Kentucky wins first volleyball title in 4 sets over Texas

Sports

Kentucky’s Alli Stumler (17) gets a kill against Texas’ Skylar Fields (5) during the second set of the final in the NCAA women’s volleyball championships Saturday, April 24, 2021, in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/John Peterson)

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Alli Stumler had a season-high 26 kills, the biggest coming on the final point of the match, and Kentucky won its first national championship in women’s volleyball with a four-set victory over Texas on Saturday night.

The Wildcats had the nation’s most efficient offense this season and, with the exception of a few hiccups early in the first set and the start of the fourth, they were in top form with Stumler and sisters Madi and Avery Skinner leading the way.

After Texas forced a second match point, Stumler hammered a kill the Longhorns had no chance of handling, that ended a 20-25, 25-18, 25-23, 25-22 victory.

The Wildcats (24-1) converged on the court and went to their knees in celebration. After exchanging hugs, several players made snow angels in the confetti that had dropped from the ceiling.

Kentucky setter Madison Lilley, the national player of the year, was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after finishing with 53 set assists against the Longhorns.

Kentucky freshman Madi Skinner had a season-high 19 kills and Avery Skinner had 14 kills and four blocks.

Stumler, who had only two errors on 51 swings, won the battle against Big 12 player of the year Logan Eggleston, who had 21 kills and just one error on 50 swings. Skylar Fields added 16 kills for the Longhorns (27-2), who were in the final for the fifth time in 12 years.

Kentucky’s championship also was the Southeastern Conference’s first in women’s volleyball, and commissioner Greg Sankey was on hand at the CHI Health Center to see it.

The Wildcats only loss this spring was a five-setter against Florida last month. They lost only two sets in five tournament matches.

Skylar Fields had five kills and Texas hit .455 with just one hitting error in winning the first set. Avery Skinner, sensational in the semifinals against Washington, got off to a slow start and had three of the Wildcats’ seven hitting errors in the opener.

Stumler and the Skinners led Kentucky back in the second set and kept the Wildcats’ mojo going in the third.

The Wildcats knocked Texas out of rhythm mixing deep and short serves. Stumler had six kills in the second set, Avery Skinner had a couple of kills and two blocks, and Stumler ended it with a serve that landed just inside the left corner for her second ace of the set.

Avery and Madi Skinner had back-to-back kills as the Wildcats scored three straight points to take the lead for good in the middle of the third, and Madi finished it with a hammer shot on the second set point.

Kentucky had three errors on its first nine swings of the fourth set and was down 6-1 before it clawed back and went ahead 15-13 on two attack errors and a kill by Madi Skinner.

Texas tied the set three times before Kentucky got it to match point. A rare error by Stumler forced a second match point, but there would be no third after Stumbler received a set from Gabby Curry and delivered the finishing cross-court kill.

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