4:14:01:UK vs. Texas A&M

The wildcats celebrate after a point during the UK vs. Texas A&M volleyball game on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 3-0. Photo by Amanda Braman | Staff

The UK volleyball team dominated their way into the second round of the NCAA tournament on Friday following a 3-0 sweep (25-15, 25-14, 25-19) over the Southeast Missouri State Redhawks.

Madi Skinner and Alli Stumler each had impressive nights, leading the Cats in kills; Skinner tallying 13 and Stumler with 11. Emma Grome finished her eighth game with 40+ assists, as the freshman acquired 45 assists through three sets. 

The Cats’ victory advances them to the round of 32 to take on Illinois for a trip to the Sweet 16. 

In set one, the duo of Skinner and Azhani Tealer made quick work of the Redhawks, each finishing with five kills each. The Cats hit a .571 percent in the opening set, as six total errors from SEMO prevented any momentum from building. Grome got off to a hot start, gathering 17 assists in set one of her NCAA tournament debut. UK’s efficiency gave the victory to the Cats, winning 25-15.

The Redhawks’ Laney Malloy and Zoey Beasley opened tonight’s match with four kills each in set one. 

UK didn’t skip a beat in the second set, as Sophomore Bella Bell asserted herself as a force for the Cats, finishing set two with six kills right behind Skinner’s nine. Errors once again proved fatal for SEMO, as 12 attack errors killed the Redhawks’ offensive efforts. Kentucky swiftly took the second set 25-14, dominating the kill ratio 17-10. 

SEMO’s Laney Malloy remained steady, finishing set two with seven kills, three digs, and a block. 

Friday’s final set saw the matches’ closest contest, with eight ties and four lead changes. UK’s six errors kept the Redhawks in range for the majority of set three, but a 7-2 scoring run ended the match quickly, giving the Cats a 25-19 victory to end SEMO’s season. 

After the match, head coach Craig Skinner credited his team’s victory to a “balanced attack” from the UK offense. 

“We had a lot of balance offensively; blocking got involved quite a bit. Seven blocks by Bella; 13 kills by Maddie; 11 kills by Alli,” Skinner said. “So we did a good job of getting us balanced offensively and making things happen.”

Following a big-time performance from Grome, Skinner commended her preparation for a big stage like the NCAA tournament. 

“She spent her whole life preparing for this. I mean, she's played volleyball since she was tiny. Every season she's playing indoor, playing beach, playing high school, she's playing club. So she's put herself in these moments,” Skinner said. “I think probably as a kid she was probably in the court just imagining herself playing in these situations. She's always working to get better and she's a competitor; when you combine all those things into one, it allows you the freedom to play at a high level.” 

The Cats will have less than 24 hours to prepare for a win-or-go-home match against Illinois for a ticket into the Sweet 16. The match is another step in the journey to achieve back-to-back national championships for Craig Skinner’s squad. Saturday’s match will tip at 5:00 p.m and will be available to watch on ESPN+.