Kentucky beats Huskies, advance to 1st NCAA volleyball final

OMAHA, Neb. — Kentucky will play for its first national championship in women’s volleyball after beating Washington in four sets in the NCAA semifinals Thursday night.

The second-seeded Wildcats will play Saturday against the winner of the late semifinal between No. 1 Wisconsin and No. 4 Texas.

The Wildcats (23-1) lost a set for the first time in the tournament and came from six points down to win the third. But their offense, No. 1 in the nation statistically, was in top form in the fourth set and kept sixth-seeded Washington from continuing its improbable run in the tournament.

Avery Skinner led the Wildcats with 19 kills and national player of the year Madison Lilley had a season-high 63 set assists and 13 digs.

Washington (20-4) had become the first team to win three five-set matches in an NCAA tournament, and midway through the match it looked as if the Huskies might force this one to go the distance.

But Kentucky committed only three attack errors in the fourth set, hit .520 and finished off the Huskies when Alli Stumler pounded her 13th kill.

Washington couldn’t find an offensive rhythm in the first set, committing nine attack errors and hitting just .057. Kentucky scored 12 of the last 17 points in the set and looked to be in full control.

The Huskies adjusted to the speed of the Wildcats’ offense in the second set, got their block set up and scored seven of the last eight points to hand the Wildcats their first set loss since March 19.

Kentucky came back from a 22-16 deficit to take the third set, the biggest margin the Wildcats have overcome this season. Skinner had five kills during a closing 9-1 run, but the key moment came when Azhani Tealer’s kill pulled the Wildcats to 22-21. Washington coach Keegan Cook argued Tealer committed a net violation on the play, but he had no challenges left and the point stood.