SEATTLE, Wash. -- The Kentucky volleyball team opened the 2016 NCAA Tournament with a hard-fought 3-1 (24-26, 25-22, 25-10, 25-17) win over Colorado State on Friday night in the Alaska Airlines Arena on the campus of the University of Washington. The Wildcats advance to the second round of the tournament, and will play the winner of the Washington/Texas A&M Corpus Christi match tomorrow at 10:30 p.m. ET.
"Obviously, being in the tournament and getting a chance to advance is special," head coach Craig Skinner said. "I was very pleased with our defensive effort and our sustained energy throughout rallies. We tweaked our lineup a little bit this week and smoothed it out in practice and during the first set. I'm happy to keep going and getting another opportunity to work with this team."
The Wildcats were excellent on the defensive side of the ball, led by the efforts of sophomore McKenzie Watson. After a lineup change gave Watson her first start of the year, she did not disappoint. Watson flew past her career high in digs with 21 during the win, and was one of four players who hit double-digit dig numbers. Junior Ashley Dusek hit double digits for the 28th time this season with 17 scoops of her own. Senior Anni Thomasson produced 16, a season best, and sophomore Olivia Dailey had a career-best 12. Kentucky finished with 80 digs during the match, three off the 25-point rally scoring era for a four-match record.
The Wildcats withstood a first set loss to come back and win 3-1. Freshman Leah Edmond led the attack with 20 kills, and hit at a .226 attacking clip. Junior Darian Mack was phenomenal in the first round match after picking up a number of clutch kills throughout the match. Mack had 11 kills overall on 28 swings.
"McKenzie, being a three-rotation defensive specialist, had 21 digs tonight," Skinner said. "That's a pretty special night for somebody in that role."
Thomasson and Dailey were efficient on offense and defense. Thomasson produced eight kills and a block to go along with her 16 scoops. Dailey added 47 assists during the match, helping the Wildcats earn 58 kills in the four-set match. Dailey earned her sixth double-double of the season, with her latest three coming in her prior four matches.
At the net, UK had 13.0 blocks. Junior Emily Franklin was stellar with seven block assists. Seven Wildcats earned at least one block, and junior Kaz Brown followed Franklin with five block assists and one block solo. Sophomore Brooke Morgan, Dailey, Thomasson and Edmond also recorded rejections during the win.
Serving played a major role in the match once again. Watson and Dusek earned two service aces each, while Edmond and Thomasson each added one of their own.
CSU started the match with a kill, and Leah Edmond answered with her first two kills of the set to make it 2-1. The match rocked back-and-forth with both teams answering points. The Rams took a 15-13 lead into the media timeout. Colorado State controlled the match out of the timeout, but Kentucky would answer. After going down 21-16, UK fought back and tied the set at 24-24 after Colorado State committed a ball handling error. After CSU called timeout, the Rams recovered and rattled off two-straight points to win the first set 26-24.
Franklin gave UK the first point of the set with a kill after a CSU attack error, the Rams fired off five-straight points to take an early 5-2 lead. Kentucky answered and took a 9-8 lead after a rejection from Thomasson and Franklin. Much like the first match, the second set was a close affair until Kentucky took control after the set was tied at 20-20. Brown gave UK a 22-20 lead with two-straight kills, and CSU could not recover. Kentucky won the set 25-22 and finished it with a Thomasson kill.
The third set was dominated by Kentucky from the start. Morgan handed UK the first point of the set, and Kentucky did not look back. A Dusek ace forced a CSU timeout at 8-5, and the Cats came out of the timeout on a 7-2 run capped by a Franklin and Morgan block. Another run by UK, this time 5-0, extended the lead to 12 at 20-8. CSU would only be able to score two more points in the frame, and Edmond finished the Rams off with a kill to give UK a 25-10 win.
Kentucky began the fourth set the same way it ended the third, with an Edmond kill. Kentucky was able to get out to a 6-3 lead on a Franklin kill, but CSU responded and cut the lead to one. UK kept the lead at one until 9-8, when the Cats ripped off six-straight points to extend the lead to 15-8. Kentucky's largest lead of the set would be at 21-12, which was obtained with a Dusek ace. The Rams tried to comeback, but UK would win the set 25-17 and the match on a block from Brown and Morgan.