OMAHA, Neb. - The No. 13 Kentucky volleyball team overcame a slow start to take down Northern Iowa, 3-2 (20-25, 25-18, 25-20, 20-25, 15-9), in the second match of the Bluejay Invitational on Saturday afternoon. With the win the Cats improve to 4-1 on the season, while the Panthers suffer their first loss and fall to 4-1.
Kentucky went down early 1-0, but stormed back to win the next two sets. After a hard-fought fourth set, the Cats responded with a big dominant fifth set win over a team which beat No. 18 Southern Cal yesterday. Four kills from junior Brooke Morgan and seven assists from freshman Madison Lilley in the final frame helped UK win 15-9.
"We just did a really good job of playing better defense after the first set," head coach Craig Skinner said. "First set our defense was not real good, but we fought through it and made plays. We had big plays in the fifth set defensively."
Lilley became just the third player in the 25-point rally scoring era to record 65 assists or more in a match, joining Morgan Bergren and Elizabeth Koberstein, who each did it once. Lilley added 11 digs for her third double-double of her career in just her fifth collegiate match. Lilley's assists helped set up the Cats balanced attack. Four Wildcats hit double-digit kill totals and eight recorded at least one kill.
"Today was a really good bounce back," Lilley said. "We had a mindset of having a clean slate and we fought hard. Huge credit to our back row. (McKenzie) Watson, (Merideth) Jewell and (Gabby) Curry were passing really well and it gave us opportunities to find different hitters. We distributed the ball pretty well and it's fun when you have big arms."
Freshman Leah Edmond led the balanced attack with 21 kills, one off her season-best of 22, which she recorded at Utah. Freshman Avery Skinner was firing on all cylinders for the second straight match. She posted a career- best 19 kills on 41 swings. Junior Brooke Morgan had 12 terminations, a season-high and one off her career best on 30 swings for a .333 attacking percentage. Brown, the team leader in attack percentage, hit .360 today with 11 kills, a season high.
"I think it's great that we had a balanced attack and kudos to Madison for getting such great balls to everybody," Edmond said. "It just throws everyone off. They have to respect the middle and that leaves us a lot of one-on-ones."
Libero Gabby Curry joined the 25+ dig club with her career-high performance of 25 scoops in the win. She is the fifth player to record 25 or more digs in a match during the 25-point rally scoring era. The back row seemed to dig everything, as five players ended up with double-digit scoops. Edmond put up a double-double for the second-straight match after posting 15 digs to go with her 21 kills. Junior McKenzie Watson had 13 scoops, while junior Merideth Jewell recorded her highest mark while at Kentucky with 10.
UK will wrap up the Bluejay Invitational tonight at 7 p.m. when it faces No. 18 Southern California inside D.J. Sokol Arena.
Kentucky started things on the right foot after an Edmond kill. UK was able to jump out to an early 3-1 lead thanks to a Skinner termination before UNI knotted the match at 3-3. The match stayed tied until the Panthers jumped out to a 9-6 advantage. After a mini run from UNI gave the Panthers a 13-9 lead, UK called a timeout. Each team swapped points until Kentucky found a three-point run, concluded by a Lilley ace, to force a Panther timeout at 16-14. UNI was able get a 21-16 advantage before Morgan ended the run. Kentucky was able to manage four more points but Northern Iowa won the set, 25-20. Skinner led the way with seven first-set kills while Lilley posted 15 assists and an ace.
UK started the set on a 3-0 run thanks to a Big Blue block from Lilley, Brown and Edmond and kills from Edmond and Lilley. UNI responded and cut the lead to 4-3, but kills from Brown and Skinner pushed it back to 6-3. The Panthers chipped away at the UK lead and pushed it to 10-9, but a solo stuff from Brown ended the mini UNI run at 11-9. The Panthers earned a point, but Skinner posted back-to-back kills and then a UNI error from the Panthers forced a timeout at 14-10. Both teams traded points until Curry earned the rare libero kill at 20-15. Brown was able to go back-to-back, and an attack error forced another Panther timeout at 23-18. An Emily Franklin kill from a Lilley helper won the set for UK at 25-18. Brown posted five kills in the set, while Edmond had four.
Kentucky started the set down 2-0, but rattled off three straight points to go up 3-2 thanks to a Lilley and Brown block. Play seesawed until 7-6, where UK posted a three-point run and forced a UNI timeout at 10-6. UNI worked its way back in the third and tied the set at 14-14. After swapping points, a Morgan kill, Jewell ace and Franklin block forced Northern Iowa to us a timeout at 18-15. UK posted two more points after a ball handling error and an Edmond stuff before UNI could end the run. Play seesawed all the way to set point where Skinner earned the final termination giving UK a 25-20 win. UK had a balanced attack in the third set with Edmond, Morgan, Brown, Skinner and Franklin all producing two or more kills.
UNI started the set with a kill, but Brown responded with a solo block. Neither team grabbed more than a one-point advantage until UNI rattled off three straight points to make the set 14-12 and force a Kentucky timeout. After an Edmond kill cut the Panther lead to 18-16, UNI ballooned its lead to 20-16. Edmond picked up a kill to stop the run but then put the ball in the net for a service error to give UNI a 21-17 advantage. Skinner got a kill to cut the lead to 22-20, but UNI responded with two of its own and made UK use a timeout at 24-20. UNI won the set 25-20.
Northern Iowa scored the first point, but Morgan responded with a kill that sparked a four-point run that ended with a UNI attacking error and timeout. The Panthers got a termination out of the timeout and then UK started another run, fueled by kills from Morgan and Edmond to give UK a 7-2 advantage. UNI was able to get the lead to 9-7, but a service error and a Morgan kill extended the lead back to 11-7. A Big Blue block from Franklin, Morgan and Skinner pushed the lead to five. UNI and UK traded points and then a Panther service error gave Kentucky match point. Kentucky won the set 3-2.