By Garrett Pave
For the second night in a row, the third-ranked Kentucky Wildcats took down the ninth-ranked Missouri Tigers 3-1, extending their streak to now seven straight wins over the Tigers and improving their overall record to 4-0 this year. Tonight’s game was almost a mirror image of last night’s game, as the Tigers took set number one, but then proceeded to drop the next three sets resulting in a loss.
The Tigers were led once again by superstar senior Kylie DeBerg, who recorded 14 kills and 6 digs, and sophomore Anna Dixon, who tallied 12 kills, 1 dig, and an impressive 4 blocks. In the first set of this match it seemed as if the Tigers were energized and ready to knock off the Wildcats, but the Tigers came out pretty flat in the following three sets and just couldn’t keep up with that experienced and talented Kentucky team. One of the biggest issues for the Tigers appeared to be their defense, as Kentucky time after time executed their spikes to perfection without any Missouri players getting a hand on it. As many might know, senior standout Tyanna Omazic, who head coach Joshua Taylor said would have been an All-American this year, suffered a torn ACL last night against the Wildcats. That loss was definitely felt tonight, as she was one of the Tigers’ best defenders coming into this year. Omazic’s presence will be missed on the court this year, and head coach Joshua Taylor will now have to get creative with his lineups. However, one player who has been unbelievable so far defensively is freshman Emily Brown, who recorded 13 digs for the Tigers tonight. She will continue to play a big part for this Tigers team down the stretch, and look for her to get better and better as the season goes on. Though the Tigers are ranked ninth in the country right now, they are very much still trying to find an identity on both sides of the ball and, though it will take time, Joshua Taylor will get his team to where they need to be.
For the Kentucky Wildcats, it was a polar opposite performance, as they just looked sharp and crisp in almost every aspect of the game. Alli Stumler had an unbelievable game for the Wildcats, recording 22 kills and 8 digs, proving herself to be one of the best in the conference, and Azhani Tealer also had a big game for the Cats, tallying 14 kills, 1 dig, and 3 blocks. Kentucky did not start the match fast, but it just seemed as if they continued to settle into the match and eventually took full control as time went on. Kentucky played a total of 12 players tonight which allowed them to get fresh bodies in when they needed them, and that played a big part in their success as Missouri just seemed gassed at some points when Kentucky didn’t. This will be a recipe for success going forward for the Wildcats because not a lot of teams have the virtue of moving players in and out, and luckily for that Cats they have that. All around for the Wildcats it was an unbelievable game, and grabbing two wins on the road against a very good Missouri team is huge for Kentucky going forward, plus a big momentum booster no doubt.
After the game concluded, Missouri head coach Joshua Taylor was asked how both games looked so similar to one another.
“Well honestly, tonight’s game was worse. We didn’t execute and it showed…I tried to switch some things up schematically after last night’s loss, but clearly it didn’t help us much,” said Taylor, who proceeded to add that he would review the film but move on, because all that mattered now was focusing on Arkansas next week.
We saw really good flashes of what this Missouri team could be this year, but it’s clear that they’re a ways away from beating one of the big dogs like Kentucky. Missouri will now have to wait until next year to potentially end that seven-game losing streak to the Wildcats, and the Cats will go home feeling good about a great performance in both games against the Tigers. The Tigers drop to 2-2 and will now shift their focus to next week where they will host the Arkansas Razorbacks on November 4 and 5 back in the Hearnes Center.
Edited by Emma Moloney