After grabbing the first two sets to take a 2-0 lead in the match over Arkansas, it appeared that the No. 5 Kentucky volleyball team was well on its way to yet another sweep in Southeastern Conference play. But the Razorbacks, a team that boasted a 14-4 overall record heading into the match, weren’t about to go down that easily. Arkansas stormed back to take the next two sets and force a decisive fifth frame before Skinner and company ultimately won the match in five (25-22, 25-13, 25-27, 19-25, 15-8).
Ever since being inserted into the lineup in the match against Mississippi State earlier in the month, redshirt sophomore Bella Bell has been a steady force out of the middle. In Friday’s match against the Razorbacks, the middle blocker took it up a notch, tallying a career and match-best 10.0 blocks on the evening.
“The team came up with a new nickname for her- Bella Block instead of Bella Bell. That may stick, I don’t know, we’ll see,” UK head coach Craig Skinner said. “She’s physical, she’s able to make plays… People have to pay attention to Bella.”
It wasn’t just Bell throwing the block party against the Razorbacks, though, as Kentucky tied its season-best in total blocks with 14.0. Five Wildcats totaled at least two rejections, led by Bell’s 10.0. Sophomore Reagan Rutherford set a new career high with 6.0, Alli Stumler had 3.0 and Madi Skinner and Azhani Tealer each added 2.0.
Emma Grome had a career night on the back line, picking up a career-best 21 digs to lead all players. Freshman Eleanor Beavin added 16, Skinner had 15 and Stumler had 10. The Wildcat defense held Arkansas to just .171 hitting on the evening with 29 total attacking errors.
Offensively, Grome paced the Cats with 53 assists and directed the offense to a .277 clip. Five Wildcats registered five or more kills, led by 17 from Skinner on a .342 hitting percentage. Stumler added 15 terminations of her own, Tealer had 14, Rutherford had a career-high 12 and Bell added five.
With the win, Kentucky improves to 14-3 on the season and is now 3-1 in five-set matches so far this season. The Cats are now 7-0 in conference play and remain alone atop the league as the last undefeated team in SEC play. Kentucky will wrap up the series against the Razorbacks Saturday night inside Memorial Coliseum. First serve is set for 7:00 pm and will be broadcast live on SEC Network+.