In arguably the toughest region of this year’s NCAA volleyball tournament, No. 10 Kentucky was swept by No. 7 Nebraska 3-0 on Friday in Minneapolis.
In was the second year in a row the Cornhuskers have knocked UK out of the tournament.
“I’m very proud of this group and all that they accomplished this season,” UK head coach Craig Skinner said of the Cats who saw their 23-game wins streak snapped. “Give a lot of credit to Nebraska. They were able to play very well tonight; but I was proud to represent our athletes and Kentucky today.”
Last year, Nebraska went on to win its fifth national title after defeating UK 3-1 in the regional finals in Memorial Coliseum. This season, UK faced Nebraska in the regional semifinals in Minneapolis, which included three top-10 teams in the final coaches’ poll in No. 2 Minnesota, No. 6 Nebraska and No. 10 Kentucky.
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Down two sets, Kentucky looked to be settling down and taking control in the third, staking as much as an 18-14 lead. But a crucial point in which SEC Player of the Year Leah Edmond was shown on video replay as having clipped the net on her follow through gave Nebraska a match point at 24-23 instead of the Cats. The Cornhuskers’ Mikaela Folk killed the next point and end UK’s tournament with a 25-23 third set win.
Kentucky’s difficulty handling the defending champs was obvious at the outset as three service errors and other miscues put the Cats in an 11-7 hole in the first set, prompting Skinner to call a timeout. Skinner took another timeout with his team down 18-13 down as UK struggled to build any momentum.
The Cats finished the first set with four service errors and eight attacking errors on their way to dropping it 25-17.
The Cats looked to be in big trouble again in the second set, falling behind 8-2 as attack errors continued to bleed away points. The Cats rallied to within 17-15 thanks to back-to-back kills by Avery Skinner and Caitlyn Cooper, but they could get no closer in dropping the second set 25-20.
Nebraska leads the nation in holding down an opponent’s hitting percentage with only a .132 success rate on kills. Kentucky averaged a hitting percentage of .305, fourth-best in the nation coming into Friday, but managed a hit percentage of just .100 in the first, .136 in the second and .270 in the third for .165 overall. Hitting percentage is a measure of how efficient a team’s attacks are by factoring both errors and kills. UK held Nebraska under its .264 average as well at .239, but the Cornhuskers’s spectacular defense compensated.
“If you look at the box score, if you hold a team to under .240 hitting percentage, you’re going to have a great chance knowing the type of offense that we have and ability to put the ball away,” Skinner said. “We weren’t able to do that at the end and score points attacking, so their defense definitely made an impact on the result of the match for sure.”
Kentucky (26-5) went undefeated in Southeastern Conference play to claim the SEC title. Nebraska (27-6) went 15-6 in the Big 10 for a third-place finish.