Just as they did on Saturday, the second-ranked Kentucky Volleyball team swept unranked Auburn in straight sets, 3-0. The two matches vs. Auburn this weekend followed a nearly-identical course: Kentucky dominating the Tigers, letting them hang around for a few points each set, before laying down the hammer.
The only negative news coming out of a weekend of Wildcat spikes and slams is the health of senior hitter Avery Skinner, a player whose national profile was rising with every outing. She went down with an ankle injury at the very beginning of Saturday’s match and did not return.
Sunday, she showed up to Memorial Colesium wearing a boot on her left leg and again sat out of a UK beatdown. Luckily, a committee of freshmen helped piece together her production, and the ‘Cats standard domination of the SEC continued.
I mentioned earlier that Sunday’s game closely resembled Saturday’s. To contextualize that, here are the total scores of the two games:
Game 1: 75-45
Game 2: 75-46
Just a one-point improvement from the Tigers in the second bout. They never stood a chance. Kentucky was simply too big, too athletic, too smart, too skilled. They play like a connected group of professionals. Really an incredible squad to watch in person.
Without Skinner in the starting lineup this time around, head coach Craig Skinner started three freshmen and regularly played four in total. Hitters Madi Skinner and Sophie Fisher, middle blockers Bella Bell and Elise Goetzinger, and defensive specialist Riah Walker all made consequential contributions.
Filling in for her sister, Madi Skinner finished with eight kills and a pair of digs, looking more and more like Avery with her power spikes. Bell and Goetzinger were once again solid at the net, especially defensively, getting their fingertips on a number of Auburn attacks. Riah Walker flailed around like an NHL goalie in the back row, getting a hand on everything that came her way; and scoring on her is equally difficult. She finished with 10 digs.
Her fellow back-row specialists, Gabby Curry and Lauren Tharp, formed a pretty stout defensive trio, setting the offense up for deadly set-spike combinations.
Setter Madison Lilley turned in another terrific performance. She wasn’t able to match Saturday’s mammoth 48 assist number, but she finished with 36 and three kills. She doesn’t go for the kill often, but when she surprises the defense by pushing the ball over on a would-be set, it’s about as guaranteed a score as a goal-to-goal Benny Snell run. She’s the clear vocal leader of the team, never leaving the court and always quarterbacking pre-serve. She holds the team together.
At the hitting stripe, the usual group — Azhani Tealer, Alli Stumler, Fisher and Skinner abused a woefully overmatched Tiger defense. Tealer had a few particularly powerful strikes and finished with eight kills in total. Stumler put in her usual elite performance and had ample production to show for it with 18 kills while adding an impressive 12 digs and one vigorous block defensively.
The Cats 2020 home finale bookended a dominant weekend of volleyball from No. 2 Kentucky. Without their starting senior hitter, UK never skipped a beat en route to six straight decisive sets of volleyball vs. Auburn. Kentucky improved to 6-0 on the season with the pair of wins and has just two matches remaining in the fall slate, both coming next Thursday and Friday in Starkville against Mississippi State.