Four games into the season with a record of 2-2, it was fair to wonder whether the University of Kentucky volleyball team was on track to take a step back this year.
One month later, that shaky start is a distant memory.
The 15th-ranked Wildcats rallied for a thrilling five-set victory (25-12, 19-25, 22-25, 25-19, 15-8) over No. 12 Florida in Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, extending their win streak to a season-high five matches and taking over first place in the Southeastern Conference. Kentucky improved to 11-4 on the year (4-0 SEC) and has now won 29 straight conferences matches. Florida fell to 11-3 (2-1 SEC). The loss ended a nine-match win streak by the Gators.
“It’s a step forward,” said UK Coach Craig Skinner. “Not just the victory, but a layer of belief that when you’re struggling or the other team is playing really well that you can’t dwell on it. You’ve just got to get back to work and stay the course. And our team really showed some toughness to fight back when Florida was playing well.”
After winning the first set comfortably, UK fell behind in the middle of sets two and three and couldn’t catch the Gators. A kill and a service ace from senior star Leah Edmond gave the Wildcats a 4-0 advantage in the fourth set. Kentucky eventually pulled ahead 22-14, forcing a Florida timeout before going on to even up the match.
The Cats again jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the fifth set and went ahead 8-3 on Edmond’s 17th kill of the afternoon. They stretched the lead to 12-4 and went on to seal the victory on Edmond’s match-high 19th kill.
“The theme of the match was back to work every point,” Skinner said. “We did a really good job of that. We didn’t panic, we didn’t freak out. And that’s a sign of a competitively mature team. Proud of them”
Junior setter Madison Lilley came up huge for the Wildcats, dishing out 49 of the team’s 59 assists and coming up with 11 digs. Skinner said UK hit another gear when Lilley asserted herself.
“I thought she took over the match in the fourth and fifth set,” Skinner said. “We really had to change our patterns ... Those little wrinkles help and she did a good job of using the right play at the right time.”
The Wildcats return to action Friday when they host Georgia. The Bulldogs swept Alabama on Sunday to improve to 11-4 (3-1) on the year and move into third place in the SEC.
Georgia at Kentucky
Friday, 7 p.m.