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Wildcats whip 4th straight foe in straight sets

Kentucky's Lauren O'Conner followed through on a kill over Louisville's Brooke Mattingly (2) and Emily Juhl (4) as UK swept Louisville 3-0 in Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday.
Kentucky's Lauren O'Conner followed through on a kill over Louisville's Brooke Mattingly (2) and Emily Juhl (4) as UK swept Louisville 3-0 in Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday.

Quick learners, these Kentucky Wildcats.

Blown out by Cincinnati in straight sets a week earlier, UK has shut out four straight opponents since.

Louisville became the latest victim of the Cats, 25-22, 26-24 and 25-11 Wednesday in Memorial Coliseum in college volleyball action.

"It's like a total turnaround," said Whitney Billings, a sophomore outside hitter who led UK with 11 kills and a .450 hitting percentage, adding two assists, 15 digs and four block assists. "That wasn't Kentucky volleyball when you watched Cincinnati. But the game tonight, that was us."

Lauren O'Conner and Ann Armes had 10 kills each, one more than Ashley Frazier. Armes also was in on five blocks for UK, now 6-2.

Christine Hartmann, the setter, had 36 assists and four kills. Stephanie Klefot had 21 digs, Jackie Napper had 13.

Coach Craig Skinner credited his team's turnaround from last week to his players committing to practice and to one another, making defense a priority.

"Our defense was not very good the first four or five matches," he said, "and that's what won the match for us tonight."

As for the lesson learned, Hartmann said Skinner made his point the day after losing to Cincinnati.

"The next day at practice, Coach gave us something to remember," she said with a smile. "It was an interesting practice. Not a whole lot of volleyball. More fitness stuff.

"But we came back, we knew what we could do. And Cincinnati, that wasn't how we play, and we knew that. It was embarrassing for us."

U of L (5-2) had beaten UK nine consecutive matches and 19 of 20 until last year. Now the Cardinals have lost two straight to their rivals.

"It's a huge match," said Ann Kordes, a former U of L player who is in her first season as head coach of the Cards. "It's bragging rights. It's dominance in the state."

Said Skinner: "Louisville's a big RPI match for us, it's a rival match and it shows that we're able to compete at a high level."

Tied at 15 in the first set, UK benefited from three Louisville errors and scored five straight points.

The Cards battled back to within 22-21, but Hartmann scored on a quick flick, Frazier got a kill and Hartmann scored the winner with a block.

U of L scored three straight points in the second to lead 24-23 and serve for the set.

A receiving error tied the match. O'Conner, a 6-foot-5 freshman out of Scott High School, finished things off with a kill and a block.

"One of our things this year is 'play with no fear,' " O'Conner said. "And I think we really did that at the end of the second set."

The third set was all Big Blue. Trailing 5-4, Kentucky scored the next seven points and steadily pulled away.

"Momentum changes any time you're not giving your best defensive effort," Kordes said. "I think that's where we got stopped up. ... Rival matches, everything goes out the window. I thought that was pretty evident tonight.

"We were completely out of our game offensively and then, of course, defensively. It's disappointing because I think that could have been a much better match."

Gwen Rucker, a 6-2 senior out of Henry Clay, led U of L with seven kills.

"I think it was more of our mental mindset and our passing," Rucker said of the third-set blowout. "Everything was going Kentucky's way and nothing was going our way."

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