Kentucky volleyball continued its dominance of the past month, flexing their muscles in a straight sets win over Michigan in the second round of the 2019 NCAA Championships.
There were less than 40 fans in Memorial Coliseum sporting maize and blue in a crowd that numbered 2,748. The Big Blue contingent was rowdy as the match got under way, and Kentucky fed off that energy. After opening 4-4, the Cats scored eight of nine to take a 12-5 edge. The Wolverines answered with an 8-3 spurt and forced a Kentucky timeout with a score of 15-13. The Cats won the three points that followed, extending their lead before senior outside hitter Leah Edmond slammed home her fifth kill to take set one 25-19.
The second set followed a similar script. The two teams were again even at four before Kentucky ran off eight of ten points to claim a 12-6 advantage. Michigan wouldn’t get closer than four in the remainder of the set, and the Cats again won 25-19 to go up 2-0 in the match.
Set three was hotly contested, with Kentucky holding a 16-15 lead as the two schools headed down the home stretch. Michigan got within one two different times after that before the Cats pulled ahead. A Leah Edmond kill brought the fans to their feet at 24-20, and another sent them up in cheers as the team advanced to the third round once again.
Seniors Kylie Schmaltz, Caitlyn Cooper and Leah Edmond embraced one another on the floor as realization set upon them: this was their final match on their home court. Edmond told reporters that a few people mentioned it to her prior to the game, and while she was emotional, she used that reality as fuel.
“It just made me want to play a little harder, because I knew it was going to be my last time ever doing anything like that on that court again,” Edmond said. “It was a bittersweet moment.”
The SEC Player of the Year paced the Cats with 15 kills, continuing where she left off from the last week of the regular season. She is averaging 5.6 kills per set so far in the tournament. Madison Lilley had 31 assists, Leah Meyer recorded seven blocks and Gabby Curry totaled 19 digs.
Michigan’s season comes to an end with the loss, ending with a 21-11 record. Mackenzi Welsh picked up 28 assists, and Paige Jones led all players with 16 kills. Coach Mark Rosen gave Jones credit for her approach, and how she handled what the team asked of her as the offense tried to get things going.
“We didn’t have [balance] tonight,” he said. “That required us to jump on Paige’s back a little bit, and have her carry us. I thought she worked really, really hard.”
It was the 10th victory in a row for the Cats, who have only lost a total of three sets during the streak. Eight of those ten have come via straight sets. They improved to 25-6 on the season, and will travel to Waco, Texas, on Friday to take on the No. 8-seeded University of Washington Huskies. The winner of that match up will likely play the No. 1-seeded Baylor Bears on their home court.