UK volleyball 300LEXINGTON, Ky. (9/16/13) – Behind a dominating 15-8 fifth set victory the 19th-ranked Kentucky volleyball team upset No. 4 Minnesota 3-2 (25-18, 22-25, 25-19, 23-25, 15-8) in front of 1,586 fans in Memorial Coliseum on Saturday. The win over the fourth-ranked Gophers is the biggest upset in head coach Craig Skinner’s nine seasons.
Kentucky (6-3) not only handed Minnesota (8-1) its first loss of the season, the Golden Gophers lost their first three sets of the 2013 campaign. Minnesota started the season with eight straight 3-0 sweeps. In each of their previous 24 sets, no opponent had scored more than 19 points against them. Saturday night, the Wildcats reached at least 22 points in all four possible sets.
“It was a heck of an effort,” Skinner said. “We were very aggressive tonight and followed the game plan to a ‘T’. Players just stepped up and made plays and you have to make individual plays against great teams and that’s what we did tonight.”
The win over the fourth-ranked Gophers bested UK’s win over No. 5 Florida during the 2009 season as the highest in the Skinner era. The victory is the biggest win over a ranked opponent since the Blue and White downed No. 3 Texas at home in 1993. The win tied the all-time series with Minnesota at three wins apiece and is the first time the two schools have met when UM is ranked.
“It’s just a great win,” Skinner added. “To me, the biggest thing is that it builds our confidence and allows our players to understand the level we can play at. I’m proud of these guys and the way they stepped up. I’m looking forward to the next opportunity to get in the gym with these guys because they are fun to coach.”
UK’s next opportunity comes seven days from now in Nashville, Tenn., against Lipscomb. The Sept. 21 matchup will begin at 3 p.m. ET and air live on ESPN3. The road contest is followed by Kentucky’s final non-conference match of the season against Morehead State on Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum.
Senior Whitney Billings led the way for UK with a match-high 25 kills and 12 digs to couple with a match best .467 hitting percentage. Junior Lauren O’Conner tossed down a career-high 18 kills, while classmate Jackie Napper accounted for a career-best 24 digs.
Sophomore setter Morgan Bergren passed out a career-high 55 assists and logged her second career double-double with 10 digs. Freshman Anni Thomasson had her fourth double-double, all within in the last five contests, with 10 kills and 14 digs. Senior Alexandra Morgan posted six kills and added a team-high eight blocks.
Kentucky claimed the first set, 25-18 before Minnesota answered back with a 25-22 victory in the second set. The third frame belonged to the Wildcats by a 25-19 margin and gave them a 2-1 lead. A close, 25-23 win in the fourth set that was tied at 23-23 went to UM, which forced a fifth and deciding set.
The Wildcats trailed the fifth set 2-1 when they took off and never looked back. Just like that, a 5-0 run gave UK a 6-2 lead they would never relinquish. The fast start was paced by Billings, who notched kills on three of the first five points. The 6-2 advantage quickly turned to 10-4 and 11-6, when a string of three straight points went Kentucky’s way to set up match point at 14-6. O’Conner and Bergren each contributed kills on the 3-0 run, and after Minnesota tallied two points to stave off match point, Bergren sent home a kill for the final, upset-clinching point.
Billings and Thomasson, with four kills, and Bergren with two, all hit .667 in the final frame with zero errors. Senior Jessi Greenberg had five of her season-high nine digs in the fifth set. Bergren dished out eight assists.
The opening set began when Minnesota won the match’s first point, but it would be the only time in the stanza Kentucky would not have the advantage. The 25-18 win was fueled by a 6-1 run by UK that brought the Wildcats to within three points of victory at 22-15. UM rallied with three of the next four points to make it 23-18, but kills from O’Conner and Billings resulted in the final two scores of the set. UK led by as many as seven late in the set, and the latest of three ties occurred at 11-11. The Wildcats out-hit the Golden Gophers .286 to .111 and posted a 17-11 advantage in kills. Eight kills from Billings was a match high, followed by O’Conner’s five. Both attackers hit .500 in the opening frame.
The third frame began much like the second set, with back-and-forth action. An 8-8 tie was the seventh of the set, but that’s when things changed in favor of the Wildcats in a big way. A 6-0 UK run made it 14-8, and that run was extended to 15-4, which put the score at 23-12. After a UK attack error made it 23-13, O’Conner put the Cats within one at 24-13 with a kill. It took seven points, but O’Conner put the set away with her set-leading fifth kill to stop a 6-0 Gopher run and give the Wildcats a 2-1 edge in the match. In addition to O’Conner’s five, Billings had four kills and hit .500 in the frame. UK hit .222 on the set, compared to UM’s .061. Kentucky out-blocked Minnesota 6-4 in the set.
The second set, which featured 14 ties, went to Minnesota by a 25-22 margin. The fourth set was won by the Gophers 25-23. UK tied the set as late as 21-21, but did not lead after an early 3-2 advantage was erased.
Kentucky's Memorial Coliseum will play host to the NCAA Regionals Dec. 13-14. UK is one of four sites selected for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups with one team advancing to the Final Four in Seattle, Wash., from the Lexington Region. This marks the second time in three seasons Memorial Coliseum will host this premier volleyball event.
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