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
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
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.