No. 24 Kentucky Outlasts Auburn in Five-Set Thriller
Oct. 23, 2011
AUBURN - The Auburn volleyball team fought the 24th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats to the final point, but came up just short as the Tigers dropped a 3-2 heartbreaker (18-25, 25-21, 19-25, 25-21, 12-15) on Sunday afternoon at the Student Activities Center.
Auburn (9-13, 3-9 SEC) came within inches of pulling its second upset of the Wildcats (19-4, 10-2 SEC) in as many seasons, but could not hold onto a fifth-set lead and earn its second-ever win over a ranked opponent.
"It was a good battle," Auburn head coach Rick Nold said. "Obviously they've got a very good team. We said before it would come down to serve and serve-receive, and I thought that was the case. I thought we picked our serving up toward the end, but they served tough and we didn't handle it as well as we could have. When we do that, we get out of system and all of a sudden, their block can get involved. They were a very good defensive team."
Five players recorded double-digit kills for Auburn, just one match after no Tiger hit double figures. Junior Sarah Bullock fell one dig shy of her eighth double-double of the year, tying for the team lead with 12 kills and posting nine digs. Sophomore Courtney McDonald, senior Kelly Fidero and junior Vesela Zapryanova also finished with 12 kills, and sophomore Camila Jersonsky had 11.
McDonald led the Tigers with a sparkling .632 hitting percentage, the best by an Auburn player in a five-set match this season. Jersonsky also had a team-leading four blocks along with six digs and a service ace.
Kentucky was led by Becky Pavan with 14 kills and eight blocks, while Ashley Frazier had 15 kills and Whitney Billings and Lauren O'Conner had 13 apiece.
Auburn hit .216 in the match against Kentucky's .261 as the Wildcats had 66 kills to the Tigers' 62. Kentucky won the digs battle 70-58 and had 14 blocks against Auburn's nine.
Auburn led at least once in every set, including jumping out to a quick 4-1 lead in the first set. That lead would turn into a 14-12 margin after McDonald recorded two straight kills, but from there Kentucky would find a groove, winning nine of the next 10 rallies to take a 21-15 lead. A service error finally stopped the bleeding, but the Tigers could not recover and dropped the opening set 25-18 as Kentucky hit .433 in the frame.
Set two, however, would turn Auburn's way early as the Tigers got two more kills from McDonald and a Kentucky error to take a 12-8 lead in the early-going. After the teams traded a few service errors, Kentucky nearly erased a four-point deficit, closing the gap to 16-15 and forcing an Auburn timeout on a service ace. The Tigers, however, would never let Kentucky grab the lead again as Wintzinger recorded two kills from the setter position and then scored an ace to take a 21-18 lead. The Wildcats closed to 23-21, but a kill from Bullock gave Auburn set point, and an ace from Jersonsky squared the match at one game apiece.
The third set would see seven ties and four lead changes before Kentucky pulled away to take a 25-19 win. After Kentucky took a 15-11 lead, Auburn closed the gap to 16-15 and stayed within two points for the next four rallies; a kill from Zapryanova made it a one-point game again at 18-17. But Kentucky scored the next three points to take a 21-17 lead, then went on to take the set and a 2-1 lead in the match. Kentucky got 18 of its 25 points from kills and also had five blocks in the set.
But the Tigers refused to go quietly, rallying from an early deficit to take a 25-21 win in game four and send the match to a deciding set. With Kentucky leading 14-12, the Wildcats committed three straight errors (including a block by Fidero) to give Auburn a 15-14 lead. The Tiger lead would extend to 20-16 on a kill from Bullock and another ace from Wintzinger before UK got the next two on a pair of Auburn errors. The Tigers would respond out of a timeout with three straight points on a kill from Zapryanova, a block by Jersonsky and another UK error to lead 23-18. The Wildcats fought off two set points attempts, but a Zapryanova kill put away the set and sent the teams to a fifth set.
Auburn appeared to be on its way to a victory after jumping out to a 5-1 lead in the fifth set with four straight kills from Jersonsky, Zapryanova and Bullock. But after Kentucky called a timeout, the Wildcats went on a 7-0 run - paced by four kills from Frazier - to take an 8-5 lead as the teams switched sides. Auburn pulled back to within two points at 10-8, but could not stay on serve as the Wildcats pulled back ahead 12-8. At 14-9 and the Tigers down to their last chance, Auburn managed to fight off three match point attempts and stayed alive at 14-12, but a kill from Kentucky's Lauren O'Conner ended the match with a 15-12 Kentucky win.
The Tigers hit the road next weekend for a pair of SEC West clashes. Auburn visits Ole Miss at 7 p.m. Friday night, then travels to archrival Alabama for a 1:30 p.m. match Sunday.
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