Only one NCDA match was played this weekend, and it was a great one. Western Kentucky played host to in-state rival Kentucky on Saturday. This was the second meeting between the two schools this season, with Kentucky taking the first meeting 3-0 in the opening match of the 2014-15 NCDA regular season.
On Saturday WKU was able to earn their first win in four years against Kentucky (2-1 final score) in a game that was available online through live stream thanks to Western Kentucky alumni Josh Raymer. I was able to view the game live, and was not left disappointed at all thanks to a highly competitive game.
The first point of the game took a bit more than 10 minutes, with Kentucky prevailing. UK certainly didn’t take the first point with ease, after gaining a large man advantage, WKU stormed back to tie it up with six players remaining on each side. The Wildcats were able to make a few clutch outs to gain the lead back and finish the point out with a great diving catch near the sideline by a Kentucky player. The catching skills that WKU displayed towards the end of that point certainly gave the audience an idea as to what would take place over the next 40 minutes of dodgeball.
Point two was a much different scenario. This time the Hilltoppers started the point sharper than UK and were able to use the ball-advantage to give them a large man advantage. WKU once again relied on strong catching to give themselves an edge, and after about ten minutes, the score was tied 1-1. This point was won by WKU due to their great team coordination, and discipline. Not many wasted throws were made by the Hilltoppers in the last point of the first half, as they were able to execute captain Nick Johnson’s strategy to perfection and knot the game at 1 with under four minutes in the half.
The second half of this rivalry matchup was very slow paced, at least at the start. Both teams looked afraid to make mistakes which led to a back and forth slow point. WKU started to pull away and dropped UK down to less than five players placing them on the ten-count shot clock, and it looked like the Hilltoppers would take this decisive point with ease and coast to a victory over their rivals.
Kentucky’s remaining players were determined not to go down easy, and with WKU only a few kills away from winning the point, the Wildcats stormed back. Western Kentucky seemed to stray away from their team-throw / ball control strategy at the end of this point and gave UK several opportunities to make catches on solo-throws. A few catches by UK and all of a sudden it was anyone’s game.
WKU ended up winning the point, but it could have gone either way. Kentucky’s remaining players either threw a catch or dropped a possible catch opportunity of their own. WKU grabbed a 2-1 lead with under eight minutes to go and played conservative the rest of the way to get the win. It is worth noting that UK played their best dodgeball in that last eight minutes, eliminating most of WKU’s star players and getting them down to the ten-count shot clock before the final buzzer. The great effort by UK at the end was too little too late, and Western Kentucky was able to celebrate on their home court after one of the most important victories in recent history for the Hilltoppers.
My reaction to this game is pretty simple: Western Kentucky is better than what we had seen from them in their previous matches this year. When WKU has their full roster they can compete at a high level. They are an above average catching team, and play with good strategy.
Nick Johnson played a great game for WKU, making several big catches. Other key performers for WKU include Dominique Warfield, Aaron Hedges, Josh Hicks, and Josh Wynn. Freshmen standout Everett Taylor also played well, making some catches when his team needed it most. Overall, WKU is more dangerous than most expected them to be after struggling in the first month of the season.
Kentucky came out sort of flat after the first point of this match, and have the potential to compete at a much higher level than what we saw this weekend. UK did not have a full roster for this match either, so don’t expect them to not be a competitive team moving forward.
I for one, am excited to witness this rivalry game take place a few more times before the season’s end. Both teams have the ability to beat the other if they execute, so there should be more exciting moments coming from the state of Kentucky this season. For now, Western Kentucky has the bragging rights after getting their first win in four years against their in-state rivals. Simply put: “Rivalry Renewed”.