UK
Frazier

COLLEGE STATION, Texas --The age-old cliché during NCAA Tournament time of “survive and advance,” rang true for No. 16 Kentucky in a sensational 3-2 (25-20, 16-25, 22-25, 25-15, 16-14) victory against Dayton in the opening round of play on Thursday evening. The Wildcats survived two match-points before scoring the game’s final four points to escape the fifth frame with a 16-14 win.

“The worst part about that match is that somebody had to lose,” UK coach Craig Skinner said. “That was a really good volleyball match, and obviously I’m extremely proud of our players for competing. We had our backs against the wall and really got out-competed there for a while, but they found a way to grind it out and get the win.”

UK advanced to the second round of tournament play for the third time during Skinner’s tenure and the first time since 2009. UK improved to 27-5 on the season and remains a perfect 7-0 in matches that need five-sets to determine a winner. Dayton concluded its season with a 25-7 overall record.

Dayton opened the decisive fifth set by grabbing an early 3-0 lead. The Flyers would maintain that edge for the duration of the set including going up 14-12 to earn match-point. Dayton committed just its second error of the stanza for UK to save the first match-point. Junior Stephanie Klefot then turned in the Wildcats’ third service ace of the frame to knot the score at 14.

With Klefot remaining at the service line, junior setter Christine Hartmann and senior middle blocker Gretchen Giesler combined for the Wildcats’ ninth block of the match to give UK match-point at 15-14. Kentucky wasted little time in answering the call as Giesler swatted home the match’s winning point into the center of the defense for the 16-14 win.

The Wildcats’ received tremendous efforts from junior Ashley Frazier who posted the first 20-kill match of the season for Kentucky. Freshman Lauren O’Conner produced simply the best match of her young career with a career-best 18 kills while adding six digs to the winning cause.

Klefot posted a match-high 28 digs and sophomore Whitney Billings totaled a career-high 20 digs to lead the defensive unit. Sophomore Jessi Greenberg and freshman Jackie Napper both had 14 digs and Hartmann added eight. Billings, senior Becky Pavan and Hartmann led UK at the net with four blocks apiece.

Giesler chipped in with four kills and a pair of blocks, while classmate Ann Armes contributed five kills and matched Giesler with two rejections.

Needing a victory to force a decisive fifth set, the Wildcats jumped out to a 13-8 lead in the fourth behind the tremendous play of O’Conner. The freshman totaled five kills and an ace to begin the fourth and guide the Wildcats to a five-point lead and force the Flyers into a timeout.

Following the break, UK did not let up scoring the next three points all of which coming in the form of kills to open up a 16-8 advantage. The Wildcats kept their feet on the pedal and a kill from Hartmann gave UK a 25-15 fourth set win to force a deciding fifth frame.

Kentucky earned a 2-1 lead to begin the first set after back-to-back kills from Billings and Pavan. The Wildcats utilized a 4-0 run in the middle of the stanza to stretch the advantage to five at 12-7. Hartmann and Pavan combined for a block during the run to highlight the stretch and force Dayton into an early timeout.

Following the timeout the Wildcats forced the Flyers into a hitting error and Frazier connected on a deep cross-court shot to reclaim a five-point edge at 17-12. Kentucky earned its largest lead at eight points following consecutive kills from Frazier and Armes at 20-12. O’Conner drove home the 15th kill of the set to lift the Blue and White to a 25-20 first set victory.

The second set proved to be a much more back-and-forth battle with neither team able to stretch a lead to more than two points at a time. The squads swapped points back and forth until the Flyers were able to earn a two-point edge at 13-11 following consecutive blocks and UK chose to use a timeout. Dayton continued to maintain an edge and closed the set on a 7-0 run to claim a 25-16 second set victory and tie the match at one set apiece.

Dayton opened the third set by going ahead by five at 10-5 and forced the Blue and White into an early timeout. The Flyers stretched the lead to as many as eight at 20-12, but UK charted an 8-1 rally to pull to within one at 21-20. During the run, Pavan and Hartmann combined for a pair of blocks to highlight the stretch. Dayton was able to fend off the rally though as the Flyers scored five of the stanza’s final seven points to win 25-22 and go up 2-1 in the match.