Lexington, KY (A-State) – The Arkansas State volleyball team opened the 2017 season with a split of two matches at the Bluegrass Battle being held in Lexington, Ky., in Memorial Coliseum Friday with a 3-1 win over Cincinnati in the nightcap after falling to No. 14 Kentucky 3-0 earlier in the day.
A-State (1-1) was able to hold the Bearcats (0-2) to a .137 hitting percentage in the win, including percentages of .000 and -.057 in sets three and four. Carlisa May led the team with 21 kills on a .312 hitting percentage, while Drew Jones posted a double-double (13 kills and 10 digs). Ellie Watkins paced the offense with 53 assists, while Tatum Ticknor (27 digs) and Anna Murphy (six blocks) were strong on the defensive side of the net.
“I challenged our team after the second set against Cincinnati to play better defense,” A-State head volleyball coach David Rehr said. “I flat out told them I didn’t care about their offense in the final two sets, I just cared about defense and they responded as shown by Cincinnati’s hitting percentages those final two sets. That is what I was pleased with the most today. I pointed out something I wanted done better and the team went out there and did it against a solid team.”
Carly Nolan led Cincinnati, who was an at-large selection in last season’s NCAA Tournament, with 20 kills, while Elly Ogle had 18 digs and 12 kills.
A-State led 10-9 in set one before an 8-2 run, finished on a kill by Murphy, put some separation between the two teams at 18-11. Cincinnati got as close as five at 23-18, but the Red Wolves held on for a 25-19 opening set triumph. The second game was close throughout, but A-State had set point at 24-22 before the Bearcats scored two straight points after a timeout. The Red Wolves held set point two more times, but a 3-0 run by Cincinnati after a 26-25 A-State edge gave the Bearcats the second set 28-26.
The Red Wolves rebounded by jumping out of the gates to a 13-9 advantage on a Kenzie Fields kill in set three. However, the Bearcats wouldn’t go away quietly by coming back to tie the set at 18-18 and take a short-lived 20-19 edge. The two teams were tied 21-21 before a 4-0 run, capped by back-to-back blocks by Murphy and Jones, clinched the set for A-State 25-21.
The fourth set went differently as A-State forced the Bearcats to call timeouts after going in front by scores of 7-2 and 18-8. The Red Wolves stretched their advantage to 11 on multiple occasions before an attack error by Cincinnati put the final at 25-14 and gave A-State a 3-1 victory.
Earlier in the day, the first set between the Red Wolves and Wildcats was very competitive with the score tied 14-14 after a kill by May. The kill by May started a short 3-0 spurt for A-State with a service ace by Diane Phillips giving the visitors a 16-14 edge. Arkansas State pushed its advantage to 19-16 on a kill by Jessica Uke that forced Kentucky to use a timeout. The Wildcats used a 7-4 run to tie the game 23-23 before a kill and ace by Leah Edmond propelled UK to a 25-23 win.
Kentucky used the momentum from the set one win to race out to a 6-1 lead in game two. A-State clawed its way back to within three at 9-6 on a Uke kill, but a 12-4 run by UK put the score at 21-10. The Red Wolves weren’t able to put too much of a dent in the deficit and dropped the set by a score of 25-15.
The host Wildcats ran out front 8-4 to begin the third set, but the Red Wolves battled back to tie things up at 12-12. However, the home team regained control with an 8-2 run to push the score to 20-14 and didn’t look back as UK won set three 25-19 and swept the season opener for both squads.
Jones led A-State with 13 kills, while May added nine. Watkins handed out 28 assists and was second on the team with seven digs to Ticknor’s nine. The Red Wolves could only muster a .112 hitting percentage, while Kentucky hit .307. Edmond led the Wildcats with 12 kills, while Kaz Brown led the match with eight block assists.
“I thought we played really well early and an overall decent first set despite losing it,” Rehr added. “However, once we lost the set we had to face some adversity and try to fight back and sadly we weren’t up to that challenge against Kentucky. We hung our head too much and Kentucky is an extremely talented team so that wasn’t a recipe for success.”
Arkansas State wraps up play at the Bluegrass Battle with a 4 p.m. (CT) match Saturday afternoon against No. 23 Utah in Memorial Coliseum.