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Defense Powers UK to Sweet 16 for Second-Straight Year


LEXINGTON, Ky. –  History was made on the Memorial Coliseum floor Saturday night as the Kentucky volleyball team secured a spot in the Sweet 16 for the second-straight season behind a 3-1 (18-25, 26-24, 25-15, 25-18) win over Ohio State. For the first time since the 1987-88 seasons the Blue and White advanced to the round of 16 in consecutive years, also marking the first time in the Craig Skinner era UK has achieved that feat following tonight’s win.


After saving successive set points in the second frame, UK closed the frame on a 4-0 run to take the stanza by a 26-24 score and steal the momentum. It was all the more 1,583 fans would need to help propel the Cats to their historic victory.


“Well first of all, that crowd was pretty good,” Skinner said. “Mostly just because of their energy, but they got behind this team and faithful, and understood when we needed them. Got up and made things happen for us, and our team responded to it.”


With the win, Kentucky advances to take on the No. 1 seed Penn State Nittany Lions on Friday, Dec. 7 at 5 p.m. ET in West Lafayette, Ind., on the campus of Purdue University. It will mark the second-straight season UK has advanced to take on the No. 1 seed in the tournament.


“Give a lot of credit to Ohio State,” Skinner said. “Heck of a team, and they brought it to us in game one. We had a great game plan and it didn’t work in game one, but we stuck with it and executed it as the match went on. Our serving and blocking got involved. Then people stepped up. Some great defensive plays by (Stephanie) Klefot, great decisions by our setter (Christine Hartmann) and our attackers put the ball away when we needed them.”


The win improves Kentucky’s record to 22-10 on the season, while Ohio State concludes the year owning a 23-11 mark.


Kentucky’s defensive prowess proved the difference maker in the three set victories for the Cats. Ohio State utilized 20 kills on a blistering .447 hitting percentage to earn an opening frame 25-18 score. However, UK would limit the Buckeyes to no more than 14 kills and no better hitting clip than .171 the rest of the match.


Senior libero Stephanie Klefot led the way with a match-high 18 digs. Klefot also contributed to the offensive effort with spectacular serving that resulted in a career-high five service aces in the win. Junior Jessi Greenberg logged seven digs and sophomore Jackie Napper added six in the winning effort.


Junior Whitney Billings posted her 17th double-double effort of the year with 10 kills and 12 digs. She also added a trio of blocks and three aces. Billings was joined in double-figures in the kills’ column by 16 hammers from sophomore Lauren O’Conner who laced the kills on a .381 hitting clip. Junior Alexandra Morgan also had 10 kills on a .381 hitting percentage and added a match-high seven blocks in the defensive effort.


Senior Christine Hartmann directed the Cats to 52 kills on .278 hitting including firing for 18 on a .333 percentage in the deciding fourth set. Hartmann dished out 42 assists, added six digs, five kills of her own and four blocks.


Freshman Kayla Tronick contributed with seven kills and a pair of blocks. Senior Ashley Frazier had four kills and four digs in the winning cause.


Ohio State collected the opening set with a 25-18 win behind eight kills from junior Kaitlyn Leary as the Buckeyes hit .447 in the stanza, while holding Kentucky to just .222 on its swings. The Buckeyes recorded 20 kills in the set, opposed by 11 for UK.


In the second frame, Kentucky turned the match around, saving two set points and closing out the frame with a 4-0 run to clinch the set. The Wildcats rallied to take the set 26-24 in a stanza that saw UK and OSU exchange the lead three different times, while the score was tied on eight occasions. UK was on fire from the service stripe, recording five aces in the frame. The teams would go to the locker room tied at 1-1.


Kentucky would carry the momentum into the third set, controlling the run of play from start to finish, taking a wire-to-wire 25-15 decision. The win gave Kentucky the 2-1 lead in the match. In the third set, UK hit .357, while holding the Buckeye attack to a abysmal .000 hitting percentage in the frame. The Wildcats recorded 13 kills in the third stanza, as UK would force the OSU offense into eight errors.


UK would close out the match in the fourth set, taking the frame 25-18 to solidify its spot in the 2012 NCAA Volleyball Championship Sweet 16. The Wildcats saw an eight-point lead trimmed to five at 17-12, but Kentucky’s offense was too much, as UK hit .333 in the last frame including kills from five different players en route to the win.



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