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Kentucky too strong: Wildcats top Washington to advance to NCAA title match

Kentucky — now in the last match of the season for the first time in program history — staged a big comeback in the third set Thursday night and then laid the hammer down in the fourth as the second-seeded Wildcats defeated sixth-seeded Washington 25-18, 23-25, 25-23, 25-17 to advance to Saturday’s NCAA Division I volleyball championship match.

Kentucky (23-1) won its seventh match in a row as the Wildcats hit .520 in the third set inside the CHI Health Center in Omaha. The SEC-champion Wildcats will play the winner of Thursday’s later national semifinal between top-seeded Wisconsin and fourth-seeded Texas.

“Wow, what a mentally resilient performance our team put on today,” Kentucky coach Craig Skinner said. “And the toughness to dig out of a big hole in the third set.”

Kentucky hit .340 in the CHI Health Center in Omaha, led by Avery Skinner‘s 19 kills. She hit .283 and had five digs and three blocks.

“She was phenomenal at the end,” Skinner said.

Her sister, Madi Skinner, had 13 kills, hit .360, and had two digs and three blocks.

“I’m her biggest fan. Just seeing her go off on the court was so exciting,” Madi Skinner said of Avery’s performance.

Azhani Tealer had 13 kills, hit .385, and had two aces and two blocks. Alli Stumler had 13 kills, hit .344, and had an assist, 13 digs, and a block. Elise Goetzinger had five kills, hit .375, and had three blocks.

Madison Lilley had a kill in three errorless tries, 63 assists, an ace, 14 digs, and a block. Gabby Curry had 17 digs and an assist. Kentucky came back from being down 22-16 in the second set when Washington was out of challenges. That helped the Wildcats late in the set when the officials missed a Kentucky net violation.

Kentucky is the second SEC team to make it to the final, but none has ever won. Florida lost in the 2003 and 2017 championship matches.

Washington (20-4), the Pac-12 champion, saw its nine-match winning streak — including winning three NCAA Tournament matches in a row in five sets — come to an end.

“I’m proud of our group,” Washington coach Keegan Cook said. “How could you not be?”

Samantha Drechsel led Washington with 18 kills as she hit .289. She had an assist, two aces, five digs, and three blocks. Claire Hoffman had 10 kills, an assist, an ace, nine digs, and two blocks. Lauren Sanders had nine kills, hit .471 after having one error in 17 attacks, and added an assist and four blocks.

Ella May Powell had three kills, 41 assists, an ace, five digs, and three blocks. Her team hit .206. Emma Calle had 16 digs, an assist and two aces. Shannon Crenshaw had 13 digs and three assists.

Kentucky sweeps Washington 4/22/2021
Kentucky’s Madison Lilley sets against Washington in the NCAA semifinals/Jamie Schwaberow, NCAA Photos via Getty Images