Dec. 8, 2011
LEXINGTON, Ky. - The 16th-ranked Kentucky volleyball team will begin play in the Round of 16 of the NCAA Tournament with the top-seeded Texas Longhorns, Friday at 7 p.m. ET. UCLA and Penn State will open the Regional at 5 p.m. ET in Memorial Coliseum.
Kentucky (28-5) has advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second time in three seasons under the direction of Craig Skinner. The Wildcats needed victories over Dayton and the No. 16 overall seed in Texas A&M last week in College Station, Texas, to return home to the friendly confines of Memorial Coliseum.
UK's Coliseum is playing host to the NCAA Regionals for the first time in school history. Kentucky is 17-1 at home this season, but those 17 victories have come consecutively, as the lone loss came in the home-opener of the season.
Texas (25-4) picked up wins over Texas State and Michigan State to move on to the NCAA Regionals. The Longhorns have appeared in the last two Final Fours and boast a squad that tallies 13.72 kills per set on .286 hitting. Haley Eckerman leads the way for Texas with 3.58 kills per set. Rachael Adams leads the way defensively with a squad-best 1.20 blocks per set. Texas has toppled three top-25 rated squads this season and has won 24 of their last 25 matches.
Kentucky charts the most balanced team in the field of four in Lexington. The Wildcats chart 14.20 kills per set with six different players averaging between 2.11 and 3.20 kills per set. All of UK's attackers have led the Wildcats in kills in at least two matches this season.
Junior Ashley Frazierstrikes for a team-high 3.20 kills per set and has reached double-figures in 24 matches this season. Frazier topped the 20-kill mark for the first time this season in UK's NCAA-opening win over Dayton. She followed that performance with 14 kills in a sweep of Texas A&M.
Junior Stephanie Klefotanchors the defensive unit for UK with a 4.87 digs per set average. Her 587 digs this season ranks as a new single-season record for the Blue and White. Klefot has notched 10 or more digs in all but one match this season.
Sophomore Whitney Billingsprovides the spark for the Wildcats with her all-around play. Billings is the lone Wildcat attacker to play all the way around in rotation and provides a steady hand offensively and a strong presence defensively. Billings posted a season-high 17 kills in the win over A&M and a career-high 20 digs in the victory over Dayton last week.
Junior Christine Hartmannis the floor general for the Wildcats from her setter position. Hartmann dishes out 11.20 assists per set and adds 1.02 kills per set as well.
Senior Becky Pavanis UK's best blocker with a squad-best 1.10 rejections per set. She is a mere four block assists shy of recording her 400th for her career.
Live stats will be provided at UKathletics.com. A live web stream of the broadcast will be shown on ESPN3.com with Holly Rowe and Jennifer Hoffman on the call.
Friday, Dec. 9
No. 9 UCLA vs. No. 8 Penn State - 5 p.m. ET (ESPN3.com)
Kentucky vs. No. 1 Texas - 7 p.m. ET (ESPN3.com)
Saturday, Dec. 10
Winner of Match 1 vs. Winner of Match 2 - 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
ESPN will broadcast all three matches in some fashion with ESPN3.com carrying the opening round games, and a live national telecast on ESPU to follow on Saturday afternoon. Holly Rowe and Jennifer Hoffmann will be on the call for all three matches.
All-session tickets are on sale now. Single session tickets will go on sale Friday, Dec. 9 based on availability.
UK Ticket Office - (859) 257-1818
All-session tickets are on sale now. • Reserved (all ages) - $14 • General Admission - $12 • Student/Senior - $8 • Child under 12 yrs - $4
Single session tickets go on sale Friday, Dec. 9 based on availability • Reserved (all ages) - $8 • General Admission - $7 • Student/Senior - $5 • Child under 12 yrs - $4
Kentucky students can receive free admission to the NCAA Regionals by presenting a valid student ID at the UK Ticket Office on Friday between the hours of 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Visit UKathletics.com for the most up-to-date information on the UK volleyball team and all of Kentucky's 22 teams.
PRACTICE/PRESS CONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS
“Well it seems like it has been about a month since we got back from Texas A&M. We got back about two o'clock in the morning last Friday or Saturday morning and this week seems like it’s taking forever. We are excited to get going tomorrow night. Obviously we have a lot of respect for Texas, not only what they've done this year, but the last couple of years. We are just excited to play. What a heck of a time for volleyball in this part of the country and just notice a lot of coaches from around the area here watching practices, they are all open practices. We talked about this in administration a few years ago about being able to host a regional and can't believe it's already here. We are just excited to get going.”
On the level of competition in this regional...
“Every regional is hard. You can talk about seeding, you can talk about records, I mean when you get to this point everybody is good and you have to bring you’re ‘A’ game. When you get to regionals you have to expect great competition. I know we have a tough match, and UCLA vs. Penn State is a tough match. You look at all the other regionals and they all have their own set of problems, and it's about making the most of it. Everyone has a lot to gain and nothing to lose and get after it.”
On playing the number one team in the country...
“Outside of our travel group of twenty-four, there's very few people that think Kentucky will beat Texas. I know coach Elliot's been around long enough and he respects what we have to do and we respect Texas. Everyone's got to play well. I said a couple of weeks ago, when you get into the tournament it becomes a lot about intangibles, about the team, and bringing your A game. You know we're excited, but we have a lot of respect for them and it's a great program.”
On the intangibles of the team that could be a benefit...
“This team is pretty close. I haven't seen a day where they haven't had a good time together, so I think that's important. We call it small ball, being able to do the little things and keep the ball off the floor. We play hard and with great effort. We also play pretty physical. We have a lot of people that can play high above the net. I think the combination, the way we go about things, how hard we want to play, and the intangible aspect of the crowd and your home environment. We have to play into that. We have everything to gain by playing in this regional.”
On the balance of his team...
“I think as a staff we've talked all year long that we would rather prepare for other teams than us. We've talked about that since the spring and August, we need to have a lot of people involved. When you get to this point you hope everyone is firing, but if someone is not, then we can rely on other people. That's a big benefit, and the other benefit is that we have a lot of people capable of keeping the ball off the floor and serving tough to win long rallies. That's really important when you get to the tournament as momentum changers, giving yourself an opportunity to win points. I think that's a respect that people have for us and we need to take advantage of that because that's strength of ours.”
On the success of this team for volleyball in this area...
“You hope it brings new people to the table, new people to the sport of volleyball. We've been playing as a conference and at Kentucky a pretty high level of volleyball for a while and bringing these teams in from all over the country, the west coast, the Big 12, and the Big 10. It's really a stage for the people in this area that haven't been associated with volleyball to understand this is big-time stuff. I think when you see that type of athleticism, you see that type of competition it inspires younger players that maybe playing different sports to try out volleyball. The ticket sales are going unbelievable and to me that's a great credit to our administration to really put a lot of emphasis and effort to make volleyball a sport that means something here.”
On what Kentucky has to do to win…
“We have to play well. We talked about it at the beginning of the tournament that everyone wants the same thing. Everyone talks about (regionals) being the ‘third season’ and Texas is a talented team, a very athletic team. We have to slow (Texas) down. They’re a team that kills the ball at a pretty high rate. They block pretty well. We have to be resilient, we have to be tough, and we have to move on. (Texas) really does a great job of playing each particular point like it’s the last play. That’s going to be very important for us. We have to be aggressive. We have to serve tough. I don’t think there’s anything we have to do differently than what we’ve done before. But we have to execute and play well.”
On where he envisions this program going …
“When you get to the tournament the goal is to go all the way. And we talked about that as a team. Our next opponent is Texas. When I was at Nebraska, we won a national championship. We competed at the highest level, won several conference championships, and I wanted to be a program where you felt like you could build a championship program. And this is one. We’ve done a lot of things and we want to keep going. Probably the coolest thing about this (Kentucky) team is that they want to do it for everyone else also. It’s not about each individual or themselves. It’s about what we can do together. This group has really bought into that and wanted to make a difference for all the people that put the effort in before this year and now. You can never be satisfied as an athlete, because once you do, it’s over.”
On the high level of competition at this regional …
“It certainly won’t be easy. At this point in time, nothing is easy. Texas is going to bring us everything they got. I think one benefit is that there isn’t really a situation that we haven’t been in this year. We’ve been done 0-2, we’ve played against really physical and athletic teams, and we’ve seen the teams that have played Texas: Florida, Texas A&M. We’ve been up 2-0 and won 3-0. There’s so many different (situations) and Texas is the next challenge. They’re the No. 1 seed and we got our hands full, but we’re going to go for it.
#9 Ann Armes, Senior, Outside Hitter
On competing as a lower-seeded team …
“We did have to battle (to get here). There were matches that we took to five that maybe we didn’t need to, but we did. And we survived. We talked after the Arkansas game (November 20, 2011), when we went five and won on senior night. I told them how proud I was of them and I knew from that point on that we have nothing to fear. If we can come back from that and all the things that we’ve been able to do in the past, we have nothing to fear. Fear comes from an external source. We shouldn’t fear Texas, we shouldn’t fear Ole Miss, we shouldn’t fear Arkansas. We should focus on the current, and that’s one of our goals. And I think that’s helped.”
On playing in Memorial Coliseum …
“I anticipate a very energetic crowd. I think it’s going to be fun. There are a lot of people that are just getting into the sport of volleyball and they are going to see a very high level tomorrow. I expect that (the fans) will give us all the momentum we need. We play very well at home. I enjoy being at home. I feel very comfortable here. I like it. So, I think it’s going to be really fun. We play our best when we do just get lost in the moment and when we’re not thinking about the next point or the last two (points). We are just relaxed, don’t think and just play.”
On being able to play in Memorial Coliseum again after Senior Day...
“It's a really great feeling. I try not to be emotional, but I'm just an emotional person I guess. It means a lot, I have a lot of family coming out. People that have never had any interest in volleyball will come and just the support of the Big Blue Nation. I love playing at home, I love Memorial. Not only the team, but the administration and the fans, we are really just a big family. I love it, I'm just so happy we are back. Just being able to go to Texas and come back, it makes it that much sweeter I think.”
On the administration making the bid to host regionals this year...
“I'm so thankful. I don't know exactly how the process works. It's amazing for our school, our team, our program, and the future of our program. I'm just really thankful that it happened.”
#22 Becky Pavan, Senior, Middle Blocker
On being part of the most successful senior class in school history…
“I think it’s really cool to be part of the most winning senior class in school history, but it’s more important to us how far we can get in this (tournament). It’s not about the past wins that we’ve had. For us, it’s about the game we’re about to play. How far we can take this team. This team is a family. We all want to succeed and go as far as we can. And I really feel with the amount of passion that this team has and the hard work that goes in, that we will be able to go far. It’s not about how many wins we’ve had, it’s about how many wins we can still get.”
On competing on Sport Court …
“I feel that a lot of us have experienced a Sweet Sixteen before. I know a lot of the upperclassmen have been in the Sweet Sixteen. We’ve experienced the Sport Court. In club (volleyball), we played on Sport Court, and we love Sport Court. Of course we love playing on our own floor, but I think the atmosphere is more important than the floor that we are playing on. Having our fans there and having the unconditional support that we get when we are at home is more important than the surface that we play on.”
On playing the No. 1 team in the country...
“I think it's really important. We have had a really long fight to work our way into the rankings and we weren't ranked coming into the tournament. We fought our way into the top sixteen and that's really important. It's a really good opportunity to play the No. 1 ranked team and show the NCAA what we are about and show Texas and Lexington what we are trying to do.”
On the administration making the bid to host regionals this year...
“We found out they were going to be hosting this regional back when I was a freshman, which was ages ago. That just showed how confident UK was in us being in the Sweet Sixteen in three years and how much the program would grow by the time we were seniors. That support and that amount of responsibility didn't go unnoticed. It meant a lot of us to know that (UK Athletics Director) Mitch Barnhart and everyone in administration thought that we would be able to get here and play at home in the Sweet Sixteen.”