LEXINGTON, Ky. - Powered by a masterful 14-4 run in the decisive fifth set the sixth-ranked Kentucky volleyball team marched on to the Elite Eight behind a 3-2 (20-25, 25-17, 22-25, 25-18, 15-9) win over No. 7 BYU in front of 3,219 fans in Memorial Coliseum on Friday. Kentucky trailed 2-1 in the match and then 5-1 in the deciding fifth frame before mounting comebacks to earn the win and a bit of history.
For the first time in program annals, UK has now won three matches in a single tournament. It also marks the first appearance in the Regional Finals under 13th-year head coach Craig Skinner. With the win, the 2017 senior class earned its 100th career victory and more importantly lives to see another day.
"For us to get through that match, I have to credit two groups of people for toughness," head coach Craig Skinner said. "One, obviously, is our team for battling back the way that they did in a couple different situations, being down 2-1 and then going on a 13-3 or 14-4 run in the fifth. Also our fans for being tough enough to get here at noon, parking, figuring out a way to get here and support us and be behind us the entire time. That takes a lot of energy, effort, and commitment from our fans. I'm just really proud to be representing Kentucky when people come like that."
Kentucky improved to 29-3 overall on the season, while BYU fell to 30-3 on the year. UK will play the winner of the Nebraska-Colorado match at 4 p.m. ET in Memorial Coliseum on Saturday. The match will also air live on ESPNU. For ticket and parking information, please visit the tournament central site.
In the decisive fifth frame, BYU jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead before freshman Avery Skinner put the Cats on the board with a kill. The Cougars continued the run and pushed the lead to 5-1, prompting a timeout by Kentucky. Following the break, senior Kaz Brown and freshman Madison Lilley teamed up for a much-needed block. UK continued to fight and pulled to within one at 6-5 behind consecutive kills from sophomore Leah Edmond forcing the Cougars into a timeout.
BYU snapped the spurt by the Cats out of the timeout, but Edmond came right back with another kill and then the Cougars committed an erroneous attack to tie thing at 7-7. Edmond and senior Emily Franklin combined for a Big Blue block and the Wildcats took an 8-7 edge into the switching of sides.
Franklin's touch shot lifted the home team to a two-point advantage. After BYU was unable to win the coach's challenge, Edmond came up with another crowd-pleasing kill to increase the lead to 10-7. The Cougars attempted to suppress the momentum by taking their final timeout.
The Cougars managed just that with a kill of its own. Kentucky fired right back with back-to-back kills from Edmond and Franklin making it 12-8. A triple block from the team of junior Brooke Morgan, Franklin and Lilley extended the stretch by the Cats. Franklin gave Kentucky match point at 14-9 when she utilized the block to her advantage. Skinner's 20th kill of the night would clinch the win on the next play.
Although a cliché, it really was a total team effort.
"I think the biggest thing was relax and play how we know we can play," Avery Skinner said. "You can't really do anything extra in the moment; you just have to trust your training. I think another big thing is we're playing for a higher purpose. Our other teammate who can't be with us, we all really want to play well for her and also just to get the win."
Edmond and Skinner combined to form a 1-2 punch on the outside with 21 and 20 kills, respectively. Edmond has notched 20 or more kills in consecutive NCAA matches, while Skinner's total marked a new career high. She's boasted 14 or more kills in all three NCAA Tournament appearances. Edmond also contributed 13 digs, while Skinner added four blocks. It is the eighth double-double of the season for Edmond, while Skinner's block total matched a career high.
Freshman setter Madison Lilley dished out 63 assists, the third time she has achieved the feat this season. She's the only player in program history during the 25-point rally scoring era to have 60 or more assists in at least three career matches. Lilley added 12 digs and a career-high seven blocks. She directed UK's offense to the tune of 75 kills and a .317 attacking clip, including 10 kills on a .368 percentage in the final stanza.
Morgan posted a season-high 12 kills, just one shy of matching her career-high total. She did her damage on a sizzling .529 attacking percentage and added a pair of blocks.
Franklin and Brown teamed up for 20 kills and were in on all 16 of UK's blocks in the match. Franklin had 12 kills on a .500 hitting clip while adding seven blocks. Brown had nine rejections and eight hammers. Brown has logged nine blocks in back-to-back matches - which is a season-high mark. Brown also reached 1,000 kills for a career during the third set of the match.
Defensively, five players reached double digits in the digs' column. Edmond and senior Ashley Dusek both had team highs in the category with 13. Lilley, junior McKenzie Watson, Lilley and freshman Gabby Curry all had 12. In 13 NCAA appearances under Skinner, he's never directed a defensive effort in which five different players had 10 or more digs until today's win.
Three other Wildcats posted a dig in the win. Junior Merideth Jewell came up with four digs, while Franklin matched that total. Morgan had two scoops of her own.
"She is always the first person in the huddle giving us information and I think she is really aware of what is going on," Edmond said, on Jewell. "I think that's a big reason why she makes such an impact when she comes in because she knows everything that is going on and she comes in and does her job. It's really amazing to have a player like that."