Kentucky improves to 22-6, 15-2 SEC, A&M falls to 19-8, 13-3 SEC
Hosted by Kentucky
Courtesy of Kentucky Athletics
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The 23rd-ranked Kentucky volleyball team utilized an explosive offense to capture a 3-1 (25-18, 23-25, 25-21, 28-26) win over visiting Texas A&M in front of 1,762 fans in Memorial Coliseum on Sunday. Kentucky notched 69 total kills and a .308 attacking clip to pull away from the Aggies. Freshman Leah Edmond with 25 kills and sophomore Olivia Dailey with 60 assists both set new career highs to help pace the attack.
The duo guided the Wildcats to a program-record 69 kills in the win. It’s the most in a four-set match in the 25-point rally scoring era. UK previously also broke the three-set total in a win over Ole Miss earlier this season.
With the win, Kentucky improves to 22-6 overall and 15-2 against Southeastern Conference competition. Texas A&M, who is receiving votes in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, falls to 19-8 on the year and 13-3 in league play.
Today’s match marked the final regular-season home match of the year for the Blue and White. UK will conclude the season at Tennessee on Wednesday. First serve is slated for 9 p.m. ET and the match will air live on ESPNU.
“(I’m) Proud, as a coach,” head coach Craig Skinner said. “Against good teams, you have to be pretty stable mentally. That’s a team that can easily get you out of your rhythm. There was a wave of momentum throughout that whole match. I’m proud of our team for sticking to it. We had a chance to break, and we didn’t.”
Kentucky’s attack was nearly unstoppable as the Wildcats notched 15 or more kills in all four sets, including 19 or more in the final two frames. Kentucky hit .500 in the 25-21 third-set win. UK’s defense was stout and its blocking (12 combined rejections) was also a pivotal component of the victory.
“We’ve evolved a lot from August until now,” Skinner said. “The evolution of a team is learning how to execute a skill, learning how to play together and learning how to play under pressure and when things are going against you. We took a step forward today, because there were times today when things weren’t going our way and we kept fighting and battling and willed ourselves to win.”
Edmond became the fourth player in the 25-point rally scoring era to amass 25 or more kills in a match, joining current senior Anni Thomasson and former All-Americans Whitney Billings and Sarah Mendoza to achieve the feat. The freshman from Lexington, Kentucky, was no bigger than her eight kills in the fourth set. She scored UK’s final two points to cap off the win.
“She’s fearless,” Skinner said. “She made some mistakes, but then came right back and put the ball away. That’s what great competitors do. Our team has great faith and trust in her. She had a great match.”
Dailey also joined an elite club as one of four setters in UK’s 25-point rally era scoring history to total 60 assists in a single match. The others to do so include Sarah Rumely, Elizabeth Koberstein and Morgan Bergren. The 60 assists in a four-set match tops Bergren’s output of 55 vs. Louisville on Sept. 9, 2014 as a new program record. She narrowly missed out on her second-straight double-double with nine digs.
Not to be overlooked, was an exceptional all-around match by junior Kaz Brown. The Waterloo, Iowa, native logged 12 kills on a team-best .500 hitting percentage. Brown also added a match-high seven blocks.
“Kaz was ready in practice yesterday,” Skinner said. “She decided she wanted to come and perform. She was up for the task and helped carry our team.”
Sophomore Brooke Morgan reached double-figure kill numbers with 10 hammers on a .444 attacking percentage. She also contributed four blocks to the win. Junior Emily Franklin produced eight kills on a .421 clip and contributed three blocks of her own and a pair of aces. Junior Darian Mack was the fourth Wildcat to reach double-digit kills with 11 total kills, two digs and a solo rejection that aided a momentum swing late in the fourth stanza for the Cats.
Defensively, junior libero Ashley Dusek led the charge with 17 digs and three assists. Thomasson added nine scoops and an assist, while sophomore McKenzie Watson contributed eight digs and a match-high three aces.
Prior to the match, Thomasson and fellow senior Sharay Barnes were honored as a part of Senior Day festivities.
Franklin began the scoring with an ace for the Cats. A couple of kills from Brown, as well as UK’s junior teaming with Edmond for a block lifted UK to an early 4-1 edge. Edmond earned her second kill of the match – and first from the back row – to give Kentucky a six-point edge at 10-4, forcing the Aggies into an early timeout. Franklin tooled the block off of a slide and the Wildcats continued to maintain their advantage at 13-8. Texas A&M pulled to within two at 16-14 and it was the Wildcats’ turn to take a timeout. Mack picked up a kill following the break to spell, but A&M answered with a block to keep the score close. After two impressive rallies from both sides of the net, the Wildcats converted both and managed to increase their advantage to 20-15. An ace from Watson closed the set for UK’s advantage by a 25-18 margin. UK posted 15 kills for a .200 percentage. The Aggies’ managed just nine on a .030 clip. Edmond and Brown paced the attack with four kills apiece, while UK had four blocks in the frame.
The Aggies’ reversed course to open the second stanza – this time taking a 3-1 lead. Back-to-back kills from Morgan and Edmond enabled the home team to knot the score at three apiece. The Aggies immediately reclaimed a multi-point advantage. Edmond converted an overpass to once again tie the set, this time at eight. UK kept up the momentum and Franklin scored off a quick set to give the Cats their first lead of the frame. Texas A&M scored the next two to recapture the lead and the back-and-forth battle was on from there. After the score was tied at 11 apiece, the Aggies scored each of the next three points to claim a 14-11 edge, prompting a UK timeout. Kentucky pulled to within 18-17, but the Aggies would earn set point at 24-20. UK would go on to score the next three points – kills by Edmond and Mack, and an ace from Edmond to enable the Cats to pull to with 24-23. Texas A&M opted to take its final timeout and would score the next point out of the break for a 25-23 win to even the match at one set apiece.
Morgan tallied the first point after intermission with a cross-court kill. She was followed by a Brown kill who utilized the block to her advantage, going high off the hands. A big-time dig from Dailey allowed Brown to quickly swing and convert another kill for a 6-2, UK lead. Edmond’s 11th kill of the night lifted the Cats to an 11-6 advantage. The Aggies would take a timeout after an ace from Watson extended the lead to six at 13-7. Out of the break, Watson added her third ace of the match to extend the home team’s lead. Texas A&M pulled back to within four at 18-14, and Kentucky opted for a timeout. The Cats were the first to push 20 after the Aggies had climbed back to within one at 19-18, but a service error by the visitors once again gave UK a multi-point advantage. Morgan and Brown teamed up for a Big Blue Block and the Wildcats’ lead swelled to 21-18, forcing the Aggies to burn their final timeout. The Aggies would not go away and pulled back to within two at 22-20, but Edmond came up with back-to-back smashing kills to give the Cats set point. After a service error, Dailey returned to Edmond who promptly settled things in favor of the Cats by a 25-21 margin. UK pounded away for 19 kills on a blistering .500 average, however the Aggies managed 17 hammers on a .483 clip. UK’s two blocks and a pair of aces proved the difference.
For the second time in the match, Franklin was the stanza’s first point scorer – this time converting a kill off the slide. A back-and-forth battle ensued from there until the Aggies grabbed a two-point edge at 5-3. Texas A&M’s lead eventually expanded to 8-3, and UK chose to take an early timeout. Out of the break, Edmond quelled the Aggies’ spurt with a kill off the block. Morgan guided the Wildcats back to within one at 10-9, with a kill immediately following a block in which she teamed up with Franklin to convert. Edmond would eventually tie the score at 11 apiece, and then a see-sawing affair would ensue. An ace from Franklin followed by a Brown kill off a quick-set lifted UK to a 14-12 edge. A block from the Brown-Dailey duo and then a backrow kill from Edmond gave the Cats a 17-14 advantage, forcing the Aggies into a timeout. Mack then produced a kill and a solo block on consecutive plays and the Wildcats’ lead swelled to 20-15. A late push by the visitors prompted Kentucky to take a timeout with the score 21-18 in favor of the Cats. Texas A&M would not yield and eventually pulled back to within one at 21-20. With UK in a need of a point, Dailey went to the steady hand of Edmond who matched her season high with her 21st kill of the day. Texas A&M would tie the score at 23 apiece and eventually earn set point behind a 3-0 run. Edmond came up big to stave off the win with a cross-court shot. The freshman then teamed up with Brown for a rejection, to turn the tables, and give UK match point – but A&M would not go quietly and tied the score once again. The two teams would trade points once again, until UK’s star freshman capped the match with back-to-back kills for a 28-26, Wildcats’ win. The final set saw the Wildcats accumulate 20 total kills on a .312 hitting clip. Texas A&M managed 17 on a .204 average.
BY THE NUMBERS
60 – Assists for Olivia Dailey which is the most in a four-set match in the 25-point rally scoring era
25 – Career-high kills for Leah Edmond who became one of just four players to post that total in a match in the rally scoring era
12 – Kills from junior Kaz Brown to couple with a team-high seven blocks
4 – Total players who logged double-digit kills as the Wildcats broke a school record for most kills in a four-set match with 69
3 – Aces from sophomore McKenzie Watson
2 – Seniors in Anni Thomasson and Sharay Barnes who ended their careers with a win in Memorial in their final regular-season home match
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Texas A&M saw its eight-match win streak come to an end as the Aggies fell to No. 23 Kentucky, 25-18, 23-25, 25-21, 28-26, in a key Southeastern Conference matchup today at Memorial Coliseum.
Both teams were in need of the victory to effectively remain in contention for at least a share of the SEC championship. Texas A&M, which had not suffered a defeat since a loss to then-No. 9 Florida on Oct. 16, saw its hopes of a repeat title all but dashed as the Aggies fall to 13-3 in conference matches and 19-8 overall with two contests remaining. Kentucky, 22-6 overall with one match remaining, improved to 15-2 in conference play and later in the day took a half-game lead over both Missouri (14-2 SEC) and Florida (14-2 SEC) atop the league standings following the Tigers’ 3-2 upset over the Gators.
Kentucky, celebrating Senior Day while making its final home appearance of the regular season, got off to a fast start and never trailed in the opening set. Texas A&M struggled offensively and quickly fell behind, 11-4. The Aggies later twice got back within two points, the last coming at 17-15 as senior middle blocker Jazzmin Babers and junior setter Stephanie Aiple blocked a Kentucky attack. The Wildcats countered with three consecutive kills, including a momentum-building kill following a long back-and-forth rally.
After an A&M timeout, Aggie junior opposite hitter Ashlie Reasor got a solo block, and Kentucky hit long on the ensuing play to put the Aggies within 20-17. But A&M, which was held to a .030 hitting efficiency, was unable to overcome the deficit, with Kentucky going on a 5-1 run to close out the frame.
Texas A&M bounced back and got into rhythm in the second stanza, outhitting the Wildcats, .333 to .243, to even the match at a set apiece. The score was tied for the fourth time at 11-11 before the Aggies took a lead they would not lose following Reasor’s kill high off the hands of the Kentucky block. Babers then had back-to-back blocks, getting a solo block and then teaming with Aiple for another to put the Aggies up, 14-11.
A&M committed consecutive attacking errors to put the Wildcats with 14-13, but Babers kept the Aggies in the lead with one of her five kills in the set. Kentucky remained within a point at 18-17 when Aggie freshman outside hitter Hollann Hans tooled the Kentucky block for a kill. The rookie then stepped to the service line and ripped two aces to put A&M ahead, 21-17, forcing Kentucky to use a timeout. A service error then ended A&M’s run, but junior outside hitter Kiara McGee returned serve to the Aggies with a kill. Babers followed with another block to give A&M its largest lead, 23-18. Kentucky mounted a comeback, outscoring A&M, 5-1, to get within 24-23 before Babers put down a kill to end the set and even the match heading into the intermission.
Kentucky led the entire third set, twice building as much as a seven-point lead, the last coming at 18-11. Blake and Hans quickly pulled the Aggies back within 19-18, combining for five kills and an ace during a 7-1 surge. Kentucky coach Craig Skinner stalled play, arguing the attack error call that put A&M within a point but never issuing a challenge. The delay disrupted the Aggies’ momentum, and A&M served into the net when action resumed. The Wildcats, who outhit A&M, .500 to .483, followed with a block and a kill to go up, 22-18. Reasor got a kill and teamed with Babers for a block to put the Aggies within 22-20, but the Wildcats used a 3-1 run to end the set and take a 2-1 lead in the match.
A&M used a 7-0 run early in the fourth set to equal its largest lead of the match at 8-3. Momentum quickly shifted by to Kentucky as the Wildcats reeled off series of points while outscoring A&M, 18-7, to take a 21-15 lead. A&M fought back, with Babers, Blake and senior outside hitter Emily Hardesty spearheading a 5-0 rally that put the Aggies within 21-20.
Kentucky, which outhit A&M, .312 to .204 in the set, later went up 23-21 after winning a challenge, but a block by Reasor and Blake and a crafty one-handed set by Aiple to set up Blake for the kill knotted the score at 23-all. Reasor followed with a kill to put the Aggies back in the lead and at set point, 24-23, but Kentucky stayed alive and regained the lead with a kill and one of its five blocks in the frame. With the Wildcats at match point, 25-24, McGee connected for a kill and Blake got an ace as her serve went untouched and skimmed the sideline, putting A&M at set point for the second time. Kentucky freshman sensation Leah Edmond evened the score by tooling the A&M block for a kill. She also was credited for a kill and put the Wildcats at match point for the second time when she sent a free ball over the net and it fell between the A&M defenders. The Aggies had an errant pass on the next play, with the overpass setting up Edmond for the match-clinching kill.
Kentucky outhit A&M, .308 to .246 for the match, tallying 69 kills to the Aggies’ 57. Texas A&M led in blocks, 13-12, with Blake posting seven blocks, including five block assists to give her 134 block assists for the season, putting her into a tie for fifth place in the all-time A&M season records. Babers had three blocks to give her 545 for her career, putting her within eight blocks of breaking the all-time record of 552 held by Cindy Lothspeich (1994-97).
Babers led A&M in kills with 12 while hitting .417, and Blake finished with a team-high 16.5 points, posting 11 kills without an error for a .611 hitting efficiency. Hans and McGee also posted double-figure kills with 11 and 10, respectively, while Aiple finished with 48 assists.
Junior libero Amy Nettles led the Aggies with 20 digs, and sophomore defensive specialist Amy Houser pitched in a career-high 12 digs.
Edmonds, who had eight kills in the final set, finished with a match-high 25 kills. Kaz Brown added 12 kills along with seven blocks for Kentucky. Darian Mack and Brooke Morgan also had double-figure kills with 11 and 10, respectively, while setter Olivia Dailey dished out 60 assists, the most by an A&M opponent this season. Libero Ashley Dusek finished with a team-high 17 digs.
Texas A&M plays its final home match of the season on Wednesday as the Aggies play host to the LSU Tigers on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Reed Arena. It will be Fan Appreciation Day, and the first 300 fans will get a free hat. In addition, it is Senior Night, and A&M seniors Victoria Arenas, Jazzmin Babers, Emily Hardesty, Katelyn Labhart and Kaysie Shebeneck will be honored in a postmatch ceremony.
Visit 12thMan.com for more information on Texas A&M volleyball. Aggie fans also can keep up to date with the A&M volleyball team on Facebook and on Twitter and Instagram by following @AggieVolleyball.
Texas A&M postmatch quotes:
TEXAS A&M HEAD COACH LAURIE CORBELLI:
On the difference in the match today…
“The serving and passing game was much stronger on their side of the net. They served really well in their home gym. We did not pass very well to get ourselves in any kind of offense, so it ended up being one-on-six, one hitter versus six defenders. We couldn’t do our deception. We couldn’t do any play sets. We were just out of system the whole night. We still came really close to getting the win. I love our passers. I think they do a really great job; I think they just had a tough night. Our serving put Kentucky in system all night—they had amazing numbers—so we went against their best offense almost the whole night.”
On the bright spots…
“I liked our blocking. I think our blocking has improved so much. I love how the team understands how important it is and how to make the adjustments that we do make. [Kaitlyn] Blake really turned it on in Set 4 and really had us come back to that near win. I was really proud of [Emily] Hardesty coming in at a really tough time and taking over that role as an outside hitter, and she plays all the way around. I thought she did a really nice job, a real steady and reliable job.”
On basically being eliminated from an SEC championship, but still having much more to play for…
“Our goals now are on the NCAA tournament, going deep in the tournament. We have had a setback and it’s kind of a weird feeling because we haven’t lost since the middle of October, so we are taking it pretty hard. We have two more [matches remaining] to really shore up our resume of conference play. We are looking at the tournament as a place for us to really have a bright new start and fix the things that we really need to fix and go deep in the tournament and have a blast with that.”