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Kentucky Travels to Tennessee Aiming for SEC Title

Squads will compete for NCAA automatic qualification for SEC


LEXINGTON, Ky. – The 16th-ranked Kentucky volleyball team travels to 15th-ranked Tennessee aiming for a share of the Southeastern Conference championship in the regular season finale for both teams on Wednesday night. With a victory, UK would earn the SEC’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
Tennessee has already clinched at least a share of the SEC crown with a 26-3 overall record and an 18-1 mark in league action. The Lady Vols’ lone loss of the season came at the hands of the Kentucky Wildcats in a five-set thriller in Lexington on Oct. 12.
UK owns a 26-4 overall mark and a 17-2 clip in league play. With a win over the Lady Vols, the two squads would share the conference title, but UK would receive the league’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament based on head-to-head meetings.
Kentucky is coming off a dramatic five-set match against Arkansas on Sunday during the team’s Senior Day festivities. UK responded to a 2-0 hole to claim the victory in five sets of play by winning the final three frames. It marked the first time this season the Blue and White responded to a 2-0 deficit and came back to win. However, the Wildcats improved to 6-0 on the season when the match needs five sets to determine.
Senior Gretchen Giesler provided a spark to the offensive effort for UK with six kills on a team-high .417 hitting percentage over the final three stanzas. Classmate Becky Pavan aided the UK defensive charge with seven blocks to lead UK to a season-high 15 rejections in a five-set match.
Junior Ashley Frazier posted 10 or more kills for the 21st time this season with a team-high 15 hammers in the victory over the Razorbacks. Sophomore Jessi Greenberg paced the back-line defensive unit for the first time in her career with 16 digs. Sophomore Whitney Billings’ continued her impressive play down the stretch with her third double-double in UK’s last four matches. Billings notched 12 kills and 13 digs in a winning effort.
Kentucky’s offensive rhythm runs through the hands of junior setter Christine Hartmann. Hartmann passes out 11.0 assists per frame and finds six different Wildcat attackers for between 2.20 and 3.15 kills per set. UK’s offense ranks among the league leaders in kills per frame, assists and hitting percentage.
UK’s blocking effort is tops in the SEC with an average of 2.53 blocks per set. Pavan leads the way with an average of 1.04 per set. Kentucky, however, has six players record 0.53 blocks per set or more for another all-around dynamic.
The Wildcats’ fourth 20-win season in seven seasons under the direction of Craig Skinner can also be attributed to UK’s exceptional serve-receive stats. The Blue and White post an average of 1.35 aces per set, but allow just 0.76 aces per frame. Kentucky’s passing effort is exceptional with a .961 clip with opponents managing just a .934 percentage.
The Lady Vols are paced by the reigning SEC Player of the Week in Kelsey Robinson. Robinson leads the league with 4.50 kills per set and more than five points per frame. Freshman Tiffany Baker earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors following wins over Arkansas and LSU. Baker averages 2.40 kills per set a 0.59 blocks per stanza. The Lady Vols’ defensive effort is paced by 1.13 blocks per stanza from DeeDee Harrison.
Both offenses rank as the top-two in the league, and both have a balanced attack setting up another epic showdown between the border-state rivals.
In a match that featured two top-25 ranked teams, a pair of conference leaders and two dynamic offenses, 1,959 fans at Memorial Coliseum were not disappointed in an exhilarating five-set match in which Kentucky outlasted Tennessee 3-2 (26-24, 24-26, 25-20, 24-26, 15-13) on Oct. 12.

The back-and-forth battled featured a total of 37 tie scores and 19 lead changes in five sets of action with none closer than the final fifth frame. The two teams battled through seven knotted scores and four lead swaps before Kentucky finally prevailed with the 15-13 final margin.

"Statistically before the match, you think it's going to be a great match," Skinner said. "It was because statistically we do the same thing. When you look at it, it was (even), 65 kills to 63 kills, 34 errors to 33 errors. Defense is what made a big difference for us. With eight serving aces compared to zero, five more digs and five more blocks, you've got to play good defense against very good teams, which Tennessee is. I think that was a big difference in the game."

UK's defensive effort once again proved the difference in the match as the Wildcats totaled 13 blocks led by six from Billings. Kentucky limited Tennessee's high-octane offense to a .164 hitting clip and forced the Lady Vols into 33 attacking errors. Klefot anchored the back line with 21 scoops as three players reached double-figures. Freshman Lauren O'Conner posted a career-high 12 scoops and Hartmann added a career-best 16. Freshman Jackie Napper posted eight digs and Greenberg contributed six to the Wildcat cause.

Hartmann led the offense by dishing out 53 assists to post her second double-double effort of the season. Four different Wildcats posted 10 or more hammers in the match for the second time this season. Pavan led the way with 16 kills on .306 hitting. Billings was next with 15, followed by 11 each from senior Ann Armes and Frazier.

UK's serving was also spectacular in the match with the Blue and White posting eight points off of serves. Frazier notched a career-high five aces.

The match with the Lady Vols wraps up regular season action for Kentucky. UK will learn its NCAA fate on Sunday at 6 p.m. ET.

Kentucky's Memorial Coliseum will play host to the NCAA Regionals Dec. 9-10. UK is one of four sites selected for Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups with one team advancing to the Final Four in San Antonio, Texas, from the Lexington Region. Opening night matches are scheduled for 5 and 7 p.m. ET. Saturday’s final is set for a 4:30 p.m. ET first serve.



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