Saturday, the second-ranked Kentucky Volleyball squad defeated unranked Auburn in the first leg of a two-game weekend, sweeping the Tigers in straight sets, 3-0. Folks, this was a thrashing.
From the moment I entered Memorial Coliseum and got my first up-close glance at the two SEC squads, it was immediately clear Kentucky would not only win — they would dominate. The Star Wars music that blared over the speakers as the teams were introduced was reflective of the challenge the poor cubs from Auburn were up against: A Death Star of a volleyball program.
Kentucky hitters Avery Skinner, her sister Madi, Alli Stumler, Azhani Tealer, put craters in the court in pregame warmups. If you haven’t gotten a chance to see a Craig Skinner-coached team in person, I highly advise that you do (when COVID appropriate). This group is monstrously imposing compared to lower-tier SEC talent the same way Kentucky’s basketball team is towards first-round NCAA Tournament opponents. They’re a star-studded group full of ridiculous athletes–the best in the country–and they asserted their will from start to finish on Saturday.
The first set got off to a sour start for Kentucky as one of the best players in the country, Avery Skinner, landed awkwardly on her ankle after a spike, and grimaced on the ground while clutching her ankle. She limped off the court and did not return to the game. However, after a trip back to the locker room she returned to the court and rode the stationary bike for a few minutes before returning to the bench to stand with her teammates for the remainder of the game.
Following the injury, the freshman Skinner, Madi, came in and picked up right where her sister left off. The first set remained close through a 9-7 score. Then, with junior Lauren Tharp serving, UK rattled off seven straight points to make it a 16-7 game. Auburn simply didn’t have the talent to battle back and UK glided to an easy 25-14 first set victory.
Kentucky jumped out to an early lead in the second set and never let the Tigers threaten. Senior setter Madison Lilley was particularly impressive in the second set, and may have been Kentucky’s best overall player on Saturday. I don’t believe she sat on the bench for a second all day. She helped lead Kentucky to a second set win, 25-16.
On the day, she posted an astounding 48 assists, along with two kills, and was a defensive pest at the net, blocking and tipping a number of attacks while also directing her teammates as a vocal leader. All-around great performance from her. Perhaps Rajon Rondo taught her a thing or two about being a point guard-type of player on the court:
The writing was on the wall before the third set began. Even without one of their superstar talents, Kentucky had thrashed Auburn in the first two sets and would easily do so in the third. With a wider rotation towards the end of the game, Coach Craig Skinner got to experiment with some of his underclassmen (Avery Skinner’s injury also opened up some extra opportunity), knowing his ‘Cats had victory in the bag. Set No. 3 was no different than the previous pair. Kentucky won 25-15 and closed out the first leg of their bouts vs. Auburn.
To sum it up: this was an onslaught. Kentucky more than doubled Auburn in total kills, 54 to 25, held Auburn to a negative hitting percentage in the first set and allowed a cumulative .149% compared to the ‘Cats .385%; in total, they outscored the Tigers 75-45, almost entirely without Avery Skinner.
I suppose there’s a reason Auburn was picked last in the preseason SEC Coaches Poll and Kentucky first.
Sunday presents another opportunity for Kentucky to extend their undefeated 5-0 record, once again against the Auburn Tigers. The game will start at 4 p.m. and will air on the SEC Network. To bide the time until then, here are some quick clips from the win:
**cue dramatic sweep music.** ??? pic.twitter.com/7qIvB8lGfs
— Kentucky Volleyball (@KentuckyVB) November 8, 2020