UK sweats out 5-set volleyball victory over Louisville

jtipton@herald-leader.comSeptember 10, 2013 

No matter what happens in Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday, the Kentucky and Louisville football teams will have a difficult time matching the heat — metaphorically and literally — generated by their schools' volleyball teams Tuesday night.

Memorial Coliseum's lack of air conditioning added to the competitive challenge as Kentucky and Louisville went the limit of five exhausting sets.

"I didn't even play and felt I lost six pounds out there," UK Coach Craig Skinner said after his team prevailed 17-25, 25-23, 25-20, 19-25 and finally 15-11.

When U of L Coach Anne Kordes arrived at the post-match news conference a few minutes later, she noted the sweat-stained seat she was about to take.

"The chair's all soaking wet," she said. "I'm sure I'll make it wetter."

The temperature on UK's new Taraflex vinyl court as the match began was 91 degrees. Four large ceiling fans, two over the stands along each sideline, barely stirred the air.

After Louisville won the first set 25-17, the Cards narrowly missed a chance to really turn up the heat, figuratively speaking. The Cardinals trailed 24-18 and the UK public address announcer spoke in capital letters to the crowd: "GET ON YOUR FEET!! SET POINT, CATS!!"

But U of L won the next point, then the next, then the next and finally closed to within 24-23.

Then Kentucky won a point to close out the set.

"We could have packed it in when they got it to 23," Skinner said.

Louisville saw a potentially pivotal moment melt away.

"There's no question," said Kordes, who is due to give birth to her first child (a daughter) in early November. "We go up two-zero (in sets), it's mental on both ends."

From there, the two teams settled into a siege.

The announced crowd of 1,888 — the largest for a UK home match this season — included former NBA superstar Patrick Ewing. His daughter, Randi, plays middle blocker for Louisville.

The memorable volleyball competition marked the first time the elder Ewing had been back in Lexington since his Georgetown team lost an epic 1985 national championship game to Villanova in Rupp Arena.

"Bad memories," Ewing said with a smile.

An assistant coach with the Charlotte Bobcats, Ewing said the match was probably the only time he'd see his daughter play this season.

His daughter played three seasons for Fordham before transferring to Louisville to attend graduate school. Like her father, Randi wore No. 33 and stood as an imposing figure (she's listed at 6-foot) in the scoring area.

A bit of history occurred in the third set, which saw Kentucky score the first six points and never trail. Outside hitter Whitney Billings made her sixth dig en route to 11 for the match. That marked the 1,000th of her career. With her 1,000 kills already in the books, Billings became the first UK player to make the 1,000-1,000 double.

In the fourth set, Louisville took the initiative. The Cardinals scored the first six points of the set and kept Kentucky at bay to set up a dramatic fifth and deciding set.

Fittingly, the set punctuated an evenly played match. The score was tied at 7-7, 8-8, 9-9, 10-10 and 11-11 before Kentucky won the final four points.

All the while, Skinner kept his blue tie knotted at his neck. It remained pressed against the top of his buttoned white shirt as he met reporters afterward.

"Funny, I saw an ice bucket behind the bench and I thought about sticking my head in it," he said when asked about never loosening the tie.

Players from both teams spoke of the competition as a blessing. It made the heat recede to some subconscious area of the mind.

"We do practice in it," opposite hitter Shelby Workman said. "It's definitely not been that hot for a while. But in August, it was 100 (degrees). We just have to fight through it."

Both teams had to.

"I've been in (heat) before," Louisville libero Caitlin Welch said. "I'd rather be in it and play rather than watch."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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