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Late Set Rallies, Balance Leads No. 16 UK to Sweep of Aggies

uk volleyball1 300LEXINGTON, Ky. (/11/24/13) - Late set rallies and balance all the way around propelled 16th-ranked Kentucky to an impressive 3-0 (26-24, 25-23, 26-24) sweep of visiting Texas A&M on Friday night in front of 1,592 fans in Memorial Coliseum. UK pushed past the visitors in each of the first and third sets, while three players registered double-figure kills and four more in double-figure digs. Senior Alexandra Morgan led the charge with 10 kills on .529 hitting while adding a squad-best eight blocks.

"Our kids were better executing under pressure than we were at the beginning and middle of all three sets," ninth-year UK head coach Craig Skinner said. "I'm proud of that. I'm not real thrilled about how many hitting errors we had, but we found a way to win against a team very hungry here at the end of the season. I'm very proud of Jessi Greenberg and Jackie (Napper) and Kelsey (Wolf) for making big-time defensive plays in the back row, and then of course Whitney (Billings) and Zan (Morgan), our seniors at the net making difference-making plays.

"Every team we play from here on out is very good," Skinner said. "And so you expect to be in sets after 20 in close games, and you've got to be comfortable being uncomfortable and we definitely were that night."

Senior Whitney Billings paced the offensive attack with a team-high 15 kills. She also added 10 digs for her 39th career double-double. Morgan and junior Lauren O'Conner joined her in double-figures with 10 kills apiece. Junior Jackie Napper tallied a team-high 17 digs. Freshman Kelsey Wolf added a career-high 12, with Billings and freshman Anni Thomasson reaching double-figures with 10 apiece.

Kentucky improves to 21-6 overall and 13-3 in Southeastern Conference action following a win in its only matchup with Texas A&M this season. The Aggies drop to 16-11 overall and an even 8-8 mark in league competition. The Wildcats return home to face Missouri on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. ET. The Tigers enter the contest undefeated for the season. It will also serve as UK's Senior Day as the class of Whitney Billings Jessi Greenberg, Alexandra Morgan and Desirre Wilkerson will be honored prior to the start of the match.

"There will be emotions flying everywhere," Skinner said in anticipation of Senior Day. "It's a good thing though. You can't really anticipate what'll happen the first part of the first set, but as long as we just keep our composure and stay focused and have tunnel vision through each point, we'll give ourselves a great chance to be successful."

Thomasson and Schwarzwalder contributed five kills apiece, with Schwarzwalder also adding six blocks. Sophomore setter Morgan Bergren passed out 42 assists while also logging five kills of her own and five blocks. Senior Jessi Greenberg added four digs to aid the Wildcat cause.

Already owning a 2-0 lead in the match, Kentucky rallied from a 23-21 deficit to claim a 26-24 third set win. UK scored five of the set's final points to capture the sweep. Billings led the way with seven kills in the stanza on a smoking .545 hitting clip. Morgan added four hammers on an even more impressive .800 hitting percentage. Schwarzwalder had two blocks, while Napper came away with seven digs in the final frame.

Billings and Morgan teamed up for a block to get the third set underway. The Aggies quickly pulled away for a two-point lead at 4-2. Three-straight kills from O'Conner and Morgan lifted the Cats to a 5-4 lead before the Aggies earned a kill of their own to begin another back-and-forth battle. A block from the tandem of Morgan and Schwarzwalder immediately flustered the Aggies into another mistake. O'Conner then smashed a kill and followed suit by teaming up with Bergren for the fourth block of the stanza to push UK to a 10-6 lead. The Aggies opted to burn an early timeout to attempt to stymie the Blue and White run.

The Aggies were able to fight back to tie the score at 11 apiece, but Billings quickly put an end to the run with her 10th kill of the night. Propelled by Billings, the Wildcats kept the heat on eventually stretching the lead to as large as four at 16-12. The Aggies would utilize a 4-1 run to pull back to within one at 17-16 and the Wildcats opted to take their first timeout.

Following the timeout, Bergren came up with a solo block to give UK back a two-point cushion. Sophomore Shelby Workman dueled at the net and won to lift UK to a three-point edge at 19-16. Texas A&M fired back to score the next five and take the lead at 21-19. Kentucky took its final timeout after the Aggies scored nine of the last 12 points.

O'Conner came out of the timeout firing for her 10th kill of the night to end the Aggie run and pull UK back to within one. The Aggies scored the next two to grab a 23-21 edge before Billings' kill ended the run. Wolf entered to serve up an ace to once again pull UK back to within one at 23-22 prompting an Aggie timeout. Billings fired away with a kill to tie the score at 23, but A&M answered for set point. Schwarzwalder responded to once again tie the score, this time at 24. Billings' tooled the Aggies' block for match-point Cats. Morgan and Billings teamed up for the match-clinching block to preserve the sweep following a 26-24 final set victory.

"We went for it," Skinner said in regards to the third set comeback. "We got down and Kelsey went back and served some tough balls and made some defensive plays. Morgan (Bergren) made some great decisions in transition to get kills. At that point in time, it's about individual plays and staying within ourselves and our kids stepped up."

Morgan led the way in the opening set with five kills on .444 hitting to couple with five blocks en route to a 26-24 win for the home team. Billings added four kills and four digs, while Wolf secured seven digs. Kentucky charted 17 kills compared to just nine from the Aggies. The Blue and White committed 13 hitting errors enabling the visitors to remain in the set.

Billings opened the match with a kill to the middle of the floor before Texas A&M responded with a pair of kills to take the lead. After an extended rally, Billings fired for her second kill of the set to tie the score once again. From there the teams would exchange points back-and-forth until back-to-back blocks with Morgan teaming up with O'Conner and Bergren gave UK a 6-4 lead.

Texas A&M would eventually climb back into things and tie the score at nine. Schwarzwalder' s second kill of the stanza ended the A&M run. The Aggies however, answered with a pair of kills of their own to take an 11-10 edge, but Thomasson scored with a kill to tie it back up at 11. Morgan and Billings teamed up for a block to reclaim the home team's advantage. A 3-1 run by the visitors pushed the score to 14-12 in favor of Texas A&M forcing UK to take a timeout.

Schwarzwalder broke a 17-17 tie with a magnificent solo block, but UK couldn't capitalize on the momentum swing as the Aggies scored the next two points to reclaim a two-point edge. Schwarzwalder and Billings logged consecutive kills to knot the score once again, this time at 20. Thomasson and Bergren them teamed up for the sixth block of the set to give UK a 21-20 lead forcing Texas A&M into a timeout.

The momentum shifted once again as the Aggies were able to capitalize on a couple of UK's mistakes to earn a 23-22 lead. UK opted to use its final timeout to attempt to quell the run. Morgan came out firing out of the timeout to tie the score and a back-row attack charged to Texas A&M gave the Wildcats set point. The Aggies were able to save the set with a kill to the back row after a long rally was exchanged. Morgan again answered for Kentucky with her fifth kill of the set and O'Conner delivered with the set-clinching kill for a 26-24 win.

In the second set, Kentucky overcame a late-set deficit at 23-22 to score the final three points off kills from O'Conner and Billings to go into the locker room with a 2-0 advantage. UK posted 17 kills with O'Conner leading the way with six in the frame. The Wildcats' utilized a .261 hitting clip and O'Conner's .455 bested the squad. Thomasson and Schwarzwalder paced the defensive effort with six digs and a trio of blocks, respectively.

Billings once again opened play to begin the second frame with a kill by tooling the Aggies' block. This time, however, Texas A&M scored the next three points to grab a 3-1 advantage before a service error spelled the run. A pair of blocks from O'Conner and Schwarzwalder propelled the Cats to an 8-7 lead before the Aggies recaptured the lead with four consecutive points forcing the Blue and White into a timeout.

Kentucky rallied back to tie the score at 14 apiece. The run was highlighted by a block from Morgan and Bergren and a kill from UK's setter. The Aggies didn't waste long in retaking the lead, however, immediately scoring on the next play. Billings answered with a thunderous kill from the back row to start a back and forth battle between the squads. Three straight kills from the home team pushed the lead back in favor of the Wildcats at 19-17 prompting a timeout from the visitors.

Out of the break the Aggies fired back with two straight points to tie the score at 19 all. Thomasson took advantage of a one-on-one matchup to quiet the run. From there the teams would trade points until UK shook loose for back-to-back kills from O'Conner and Billings to lift the home team to set point at 24-23. Texas A&M used its final timeout to attempt to regroup. The break couldn't stop the momentum swing as O'Conner quickly laced the set-clinching kill off the Aggie block for a 2-0 lead into the break.

Kentucky's Memorial Coliseum will play host to the NCAA Regionals Dec. 13-14. The regional will get underway Dec. 13, with semifinal contests at 5 and 7 p.m. ET, while the regional final will commence Dec. 14 at 4 p.m. 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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