CATS lose in NCAA Region SemiFinals
LINCOLN, Neb. – December 7, 2023
The 2023 Kentucky Volleyball season ended Thursday night in Lincoln, Nebraska as the Wildcats fell 3-2 (22-25, 25-22, 25-15, 15-10) to the No. 9 Arkansas Razorbacks inside the Bob Devaney Sports Center in the regional semifinal round of the 2023 NCAA Volleyball Championship.The match ended Kentucky’s season, as the Wildcats close out the year with a 21-8 overall record and 17-1 in the Southeastern Conference, having won the SEC for the seventh-straight season under the direction of head coach Craig Skinner.
Thursday night also marks the end of the collegiate career for senior Azhani Tealer, who ends her career as an NCAA National Champion, and the only know SEC student-athlete to have won and played on five-straight SEC Championship winning teams.
Kentucky jumped out to a 12-7 lead in the first set as the Wildcats got two early kills from Reagan Rutherford to stretch the Kentucky lead to a set-high five points. The Razorbacks went on a 4-0 run to creep back into the set and a huge solo stuff by Rutherford pushed it to 13-11 and an extended rally kill tooling the block from Brooklyn DeLeye sent Kentucky to a 15-11 lead at the timeout on a 3-0 run. Out of the media halt, two more kills from the Kentucky offense made the lead 17-11 and down by six, Arkansas elected to call its first timeout of the set down half a dozen. Erin Lamb’s fifth termination of the set pushed Kentucky into set point at 24-17 and a 5-0 run cost Kentucky a timeout with UK unable to pass and get in system. Out of the timeout, Arkansas pulled to within 24-22, but a kill by Reagan Rutherford ended the set and Kentucky took a 1-0 lead in the match.
Kentucky faced its first deficit of the afternoon in the second set with Arkansas taking a one-point lead at 11-10 before UK quickly regathered themselves and got three-straight points leading into the media timeout thanks to a kill from Brooklyn DeLeye, her sixth, and two-consecutive attack errors by the Razorbacks. After Kentucky got to 20 first thanks to a kill from Azhani Tealer, the Razorbacks ran off three points in a row to take a 22-20 lead and UK called its first timeout as Arkansas took its first multi-point lead of any point in the match to that point. Kentucky got a thunderous termination from DeLeye to tie the set at 22, but a 3-0 Arkansas run closed the second set and the Razorbacks evened the match at 1-1 at the intermission.
After an Azhani Tealer stuff block to start the third set, Kentucky fell into a passing slump and Arkansas won five points in a row with two aces to take the early 5-1 lead in the frame. After Kentucky cut it to 11-8, the Wildcats fell down six points thanks to a 4-0 run and Kentucky saw its deficit at 16-10 as it called its second timeout of the set. Arkansas ran away and hid down the stretch as the Razorbacks handed Kentucky its worst set loss of the season, 25-15.
Kentucky took a 15-12 lead at the media timeout thanks to the offense of Erin Lamb, who registered three kills early in the set and pushed UK out in front as the lead was Kentucky’s first at the media timeout since the first set. The two teams traded sideouts with no team winning more than two points in a row until a 3-0 run thanks to a kill by Azhani Tealer put Kentucky up 24-21 and gave Kentucky set point as Arkansas called its first timeout. Out of the timeout, Jill Gillen tallied her 17th kill of the match on an extended rally to make things 24-22 but Brooklyn DeLeye ended the set on the succeeding point on a first-ball sideout as Kentucky won the set 25-22 and squared the match, two set all.
Arkansas won five of the first six points in the fifth set with UK out of sorts offensively as the Wildcats dug a hole at 5-1 and Kentucky had to call its first timeout of the set. The lead for Arkansas grew to four at the changeover as the Wildcats trailed 8-4 with teams switching sides at the halfway mark. Kentucky then won three-straight points to make it 8-7 Razorbacks and the Hogs elected to call their first timeout. UA then won two-straight points of Kentucky hitting errors and cruised to the finish line to take the match in five sets.
Stat That Matters
The win for Arkansas snapped Kentucky’s nation-leading 18-match winning streak, and also snapped the Razorbacks’s 18-match losing streak to Kentucky dating back to 2012.
The hot start for Arkansas in the fifth set was the key moment as the Razorbacks jetted out to a 5-1 lead and never trailed in the last set.