Thanks to a balanced offensive attack and the first career double-double from junior Azhani Tealer, the No. 5 Kentucky volleyball team overcame an early 0-1 deficit Wednesday to down the Mississippi State Bulldogs 3-1 (21-25, 25-21, 25-15, 25-22) inside Memorial Coliseum.
“Proud of the way we responded,” UK head coach Craig Skinner said of the team’s play after the first set. “Got down, down 11-7 in the second, made some changes and, we call them game-changing plays, had a few of those in the second set to give us momentum. Proud of the way the team responded when we needed them to.”
While three Wildcats did manage to eclipse double figures, this match was decided on the defensive side of the court, with neither team able to hit better than .204 on the match. Kentucky tallied a season high 12.5 blocks on the evening as four players registered three or more rejections. Leading the Cats was Tealer, who recorded a career-high 10 blocks. Freshman Emma Grome had five blocks of her own, Reagan Rutherford had four and Alli Stumler had three.
The Kentucky block had a drastic impact on the Mississippi State attack as it limited the Bulldogs to just .134 hitting and forced them into 26 attacking errors as a team.
On the backline, freshman Eleanor Beavin had another career night, picking up 20 digs to lead all players for Kentucky. Outside hitters Madi Skinner and Alli Stumler each had 12 digs of their own, Lauren Tharp had 10 and Grome tallied seven.
Offenisvely, Grome paced the Wildcats to .204 hitting with Skinner, Stumler and Tealer all reaching double figures. Skinner led the way with 15 terminations, Stumler had 14 and Tealer had 12. Rounding out the scoring was Rutherford with nine and redshirt sophomore Bella Bell with five. Grome posted 48 assists on the night, the sixth-straight match she’s managed to eclipse the 40-assist mark.
With the win, Kentucky improves to 10-3 on the season and 3-0 in the SEC. After Texas A&M’s five-set win over No. 20 Tennessee over the weekend, the Wildcats claimed sole possession of first place in the league as the only remaining team with an unblemished conference record. And while the Cats are glad to be in the driver’s seat, they’re aware of just how talented the rest of the league has become.
“Going from my freshman year where I think we went 18-0 (in conference play) to now, every single game is a fight no matter what,” senior Lauren Tharp said. “All credit to Mississippi State; they came, they brought it. And every team that we’ve played now in the SEC has brought it. And that’s awesome for us because it makes our league super tough and it makes it really challenging to play these teams.”
Kentucky will finish the week of play with a road trip to Tuscaloosa to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday. First serve is set for 2:00 pm ET.