"My least-favorite moment of the year is talking after a loss in the NCAA Tournament."
Yet, here was Craig Skinner, doing exactly that Thursday night for the fourth year in a row.
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Michigan edged Skinner's 20th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats in five sets to advance to the second round of the women's NCAA Volleyball Championships in Memorial Coliseum.
No. 19 Michigan will face No. 21 St. Louis, a 3-0 winner over Alabama A&M, Friday at 7 p.m. The winner will advance to the Seattle Regional, Dec. 12-13.
Michigan 3, UK 2: That the Cats were making a school-record fourth consecutive NCAA appearance was little consolation for an enthusiastic home-partisan crowd of 1,346 after Michigan rallied for a 24-26, 25-16, 19-25, 25-19, 15-13 victory.
"Give credit to Michigan for how hard they played towards the end of the match," Skinner said. "The next thing I'd like to say is how thankful we are for our fans. To come out the way they did the last few matches of the season was unbelievable. To hear them chant and get after it towards the end of the fourth and five games was motivating to us as a program, and we need them to get to the next level."
UK (26-6) lost for only the second time in 19 home matches.
The match was a roller coaster of emotions.
The Cats trailed 23-18 in the first set, then scored eight of the last nine points to win.
"The fans definitely helped us through that comeback in game one," said UK setter Sarah Rumely, who finished with 40 assists, 13 digs and six kills. "And they helped us through the entire match to play our game and get in Michigan's head a little bit."
Michigan (25-8) bolted to a 12-1 lead and was in control all through the second set.
"We could have folded after game two when they put us on our heels," Skinner said. "And we battled back and got after it. Had some great plays defensively. Michigan's offense was awfully good at times."
UK won the third set by closing with a 10-2 run, the last two points coming when difficult serves by Rumely led to easy kills by Sarah Mendoza and Becky Pavan.
Michigan trailed 12-8 in the fourth set, then scored 11 of the next 15 points en route to tying the match. Defense was the difference.
"They dug," Skinner said. "We hit some heavy balls, crushed some balls, that they made plays on."
The deciding set saw UK rally from a 5-2 deficit to tie at 8 and 9, but the lead never came. Alex Hunt's kill won it for the Wolverines.
"I don't think any of us felt like we played certainly our best match, and a lot of that goes to Kentucky," said Mark Rosen, the Michigan coach. "They're a very good team. They did some things very well to get us out of our comfort zone and we kind of had to battle through that. I'm really proud of our team — just competed."
Juliana Paz, a 6-foot outside hitter from Brazil, led Michigan with 22 kills and had 18 digs. Hunt and Beth Karpiak had 15 kills each.
"That first game was right there, and then we lost," Paz said. "But we came back, and we knew that if we wanted to play (Friday) we would have to play really hard, and I think that's what we did. ... We never stopped fighting even though sometimes things didn't go our way."
Michigan's Sloane Donhoff, a freshman libero out of Assumption High School, served up four aces and had 10 digs.
Mendoza had 14 kills and 15 digs for the Cats, while Rapp had 13 kills, a block and five block assists.
St. Louis 3, Ala. A&M 0: The Billikens, coached by Assumption High and University of Louisville grad Anne Kordes, blitzed the Lady Bulldogs 25-10, 25-15 and 25-11.
St. Louis (29-4), the Atlantic 10 champion, got 16 kills from Bridget Fonke en route to its 21st consecutive win.
Kordes, coached at Assumption by her father Ron, has a former Rocket on her St. Louis squad in Whitney Roth. A 5-9 junior, Roth is the St. Louis career record-holder in assists and a two-time A-10 Setter of the Year. At Assumption, she won three state titles and was MVP of the 2005 tourney to cap a 43-0 season.
Thursday, Roth's 29 assists were 16 more than the team total for A&M (12-15).