LEXINGTON, Ky. – Behind a record-breaking performance from the service line and a season-best defensive effort, the 19th-ranked Kentucky volleyball team fended off visiting Missouri with a 3-1 (21-25, 25-14, 25-17, 29-27) win on Sunday in front of more than 2,000 blue-clad fans in Memorial Coliseum.
The Wildcats racked up 11 aces, the most ever for a four-set match in the 25-point rally-scoring era, and had a season-high 15 blocks to prove the difference in a well-played match by both teams.
“Just a great defensive effort,” head coach Craig Skinner said. “I thought we were a little up-and-down offensively but defensively – with 15 blocks and 11 service aces – you don’t get many matches like that. We out blocked a top-five-blocking team in the country – really pleased with that effort.”
With the win, Kentucky pushes its winning streak to six in a row and improves to 9-4 overall and a perfect 3-0 in league action. Missouri falls to 12-4 overall and 2-2 in Southeastern Conference play. Kentucky returns to action with a road trip to Mississippi State on Friday at 8 p.m. ET.
Sophomore Kendyl Paris, freshman Lauren Tharp and junior Caitlyn Cooper broke out for career performances defensively. Paris had a career-best 10 blocks, while Tharp had a career-high nine digs. Cooper picked up a career-best six blocks and added eight kills to the offensive effort. Paris is the eighth different Wildcat to register 10 or more blocks in program history during the rally-scoring era.
Sophomore setter Madison Lilley and classmate libero Gabby Curry also contributed to the stellar defensive effort. Lilley had her fifth double-double of the season – third in the last four matches – with 45 assists and a career-high 16 digs. Curry contributed 13 digs, five assists and a pair of aces.
Every Wildcat who plays in the front row boasted at least three blocks in the match.
Junior outside hitter Leah Edmond once again led the way offensively with a career-high tying 26 kills. It matched her own four-set 25-point rally scoring era record for kills in a match. She’s posted 20 or more kills 19 times in her career, more than any other player in the rally-scoring era in UK annals. She also moved into second for career kills (1,224) in the rally-scoring era record books during today’s victory. The Lexington, Kentucky, native needs 170 to push past Whitney Billings for first.
Freshman Alli Stumler added 12 kills and 10 digs for her third double-double of the year and second in three matches. Senior Brooke Morgan contributed seven kills, a career-high and team-best three aces to go along with a trio of blocks. Classmate McKenzie Watson added three digs, one assist and an ace to aid the winning effort.
Morgan opened the match with a kill and then the Cats forced the Tigers into a miscue. An extended rally with the home squad making two spectacular plays ended with a kill from Edmond and then Lilley went up for a huge solo block to push UK’s early lead to 4-0. Mizzou benefited from a UK misfire and then the teams traded points until the Tigers strung together five straight to take a 7-5 lead. Missouri maintained its lead until Tharp’s tricky serves resulted in back-to-back aces as the Cats reclaimed the lead at 10-9. Edmond’s sixth kill of the early going gave the Cats a 15-13 edge into the media timeout. The Tigers wasted little time in clawing back, as the visitors scored the first time points out of the break. Stumler snapped the run when she tooled the block for her first kill of the day. The teams exchanged points until the Tigers shook loose for two straight and a 23-21 lead. The Wildcats opted for a timeout. The visitors earned set point with a kill out of the break, and the Cats chose to take their final timeout. A Kentucky erroneous attack proved the difference in Missouri’s 25-21 opening-set win.
The teams opened the second stanza by swapping points. Edmond smashed a kill, and then teamed up with Paris for a rejection. Paris followed with a solo block for a 5-2 Kentucky lead. Kentucky kept the pressure on with Lilley serving up an ace, and Mizzou chose to take an early timeout. Following the timeout, the visitors snapped the 4-0 spurt by the Cats with a kill. Kentucky wasted little time in getting the point back as Cooper smashed a kill to the back row. Cooper and Paris teamed up for the third block of the second set and an 8-4 home team advantage. After the Tigers cut the deficit to three, Morgan and Stumler combined for a block and then Edmond smashed her eighth kill of the match from the back row and a 12-7 lead. Kentucky then put together a 7-2 stretch highlighted by a spectacular dig from Tharp that resulted in a kill. Missouri opted for a timeout trailing 16-9. Out of the break, Morgan registered an ace. Cooper’s crafty kill to the back left corner which was followed by an ace from Watson, pushing UK’s advantage to 21-11. After an ace from Curry, Cooper and Morgan combined for a massive rejection giving the Cats set point at 24-12. Missouri fended off the frame for two points, but Morgan ended it much the way she began the set with a smash to the middle of the floor off the right side. With the 25-14 win, UK tied the match 1-1. Kentucky benefited from four service aces and five blocks in the set.
After the set began with both teams scratching the scoreboard, Edmond was involved in three straight. She posted consecutive kills and then teamed up with Paris for a block and a 4-1 lead. Missouri put together a 5-1 run of its own and grabbed an 8-6 lead. Kentucky responded immediately with kills from Edmond and Stumler which knotted the score once again. Stumler combined with Morgan for a momentum-changing block and a 10-7 edge. Edmond’s 15th kill of the match gave the home team a 15-11 lead at the media timeout. Out of the timeout, Morgan nicked the net for her second ace of the match to push UK’s lead to six. Missouri chose to take its first timeout of the set trailing 18-12 as Edmond picked up yet another kill. A triple-block from Stumler, Paris and Cooper gave the Cats a 21-14 lead heading into the stretch. It was all the breathing room the Cats would need as Stumler finished it with a kill and a 25-17 win.
Missouri began the fourth frame with four straight points and an early lead. Edmond snapped the run with her 17th kill of the match. Morgan followed with her third ace of the day to cut the deficit in half. Cooper and Paris combined for a massive block to move the score to within one at 5-4. Another ace, this time from Lilley, knotted the score at five apiece. The momentum officially swung into UK’s favor with another rejection from the duo of Cooper and Paris for a 6-5 lead, forcing Missouri into an early timeout. Out of the break, it was Edmond’s turn to pair up with Paris for another block. Mizzou scored two straight to tied things at eight, but UK immediately got the point back. The Wildcats maintained their multi-point advantage until the home team shook loose for another 2-0 run behind a kill from Edmond and a block from Paris and Lilley for a 15-11 edge. Paris got in on the offensive action and then teamed up once again with Cooper for a block and an 18-13 lead. Mizzou opted to take its final timeout. Missouri continued to fight and eventually pulled to within two at 19-17. The Wildcats chose to talk it over. Following the timeout, Stumler smoked a ball cross-court for her 10th kill of the match. Missouri would not go away, however, and eventually pulled to within one at 20-19, but UK answered with another kill from Stumler. Missouri responded with a kill and Stumler answered back with another kill for a 22-20 edge. Edmond’s well-played kill that dipped just over the block made it a three-point lead for the home team. Edmond’s 24th kill of the day lifted the Cats to match point. Missouri extended the match three times, eventually tying it at 24 apiece. A service error by the Tigers allowed the Cats another chance at clinching the match, but Mizzou rallied once again with a kill to answer. The visitors then earned a chance at extending the match with a set point of their own. Edmond brought it back to a tie score with another nifty kill tracking just over the block. The Tigers responded with another kill and Cooper answered the call for UK. Kentucky went back to Cooper who tooled the block to again give UK match point at 28-27. The Cats forced the visitors into a hitting error to lift the home team to a 29-27 fourth set win for a 3-1 win in the match.