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    Dominant First Set Propels UK to Sweep of MSU

    Oct. 25, 2013

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    LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 15 University of Kentucky volleyball team used a strong offensive effort from senior Whitney Billings and freshman Anni Thomasson to sweep Mississippi State 3-0 (25-13, 26-24, 25-21) on DanceBlue Night Friday at Memorial Coliseum.

    The Wildcats (14-5, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) improved to 42-2 all-time against the Bulldogs (11-10, 2-5) on a night that saw UK earn set wins in lopsided, come-from-behind and tight fashions.

    UK’s first-set win was one of its biggest of the season, and the Wildcats dominated in nearly every statistical category. The second frame saw Kentucky down 24-22, but it staved off set point to score the final four points to earn the win. The final set was close, but after they trailed briefly early at 2-1, the Wildcats maintained the lead.

    “I liked our focus each point,” UK head coach Craig Skinner said. “That was a big theme of ours for tonight and our floor defense was solid making good plays defensively. We were able to kill the ball at a pretty good rate tonight and keep our errors down so definitely pleased with that.”

    Billings led the way for the Wildcats with game highs of 15 kills and a .438 hitting clip, while Thomasson produced 12 kills and a .357 hitting margin. Billings also added six digs and a service ace. Senior Alexandra Morgan hit an even .400 with five kills.

    Sophomore Morgan Bergren dished out 34 assists and had nine digs, while Junior Jackie Napper led the UK defensive unit with 16 digs. Sophomore Sara Schwarzwalder and junior Lauren O’Conner each added three kills and two blocks. Redshirt freshman Kelsey Wolf had eight scoops, a career high.

    Kentucky returns to the court Sunday at Memorial Coliseum for a 1:30 p.m. match against Alabama. The contest, a rematch of Sept. 29th’s 3-1 UK win, will air locally on the UK IMG Network and will be rebroadcast at 4 p.m. on Fox Sports South. Dick Gabriel and Katie Eiserman will have the call.

    The first set was tied 3-3 early, but a 9-0 run by the Wildcats quickly gave them a 12-3 lead, plenty to propel UK to a 25-13 first set win. The run from the Blue and White began with two straight kills from Billings and included three off the hand of Thomasson. Kentucky led Mississippi State in nearly every statistical category. UK had 16 kills to MSU’s six and registered a 3-0 advantage in blocks. The Wildcats’ .500 hitting clip was also higher than the Bulldogs’ .036 mark. Billings’ six kills was a set high, while Thomasson added five. O’Conner and Morgan each notched two blocks.

    While the first set was dominated by the Wildcats, the second set featured four lead changes, 11 ties and it took an extra point for UK to earn a 26-24 win. Kentucky found itself down 3-1 early, but UK never let MSU get away, and after several opportunities to tie the set, the first tie occurred at 11-11. The Wildcats took their first lead at 14-13 but found themselves trailing 20-19 and again 24-22. UK staved off two Bulldog set points and recorded the final four points to secure the win.

    Thomasson paced the Wildcats with a set-high-tying four kills and Kayla Tronick posted three. Bergren recorded a service ace in the frame along with 10 assists and one kill. MSU had a 14-13 advantage in kills, but UK’s hitting clip was better, .323 to .189.

    The final frame was another close set, but after UK fell behind 2-1, it took a 3-2 lead, an advantage it would never give up. The set was close throughout, and the Wildcats never trailed, but their lead never grew beyond six. After a UK service error enabled MSU to get within three at 24-21, Morgan recorded a kill to clinch the win. Kentucky out-hit Mississippi State .308-.226 and had 15 kills to MSU’s 11. UK had just one block and no service aces, but held the Bulldogs to zero blocks and a single ace. Billings had a set-high seven kills, while Napper recorded six digs in the final stanza.

    Kentucky's Memorial Coliseum will play host to the NCAA Regionals Dec. 13-14. UK is one of four sites selected for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups with one team advancing to the Final Four in Seattle, Wash., from the Lexington Region. This marks the second time in three seasons Memorial Coliseum will host this premier volleyball event.

    Visit UKathletics.com for the most up-to-date information on the Kentucky volleyball team and all 22 varsity sports. For additional info on the volleyball team like Kentucky Volleyball on Facebook or follow the team on Twitter at @KentuckyVB.