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Balance on Offense and Defense Lifts Cats on Thursday

When Arkansas lost to Georgia on Nov. 1, the Kentucky volleyball team took over sole possession of first place in the Southeastern Conference standings. And once the Cats got the lead, they have seemed determined to not let it go.

The Cats continued that trend on Thursday night against Texas A&M. Kentucky beat the Aggies in four sets on their way to a 13th consecutive victory.

It also marked the fifth straight match that the Cats have dominated since taking over the SEC lead. In those five matches, Kentucky has won 15 sets compared to just three for its opponents. Kentucky has not shied away from the spotlight and has kept a tight grip on that SEC lead. For the Cats, it was really about staying focused and keeping their eyes on what was directly in front of them.

Kentucky benefited from a nice mix of offense and defense in Thursday’s win. UK had four players reach double digits in kills, led by freshman Brooklyn DeLeye, who had 18. The favorite to win the SEC Freshman of the Year award, DeLeye also added eight digs in the match.

DeLeye was certainly not alone. Senior Elise Goetzinger had 13 kills and hit .435, while Erin Lamb and Azhani Tealer each had 12 kills for the Cats.

Goetzinger and Tealer form a nice duo in the middle for the Cats. Goetzinger believes that the experience UK has in the middle is very important.

“I think this team has a really good balance of experience and freshmen or newbies coming in here,” Goetzinger said. “Middles is probably the most experienced class and it shows in the trust that Emma has to set us.”

UK head coach Craig Skinner could not remember a time when his team had four players with at least 12 kills, but he loved the balance that his team showed on Thursday.

“With a block like that, you have to be balanced,” Skinner said. “You have to get the middles involved, you’ve got to stretch the edges of the net and the court and we were able to do that. They had some nice blocks but we had some nice responses.”

On defense, UK racked up 61 digs in the three sets, paced by junior libero Eleanor Beavin. The Louisville native had 20 scoops, while Audrey Whitworth had 12. Molly Tuozzo added nine digs for Kentucky in the match. Skinner liked the play of his back row.

“(Texas A&M is) going to force you to make some plays because they want their block to get involved so if they don’t kill the ball, they’re going to force you to dig in transition and for the most part, we did that,” Skinner said. “The back court did a nice job.”

As the Cats try to win a seventh consecutive SEC title, the balance that was displayed on Thursday, both on offense and defense, could be beneficial.

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