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‘Burning desire’ in stifling Memorial Coliseum carries Kentucky past Louisville

A straight-sets victory over Louisville on Friday surely served to ease any lingering uneasiness Kentucky’s volleyball team felt about back-to-back home losses in the last seven days.

UK beat U of L 25-15, 25-14 and 25-21 in a stiflingly warm Memorial Coliseum.

The match could have served as Exhibit A at the fund-raiser UK plans in conjunction with basketball’s Blue-White Game on Oct. 18. Funds raised are intended to pay for the installation of air conditioning in Memorial Coliseum.

When it came to heat, UK Coach Craig Skinner welcomed the competitive fire UK displayed.

“We needed to play a match where we felt a commitment to victory on each point,” he said. “I didn’t feel our fighting spirit has been there even though we’ve played well at times. But tonight, it came out of us.”

Skinner linked his team’s renewed competitiveness to two factors: playing Louisville and the losses to unranked Indiana and No. 21 Purdue the previous Saturday and Wednesday.

“You find a burning desire to compete …,” Skinner said. “You dig deep. So I thought we did that.”

In defeating No. 25 Louisville, No. 16 Kentucky prevailed against a ranked opponent in straight sets for only the second time this season. UK beat Cal Poly in three sets in its opener.

Leah Edmond, who had a career-high 27 kills against Purdue on Wednesday, led Kentucky with 15 kills. She acknowledged how the hot, still air in Memorial Coliseum can affect play.

“Since we practice there, it’s not as bad as most teams when they come in (and say), like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s hot,’” Edmond said. “I have to change my jersey because I sweat so much.”

She typically changes jerseys between the second and third sets of a match, Edmond said.

For Edmond, a senior from Lexington’s Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, the victory was especially sweet. It meant her UK teams never lost even a set against Louisville.

“Every year,” she said before adding, “nice.”

An announced crowd of 3,022 saw Kentucky defeat Louisville for a seventh straight time, and for the ninth time in the last 10 matches. That gave UK a 31-25 lead in the series.

Louisville dominated the series from 1994 through 2005, winning 18 of 19 matches against UK in that span.

Kentucky never trailed in winning the first set 25-15. Two U of L early timeouts made little difference. Edmond led the way with seven kills. The band punctuated the first set with the playing of “On, On U of K.”

Louisville took its first lead at 6-5 in the second set. But it didn’t last long. UK won the second set 25-14.

After the band again played “On, On U of K,” the song “Love Shack” by The B-52s played on the sound system. The lyric about the Love Shack being “hot as an oven” hit home.

“Really, the heat doesn’t bother me as long as I don’t start cramping,” Edmond said.

As it did in the first two sets, Louisville called the allotted maximum of two timeouts in the third set. Louisville closed within 19-17, prompting Kentucky to call its first timeout of the match.

The loss was Louisville’s second this season in straight sets. U of L lost in three sets to Florida in its opening game.

Afterward, Skinner tried to put perspective on the victory.

“It’s a step forward,” he said. “We took a couple of steps back, and you know you need to keep taking steps forward.”

The UK coach said the match revealed where his team needed to improve.

“It’s a victory,” he said. “Against Purdue, it was a loss.”

Ducking Duke

Before the match, UK honored middle blocker Leah Meyer. A graduate transfer from Duke, Meyer made her 1,000th career kill in UK’s match against Indiana the previous Saturday. She added 10 kills against Louisville to her career total.

Meyer, who is from Buffalo, N.Y., said she has learned since coming to UK that mentioning Duke was a no-no.

“I was in summer classes and I would say Duke, and people would kind of scowl at me,” she said. “And look at me and say some not-so-nice things. So I’ve gotten into the habit of saying, ‘my old school.’ So I don’t say Duke as much anymore.”

Next match

Mississippi State at No. 16 Kentucky

What: SEC opener

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Jerry Tipton has covered Kentucky basketball beginning with the 1981-82 season to the present. He is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame.
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