ETSU was matched up to play No.4 Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA tournament Friday. Since Kentucky was the higher ranked seed with a record of 27-3 in the regular season and 17-1 in conference play, they remained at home and the Bucs traveled to Lexington, Kentucky. The Bucs played tough, but lost the match in straight sets.
Leah Clayton (Danville, Virginia) and Braedyn Tutton (Courtice, Ontario) led the Bucs with eight kills each, while AJ Lux (Shelbyville, Indiana) had seven and freshman Kalee Vanderhorst (Raleigh, North Carolina) had six.
Alyssa Kvarta (Crown Point, Indiana) had the team high of 19 assist with Lexie Libs (Floyds Knobs, Indiana) finishing with 11 assists.
Marija Popovic had 13 digs and Mariah McPartland (Boone, Iowa) and Kalee Vanderhorst each had two blocks.
In the first set, the Wildcats won by six points, 25-19. The Bucs stayed close early in the set before the Wildcats were able to pull away with a comfortable lead.
The second set was a bit different. Kentucky was able to get a good lead with the score eight to five. Down six with a score of 15-9 in the second set, the Bucs were able to make a run to put pressure on Kentucky. The Bucs were able to get their deficit as close as three points. However, Kentucky was able to pull away winning the set 25-20 to go up a commanding lead of 2-0.
The third set was much different than the first two sets for the Bucs, as they got off to a fast start with their season on the line. With the Bucs leading 10-6 Kentucky was able to battle back to close the gap to 12 points each.
From there, Kentucky and the Bucs battled to end with Kentucky able to make key plays down the stretch to win 25-21 ending the Bucs season.
“We hit some really good highs,” said Head Coach Lindsey Devine. “We had a couple of matches that got away from us. We kept saying trust the process, trust each other, have fun with what you’re doing. We came into every practice with a how could we be better today mindset. We embrace those opportunities. As a team, I put it all back on them. I may be the coach, but they have to buy into what I’m saying. All twelve of those girls bought into what we’ve been talking about since the beginning of the preseason.”
Offensively, it was one of the Bucs’ least efficient games as Kentucky’s length was a problem for the Bucs.
Kentucky finished the game with nine blocks compared to the Bucs’ two blocks. Kentucky is a team that features nine players six feet or taller.
With the win, Kentucky will move on in the NCAA tournament, and the Bucs season ends.