted seven kills, while freshman middle blocker Queen Nzenwa added a team-high eight blocks. Freshman setter Tess Edwards dished out 40 assists for the Cats.
The two teams battled evenly to begin the first game with ties at each of the first nine points of the frame. A service ace by Edwards gave the Wildcats a 10-9 advantage before a resounding block solo by Wallace gave the Cats the first two-point lead either team held in the opening stanza. A service ace by Wallace and a put-down by Fisher extended the UK advantage to three, 14-11, before a Maryland kill stopped the Terrapins’ scoring drought.
The Wildcats continued adding to their lead to move ahead 20-17 on a kill by Wallace and a UM setting error, forcing the Terrapins to call a late timeout. A service ace by junior libero Jenni Casper and from Amy Kaplan on the right side on back-to-back plays gave Kentucky its largest lead of the match at 25-20, but the Terrapins began slowly clawing their way back into the match. With UK ahead 28-22, the Terrapins scored three consecutive points to narrow the gap at 28-24. A resounding block by Edwards and Nzenwa gave the Cats the opening game, 30-25. The Terrapins hit just .053 in the opening frame, while the Wildcats hit .257.
Maryland took control early in the second game, racing to a 7-3 advantage capped off by a block by Jade Brown and an attack error on Wallace. Powerful blocking kept Maryland ahead, 9-4, before a kill by Wallace ended the scoring drought. A setting error on Edwards and a UM kill extended the Terrapins’ advantage to 14-8 and forced Skinner to burn a timeout. Maryland appeared to be pulling away from the Cats out of the break at 16-10, but three Terrapin errors allowed Kentucky back in the match, sparking a 6-2 run that brought the Wildcats to within two, 18-16. The run was capped off by a Casper ace.
Down 19-16, UK went on a 4-0 sprint, highlighted by two Fisher kills to tie the score at 19 and a put-down by Kaplan in the middle to force a Maryland timeout. The Terrapins rallied out of the break, pulling back in front 22-21 on a Kaplan attack error and a UM block. The Cats tied the score at 22, but the Terps scored the game’s next three points, including posting two powerful blocks, to move ahead 25-22. Several UK attack errors and a pair of Maryland kills gave the Terrapins the game at 30-26. The Cats managed to hit just .089 in the second frame.
Both teams started slow to begin the third game with the Wildcats going ahead 8-6 on a powerful kill by Kaplan on the right side. After Maryland came within one, 10-9, Wallace posted a resounding kill on the outside and the Terrapins followed with two errant attacks to extend the UK advantage to 13-9 leading into a UM timeout. Out of the break, Maryland scored four of the game’s next five points to reclaim the lead at 14-13 on back-to-back kills by Rachel Wagener to force a UK timeout.
The Terrapins tallied the game’s next three points to extend their lead to 17-14 behind powerful blocking by Beth Gillming and Wagener. Maryland kept rolling to a 22-17 advantage after three consecutive kills. The Terrapins kept cruising to the 30-23 game-three victory.
The Cats took command in the fourth game, scoring the first three points en route to an early 8-3 advantage on a dominating block by Nzenwa and Erin Turner on the right side. After the Wildcats extended their lead to 9-3 on a block by Nzenwa and Wallace, the Terrapins scored five consecutive points to come within one, 9-8, and force a UK timeout. Kentucky scored three consecutive points out of the break sparked by a Wallace kill, but again Maryland rallied to come within 12-11. The Terrapins went ahead 14-13 on an ace by Teryn Papp, but a Kaplan kill tied the score at 14. The Terps scored five of the game’s next six points, however, and went ahead 19-15. Three consecutive kills by Maryland moved it ahead 24-17 and they continued rolling to the 30-23 victory.
Kentucky returns 10 letterwinners for 2006, including Casper, the 2005 SEC Defensive Player of the Year. She leads a senior class that includes Melissa Popp and Julie Gagnon and all three are returning starters. The Wildcats lose seniors Wallace, Kaplan and Leigh Marcum to graduation this season.