With a No. 12 ranked team and an enthusiastic home crowd of 3,402, Kentucky won the volleyball edition of the Battle of the Bluegrass for the fifth year in a row with a dominating 3-0 victory over Louisville on Friday night in Memorial Coliseum.
For senior Kaz Brown, it meant she’d never lost the in-state rivalry.
“This rivalry is one of the biggest I think. It’s real personal. It’s real close to home,” she said. “There’s a little extra oomph on the game. There’s a little bit more fire. The crowd really showed up tonight and I think that was huge for us and definitely played toward our advantage.”
For freshman Avery Skinner, her first Louisville game was also a breakout moment that has been building over the course of the last few weeks. Skinner led the Cats with 15 kills, many of which helped key the Cats comeback from being down 6-3 in the first set.
“It was really fun,” said Skinner, a high school all-American who is second on the team in kills with 113. “I didn’t really think (coming in) that I was a part of it yet, but I’m part of it now, and it was a really fun atmosphere to play in.”
Louisville came into Memorial Coliseum off a three-match win streak, a victory over a ranked Western Kentucky squad and feeling good about being only one of two teams to take a set off No. 1 Minnesota.
It left with the program’s seventh loss to Kentucky in the Coach Craig Skinner era, as the Cards couldn’t capitalize on a close second game when it had Kentucky in a 24-24 tie and the ball in their hand.
A service error by Coline Coessens gave UK the break it needed and Kentucky made no mistake on an emphatic block at the net by Brown and Brooke Morgan that gave the Cats the game, 26-24, and a commanding 2-0 advantage in the best-of-five match.
From there, UK made quick work of Louisville in the third game, pounding out a 25-11 demolition of the visitors.
“They’re hard to stop when they pass that well,” said first-year Louisville Coach Dani Busboom Kelly. “I thought we did a nice job fighting the first two sets, it’s just always disappointing when you end the game like we did.”
It was Ashley Dusek’s third game back from injury, but her first back at libero where she earned 2015 and 2016 SEC libero of the year honors. She led the team with 16 digs. The Cats also combined for 18 block assists on the night.
“(Ashley’s) one of the best liberos in the country, so when you have a player like that it makes a difference,” Coach Skinner said. “We had a great day. Energy was good. Focus was good. ... I’m impressed with our defense tonight. Our defense came back and made a huge impact.”
Emily Franklin added nine kills, including the match winner that ended the third game rout, 25-11.
The Cardinals tried to jump on the Cats early in the first set, going up 6-3, but Kentucky snuffed out the threat thanks in part to Avery Skinner seven first set kills. Kentucky won the first set 25-20.
Saturday — Kennesaw State at Kentucky, 6 p.m.
Sunday — Kennesaw State at Louisville, 3 p.m.