After being defeated by the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Elite 8 match of last year’s NCAA tournament, Kentucky volleyball aims to change the outcome in Minnesota on Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. EST.
“We’re all just really amped up,” said sophomore setter and AVCA Southeast Region Player of the Year Madison Lilley. “We know what we can do and we’re excited to show everyone how we play Kentucky volleyball.”
With back-to-back sweeps last weekend in the first two rounds of the tournament, the Cats finished their entire home schedule undefeated. Hitting the road again to play Nebraska, who seeded higher than the Cats in the 2018 tournament, the upcoming match will be in neutral territory.
The main motivator for Kentucky to turn the tables and take back the rematch game is the turnaround from the previous match. Last year, the Cats came off a long-fought five-set match against BYU the night before. This time, the Wildcats have had almost an entire week to prepare.
“It evens it out a little bit,” head coach Craig Skinner commented. “Both teams have had the same time to prepare, same opportunity to get to know the opponent, and I think that can be used to our advantage.”
Having coached at Nebraska before his tenure at UK, Skinner described the rematch as feeling like a “family reunion.” Skinner was named AVCA Southeast Coach of the Year to join five of his players, Lilley, Leah Edmond, Gabby Curry, Alli Stumler and Brooke Morgan in their AVCA honors.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers upset Kentucky in the same regional finals last year, and the team went on to win the championship title of the NCAA tournament. Their team this year has earned its fair share of awards. With three players being recognized on the all-north region team, the talent between the two teams presents Kentucky with one of its most balanced matches of the year.
Nebraska has an 8-6 record against ranked teams this season, and Kentucky’s is only 3-3. Since the Huskers have more experience playing against ranked opponents, the Cats will have to rely on the raw talent and precision that has gotten them thus far in order to upset the Huskers on Friday.
“Having this whole week to prepare is definitely going to make a difference,” Lilley said. “I know the fire’s there. There’s not doubt in my mind that we’re going to come out and play as hard as we can.”
The winner of the match will face off against the winner of the Oregon/Minnesota regional final match later in the weekend.