The second-overall seeded Kentucky Volleyball team has defeated the no. 6 seed Washington Huskies to advance to the National Championship for the first time in program history.
On the same day that head coach Craig Skinner and Madison Lilley were named National Coach and National Player of the Year, they and the rest of the Wildcats led somewhat of a comeback effort to top the Huskies and advance to Saturday’s National Title game.
Washington proved to be Kentucky’s toughest opponent yet, the first team to take a set from the ‘Cats in the NCAA Tournament.
In the opening set, Kentucky jumped out to an early 9-6 lead behind four early kills from the Skinner sisters and extended it to 13-8 before Washington stormed back with a 5-0 run. Four points later, three kills by the Skinner sisters had pushed the lead back out to four and Kentucky choked out the Huskies from there in the opening set, eventually winning comfortably, 25-18.
— Kentucky Volleyball (@KentuckyVB) April 22, 2021
Both teams were competitive early on in the second set, staying neck and neck through the midway point before Kentucky once again began to pull away. UK got out to a 20-15 lead and held a 22-18 advantage as the set seemingly drew to a close.
But Washington came storming back again. The Huskies shocked the ‘Cats with a 7-0 run to advance to a match point. Kentucky got a point back but it was too late as Washington closed the set 25-23 to even the game.
The third set started for Washington the way the second started for Kentucky. They had Kentucky’s number at the net with their taller front line blocking a huge chunk of Kentucky’s attacks. Things looked grim by late in the third set after a service error by Kentucky pushed the Washington lead to 22-16. UK looked answerless.
Out of nowhere came a 6-0 Kentucky run — all courtesy of Avery Skinner and Ahzani Tealer. Skinner had three kills and Tealer added two during the run and UK was right back in the set. Washington got a point back and tied it at 23 each.
Here’s where Kentucky won the game–with toughness, talent, and some clutch plays. UK got a nice pass off Washington’s serve and Player of the Year Madison Lilley pushed the ball over for a quick kill off the second hit, surprising the Huskies and giving Kentucky a chance to take a 2-1 lead on the ensuing play. Which they did, off an Avery Skinner kill.
She owned that third set.
Man, once this Kentucky team gets that second set win, they really smell blood. Remember, they came out and punked no. 7 Purdue 11-1 out of the gate in the final set the other day, and today, they took the lead at 7-6 and never looked back.
A few minutes later, the lead became 13-9, then 20-14, then 23-15 with Kentucky circling the title game. Two plays later, none other than Alli Stumler slammed home one final kill to end the match, 3-1 Kentucky.
We felt ya, #BBN!
— Kentucky Volleyball (@KentuckyVB) April 23, 2021
Kentucky goes to the National Championship game for the first time ever, and did so behind their stars. Avery Skinner led the way on the stat sheet, finishing with 19 kills. Following her was a trio of ladies with 13 kills — Madi Skinner, Ahzani Tealer and Alli Stumler, a balanced, lethal attacking force.
Setter (and, one more time: Player of the Year) Madison Lilley racked up an astounding 63 assists and added 14 kills (ridiculous for a setter) while libero Gabby Curry dug 17 balls.
Yet again, Kentucky made championship-level plays with championship-level players, and this time, they had to dig deeper than they ever have. The ‘Cats dug themselves out of a scary hole in that third set while facing the very real consequence of going home. They responded in magnificent fashion and never looked back.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Kentucky has the players, coaches, toughness and togetherness to win the national championship. Now, it’s just a matter of going out and out-competing their opponent for one more game.
Let’s go girls! Bring it home!