This will be the first appearance for the Bucs in the NCAA tournament since 2012. Coincidently, the Wildcats put out ETSU in that tournament with a 3-0 sweep.
A look at ETSU
The Bucs go into Friday’s matchup on a roll, having swept the Southern Conference tournament and not dropping a set on the weekend at the Ramsey Center at Western Carolina.
They also have 14 out of the last 16 matches after a poor 5-9 start to the season.
Senior Rylee Milhorn leads the Bucs on the season with 395 kills and also leads the team in aces with 47.
Senior Leah Clayton has also tallied over 300 kills on the season, currently with 346.
Junior AJ Lux is next on the team in kills with 246.
On the season, the team has accumulated 1,442 kills, 1,357 assists and 131 aces.
Defensively, the freshman libero sensation Marija Popovic led ETSU with 467 digs on the season. She averaged 4.86 digs per set.
Junior Braedyn Tutton led the team with 12 solo blocks and assisted on 104 more.
A look at Kentucky
The Wildcats were the co-Southeastern Conference champions along with Florida and earned a top-four seed nationally. They will host the first two rounds of the tournament in Lexington if they continue to win.
The Wildcats come into the tournament on a seven-match winning streak and are 26-3 on the season. They also have a stellar home record of 13-1.
The player that jumps out off of the stat sheet for the Wildcats is sophomore Leah Edmond, who tops the Big Blue with 465 kills on the season and averages 4.56 kills per set. She also leads the team in aces with 36.
Freshman Madison Lilley shows the way in assists with 1,236 for an average of 12.12 per set. She ranks second on the team in aces with 23.
Defensive specialist and senior Ashley Dusek both have 345 digs while three other players have each amassed more than 200.
Senior Kaz Brown led the team with 18 solo blocks and assisted on 102 others.
The only common opponent between the two opponents is Western Kentucky, but the Wildcats played the Hilltoppers, who made the NCAA tournament and are in the same bracket as ETSU, only in an exhibition at the start of the season.
The Bucs played three other tournament teams — Radford, Wichita State and Pitt — losing to each one. The closest match was a five-setter against Radford back in September.
On the tangible side, the Wildcats are a tall team with nine players over six feet tall while the Bucs have just three.
Moreover, Kentucky has five more players listed on the active roster than ETSU (17-12).
The Bucs played a similar opponent in August in Arizona, which had similar height with 10 players over six-feet tall.
Arguably, the best opponent the Bucs faced all season was No. 16 Wichita State, which finished the season at 28-3 and won 20 straight matches. The Shockers have 12 players on the roster listed at over six feet tall.
The Bucs have faced size this season, but have come up short in all instances. The Bucs will be prepared for the Wildcats.
“They’re definitely big,” ETSU coach Lindsey Devine said. “But we’ve played big this year. Arizona was a big team and so was Wichita State. They will be athletic, too.”
If the Bucs were to pull the upset against Kentucky, they will play the winner of Western Kentucky-Notre Dame in Lexington on Saturday, Dec. 2.
The Final Four of the national tournament will be Dec. 14 and the championship match will be on Dec. 16.
The national semifinals and finals will be in Kansas City, Missouri.