LEXINGTON, Ky. – For the first time since 1988, the Kentucky volleyball team concluded regular-season action within Southeastern Conference play unblemished. The Cats capped off a program-record 18-match undefeated season against league foes with a 3-0 (25-12, 25-22, 25-19) win over Auburn on Saturday in front of a season-best crowd of 3,078 fans.
"Again, I've said it before, it's a special group to be a part of," head coach Craig Skinner said. "Just the effort, passion, energy, selflessness of a group to try and go undefeated in the league is almost impossible. I'm just proud of the relentlessness that this group has shown. Today our strengths came out: offensively we were good and our serving pressure put a lot of stress on Auburn so it was good to see."
The win moved UK's record to 24-4 overall and 18-0 in SEC play. It marked the 21st-consecutive victory for the Wildcats who began their winning streak on Sept. 8 against Texas State. Auburn concludes its season with a 12-16 mark and a 5-13 record against SEC foes.
Kentucky has earned the SEC's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. UK will learn its draw at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2 on Sunday. Fans can watch the selection show with the team inside of Memorial Coliseum tomorrow night. Admission is free and the doors open at 8 p.m.
Just as it has been all season, it was a total team effort led by the 2018 Senior Class who was honored prior to today's match. Merideth Jewell, Brooke Morgan, Anna Nyberg and McKenzie Watson started today's match and each played a role in the win. Jewell had two kills and was in on the match-clinching block. Morgan amassed eight kills on a .462 hitting clip to couple with a career-high-tying four digs and a block. Nyberg had a kill, while Watson earned a pair of digs.
"You won't find a group of four people who care more about a program and the people around them as much as this group," Skinner added. "It's incredible. I told them in the spring that the best leadership they can give and the way they can lead better than anyone else is by caring. You don't see that all the time. Regardless of what their role of the team was, they were in before and after practice doing something. What kind of leadership does that show? Elite teams don't just happen during the practice hours, they happen before and after and all the other times too."
Junior Leah Edmond led the way offensively once again with a match-high 16 kills on a .467 attacking percentage. She also had six digs and a solo rejection. Edmond was honored prior to the victory as well for becoming UK's all-time leader in career kills in the 25-point rally-scoring era against Missouri.
Sophomore setter Madison Lilley directed the offense to the tune of 46 kills on a sizzling .398 percentage. She accounted for 37 assists, two kills, a career-high four aces and four digs.
Freshman Alli Stumler added six kills, six digs and two aces. Junior Caitlyn Cooper contributed six kills, two blocks, two digs and an ace. Sophomore Avery Skinner added a trio of kills to the winning cause. Sophomore Kendyl Paris had two kills and teamed up with Jewell for the winning block.
Sophomore libero Gabby Curry had 13 digs and freshman Lauren Tharp totaled four.
After trading points to open the set, UK went on a 3-0 run with kills from Stumler and Edmond before Auburn claimed the next two points to knot the set back up at four. UK answered immediately with Morgan's first kill and a solo block on the left from Edmond. Edmond's second kill sparked a 5-0 run with two aces from Lilley and a kill from Cooper that forced Auburn to call timeout. The Wildcats extended the run to 9-0 with two more kills from Edmond and one from Cooper, forcing another Auburn timeout at 15-6. The teams swapped points before UK went on a 3-0 run with two Auburn errors and Stumler's second kill to jump out to a 12-point lead at 22-10. UK claimed three of the last five points off kills from Morgan, Lilley and Stumler for a 25-12 set win.
Auburn jumped out to a 5-1 lead before Stumler halted the 4-0 run with her fifth kill that was placed in the middle of the floor and sparked two more UK points with a block from Cooper and Paris and a Tiger error. Auburn capitalized on four of the next five rallies, taking a 9-5 lead in the set before Kentucky won the longest rally of the set with a block from Paris. The teams traded points to 12-7 before UK asked for time. Morgan tried to get the Wildcats going, piecing together two kills to counter two of Auburn's. Edmond added back-to-back kills to bring the Wildcats to within four at 15-11 prior to Lilley's fourth ace of the match. Skinner entered and picked up a kill to decrease the deficit to three at 17-14 before Morgan and Cooper teamed up for a massive block on the right. Cooper added an ace, forcing Auburn to call timeout up one 18-17. The teams swapped points again as Edmond tied the match at 19 with another powerful shot before Morgan got the chance to knot it back up at 20 with her fifth kill. UK ended the set on a 4-0 run – all on kills from Paris, Edmond and Cooper – to claim it 25-22.
The Wildcats opened the set on a 3-0 run with kills from Morgan and Edmond. The Tigers claimed five of the next seven points, tying the set at five before UK took the next two points on Edmond's shot to the back and an error. Points were traded to 10-7 with UK terminations from Skinner and Cooper's shot to the back-left corner. Auburn claimed the next two points before UK went on a 4-0 run with a kill from Morgan. Morgan and Edmond both picked up terminations to increase UK's lead to 17-11, forcing another Tiger timeout. The Tigers took three of the next four points but Paris fired a ball to the middle to give the Cats at 19-14 lead. Jewell grabbed the second kill of her Senior Night with a 20-15 lead. The senior then teamed with Paris for the match-clinching block for the final 25-19 margin.