Auburn falls in five-set heartbreaker to No. 18 Kentucky

AUBURN, Ala. ( – It was a battle for points Friday night in Auburn Arena as the Auburn volleyball team fell in a 3-2 (23-25, 22-25, 26-24, 30-28, 15-12) match to No. 18 Kentucky. The loss moved the Tigers to 13-12 overall and 7-5 in SEC play.

“We played hard all the way through,” head coach Rick Nold said. “We knew we had to be the aggressor and at the end, we gave Kentucky too many opportunities and they’re too good of a team to do that. The message to the team after the match was that we need to take something from this and we did some really good things tonight, but couldn’t pull out the win in the end.”

Junior libero Jesse Earl finished with a team-high 25 digs in the match and reached a major milestone in her career, recording her 1,000th dig as a Tiger. Now with 1,025 digs in less than two full seasons at Auburn, she is the fastest Tiger to get to that mark and is the 12th player in program history with 1,000 or more career digs.

Junior setter Alexa Filley recorded her 15th double-double of season, having a season-best 56 assists with 15 digs. She tied a season-high with five blocks in the match. Sophomore Brenna McIlroy finished with 17 kills and a season-best 17 digs for her eighth double-double of the year.

Outside hitter Courtney Crable set a season best on the night, having 16 kills. Middle blockers Macy Reece and Breanna Barksdale chipped in 11 and 10 kills, respectively, while Reece led the Tigers with six blocks.

Kentucky (18-5, 11-1) was led by Leah Edmond with 20 kills and Ashley Dusek with 27 digs. Edmond chipped in 12 digs and setter Olivia Dailey totaled 46 assists and 10 digs. Middle blocker Kaz Brown led all student-athletes with 10 blocks.

Auburn came out firing and pushed an early 5-1 lead in the first. An ace from McIlroy and a kill by Filley made it 9-3 and the Tigers held a solid lead throughout the middle of the set. The Wildcats battled back to tie the set at 18 apiece to force an Auburn timeout and after a handful of sideouts, a kill from Barksdale put AU up 23-22. The Tigers took the set with back-to-back Crable kills, 25-23.

The Wildcats took a 7-3 lead to start the second before a kill from Crable sent the Tigers on a 6-1 run to take a 9-8 lead. Kills from Barksdale and Crable made it 17-16 and a Gwyn Jones /Reece block put Auburn up 21-19. A kill from Earl gave the Tigers set point and AU won the set, 25-22.

UK came out of intermission and jumped ahead 9-5 to open set three. A kill from Filley kick started an Auburn run to put the Tigers up 12-11. The Wildcats capitalized on AU errors late in the set to go ahead 21-19, but the Tigers pushed back and tied it up at 23-all. Auburn held off a pair of UK set points, but the Wildcats pressed for a 26-24 win.

A pair of kills by Reece put the home squad up 9-6, but the visitors responded with a run to tie the set at 12. Another Wildcat rally led to a 15-13 UK lead and a pair of Auburn errors made it 19-16. A handful of Auburn runs locked the set at 21-21 before UK reached set point, 24-22. A kill from Crable and a Wildcat error pushed the Tigers to match point, 25-24, and kills from Reece and Crable put Auburn up 27-26, but UK wouldn’t back down and forced the fifth with a 30-28 victory.

Back-to-back kills by McIlroy made 4-4 in the final stanza and a Barksdale kill followed by a Tate Pember service ace put the Tigers up 6-5. Another McIlroy kill gave Auburn a 12-11 lead, but the Wildcats closed out the set with four-straight points to win 15-12.

The Tigers return to Auburn Arena Sunday, hosting Ole Miss in another Southeastern Conference match. Auburn and the Rebels will face off at 1:30 p.m. CT and admission is free.

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