By: David Woeltz ~Staff Writer~
Xavier volleyball is preparing for Big East conference play after dropping a tightly contested match to No. 24 Kentucky at Cintas Center. The Musketeers fell in four sets (22-25, 25-17, 25-17, 25-20) to the Wildcats on Sept. 18, as the neon-clad student section was not enough to turn the tide. The match was Xavier’s second straight against a ranked opponent, and the loss drops the Musketeers to 4-6 on the season.
The first set was largely controlled by the Musketeers behind the front line of sophomore Kristen Massa and junior Abbey Bessler who combined for 21 kills. After nearly squandering a 20- 12 lead, Christy Pfeffenberger’s squad was able to pull through as Xavier closed the set out 25-22. Sophomore Darian Mack and the Wildcats responded with a 25- 17 win in the second set. Not even the Xavier men’s swimming team donning Speedos was enough to distract Mack, who paced the Wildcats with 15 kills and 12 digs.
Kentucky continued its strong play in the third set with another 25-17 showing. The Musketeers had to dig deep after momentum shifted to the Wildcats. Xavier showed its resolve in the fourth set by battling to a 20-20 tie. That would be the final time Xavier tallied a point as it fell 25-20, giving Kentucky the four-set victory. Even in the loss, several Xavier players had noteworthy performances. Freshman setter McKena Estes racked up a team-high 26 assists for the Musketeers and got assistance from redshirt sophomore Mackenzi Humm’s 16 assist contribution. Senior Makayla Agin added a season-high 13 kills.
Looking ahead to conference play, expect Xavier to continue to get a major contribution from Bessler, who leads the team with 137 points. Bessler looks to make the All-Big East First Team for the third consecutive season. After redshirting her freshman year, libero Meredith Klare has started the season strong by posting an impressive 4.63 digs per set. Sophomore Lauren Frilling anchors the middle for the Musketeers with a .248 hitting percentage.
Xavier will have to ramp up its play if it expects to finish .500 or better for the 18th consecutive year. The Musketeers were tabbed to finish third in the conference, while reigning Big East champion Creighton was picked to finish first by the Big East coaches. Xavier will travel to Milwaukee to battle Marquette in its conference opener Sept. 23. The Musketeers will return to host Providence Sept. 25 in Cintas Center.