Volleyball Readies For Road Test At No. 19 Kentucky

Published 3:02 pm Tuesday, October 11, 2022

• Ole Miss heads back on the road for a midweek matchup with No. 18 Kentucky on Wednesday, October 12.
• The Rebels swept the series with Alabama over the weekend, picking up their first two home victories in 2022.
• For the second consecutive week, Cammy Niesen turned heads in the SEC, this time garnering Defensive Player of the Week honors after a career-high 29 dig performance last Friday.
• Freshman outside hitter Vivian Miller had a career weekend, leading the Ole Miss attack with 4.13 kills per set on a .338 clip. She was recognized by the conference with SEC Freshman of the Week honors.
• Ole Miss has leaned heavily on its freshmen this season. Aly Borellis ranks sixth nationally among freshmen with 10.04 assists per set.
• Senior Anna Bair has been one of the conference’s top attackers in 2022, ranking eighth in the SEC and 89th nationally with 3.69 kills per set.
• Bair picked up her 1,000th career kill on September 30, becoming the 15th Rebel in program history to accomplish the feat.
• Middle blocker Sasha Ratliff was one of 15 student-athletes named to the Preseason All-SEC Team. She earned all-conference honors last year after a breakout sophomore campaign.

Kentucky boasts a 10-5 record on the season and comes into Wednesday’s match ranked 19th in the latest AVCA Poll. The Wildcats, coached by Craig Skinner, sit atop the SEC standings, with their lone conference loss coming at the hands of LSU. Reigning SEC Player of the Week, Reagan Rutherford leads the team, averaging 4.11 kills per set, and setter Emma Grome has the offense hitting at a .292 clip, the 10th best mark nationally. The defense is holding opposing teams to a .225 attacking percentage, led by libero Eleanor Beavin (3.90 digs per set) and Elise Goetzinger (0.702 blocks per set).

Kentucky leads the all-time series with Ole Miss 49-12. It has been an extremely lopsided series as of late, with the Wildcats winning each of the last 19 meetings. The Rebels nearly snapped that streak last season, taking No. 6 Kentucky to five sets in Oxford. Their last victory against the Wildcats came in Lexington in 2010.

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OXFORD, Miss. – Playing in front of a record 1,251 fans inside the Gillom Center, Ole Miss and No. 6 Kentucky played to the brink. The Rebels took the defending national champions to five sets but came up just short in the battle, falling 2-3.

Both teams went back and forth early as the match was tied at 13-all. Kentucky found a little breathing room, but the Rebels stayed within striking distance and eventually cut the lead to one at 20-19. However, it wasn’t enough, as a 5-1 Kentucky burst handed the Wildcats the first set. After exchanging scoring runs to begin the second set, a 4-0 run gave the Rebels their first advantage of the set at 16-14. Ole Miss continued to hold the lead, but ultimately the Wildcats were too much as Kentucky took five of the final six points to claim set two, 25-23.

Needing a response, the Rebels kept things close early in set three, going back-and-forth, tied through 13 until they broke through to take a 15-13 lead at the media break. Kentucky responded and tied up the set at 19, but a 6-1 Rebel run capped off by a kill from Brgoch kept the Rebels alive. Ole Miss carried the momentum into set four, staying hot on the outside as Bair continued to build the Rebel lead. Ole Miss quickly took control of the set and never looked back, winning the fourth set 25-16.

Kentucky opened the deciding set with a 5-1 run, forcing Ole Miss to call its first timeout. Out of the break, the 20th kill of the night from Bair cut the UK lead to three as Ole Miss trailed 9-6; however, the Rebels would get no closer, dropping the fifth set 15-9.

After leading the Ole Miss attack and registering career-high kills in both victories against Alabama, outside hitter Vivian Miller was named SEC Freshman of the Week. She paced the Rebels offensively against the Crimson Tide, averaging 4.13 kills per set on the weekend and hitting at a blistering .338 clip. The Jupiter, Florida, native tallied 15 kills in Friday’s win and followed it up with an 18-kill performance while hitting at a career-best .485 clip. Miller also added a career-best 17 digs on Saturday for her second collegiate double-double.

Following back-to-back 20-dig performances on the road, Ole Miss libero Cammy Niesen was named SEC Co-Freshman of the Week on October 3. She anchored the Rebel defense on the road in Baton Rouge, collecting a career-high 24 digs on Friday against LSU and followed it up with 20 digs the following night, helping lead Ole Miss to its first conference victory of the season. Niesen is one of six SEC student-athletes to record back-to-back 20-plus dig matches this season.

This past weekend against Alabama, Niesen continued to turn heads in the SEC, this time garnering Defensive Player of the Week honors. The Cincinnati, Ohio, product raised her game, averaging 5.25 digs per set and helped the Rebel defense hold Alabama to a mere .150 hitting percentage. On Friday, Niesen tallied a career-best 29 digs in the win, tied for the most in a four-set match by any SEC student-athlete this season and the most by a Rebel since 2018. Further, she is one of only two freshmen in the conference this season and the first Rebel freshman since Anna Bair in 2019 to claim multiple SEC weekly awards.

Ole Miss broke out the brooms, sweeping the series with Alabama this past weekend for its first two victories at home this season. The Rebels came out on top 3-1 in both matches, hitting at a .280 clip with 15.75 kills per set. Winners of their last three matches, Ole Miss looks to carry the momentum into a matchup with No. 19 Kentucky.

Although they are only three months into their collegiate volleyball career, Aly Borellis, Vivian Miller and Cammy Niesen have established themselves integral pieces of Ole Miss volleyball. Borellis has had a stellar start to her freshman campaign, ranking sixth nationally among freshmen at the setter position with 10.04 assists per set. Outside hitter Vivian Miller has also come on strong as of late, averaging 2.45 kills per set on the year and finishing in double-figures in six of her last eight matches. Niesen rounds out the trio, having started all 16 matches at libero. She leads the team in digs and has tallied 10 or more 12 times, including four 20-plus dig performances.

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Senior Anna Bair has been a staple of the Ole Miss attack each of the past four seasons she’s donned a Rebel uniform. On Friday, September 30, the strong-armed St. Louis native reached the 1,000 kill milestone against LSU, becoming the 15th Rebel in program history achieve the feat. In her career, Bair is hitting at a .224 clip in her career and averaging 3.05 kills per set. A leader on the court, Bair has tallied double-digit kills in 59 matches, including 14 this season.

Despite an tough 4-6 record in non-conference action, the Rebels gained valuable experience on the court that will prepare them for SEC play and a run in the NCAA Tournament. Ole Miss had one of the tougher opening weekends across the country, hosting #9 Georgia Tech and #17 Illinois for the Ole Miss Invitational. They came up just short of the Yellow Jackets, scoring 24 points or more in all four sets, and fell to Illinois in four sets. The uphill climb continued the following weekend at the Husker Invitational, where they battled with #2 Nebraska. The Rebels picked up their first two victories of 2022 at the Bobcat Invitational and followed it up with another 2-1 weekend at the Jaguar Invitational to round out the non-conference slate.

The Rebels found their groove September 9 and 10 at the Bobcat Invitational in San Marcos, Texas. Ole Miss got back to winning ways, sweeping Sam Houston behind an efficient attack led by Anna Bair and Payton Brgoch. In the nightcap, the Rebs battled the host, Texas State, eating the Cats up in four sets. Bair and Sasha Ratliff each laid down 17 kills, while freshman setter Aly Borellis powered the offense to a .329 hitting percentage with a career-high 51 assists.

Ole Miss junior middle blocker Sasha Ratliff was one of fifteen student-athletes selected to the 2022 Preseason Volleyball All-SEC Team. Ratliff established herself as one of the top middle-blockers in the SEC last season, earning an all-conference nod as well as AVCA All-Region honors. The Atlanta, Georgia, native paced the team with a school record 113 assisted blocks and was one shy of the single-season total block record with 129. Ratliff was also a top offensive contributor, ranking third in the conference and 28th nationally at a .385 hitting clip.

Head coach Kayla Banwarth added top talent to the Rebels’ 2022 class with the addition of six signees, including multiple Prep Volleyball Top-150 honorees. Five of the six new Rebels received AVCA High School All-America honors their senior year, tied with Florida for the most in the nation.

Aly Borellis makes her way to Oxford as a four-year letterwinner at Notre Dame Preparatory and a member of the Prep Volleyball Top-150 list. A decorated setter out of Rochester, Michigan, Borellis has racked up multiple All-American honors in her high school career, including a pair of PrepVolleyball First Team honors, AAU All-American laurels and 2021 AVCA First Team All-American honors.

Middle blocker Tessa Jones joins the Rebels as a Prep Volleyball Top-150 recruit and 2021 AVCA Honorable Mention High School All-American. In her four-year career at Seton High School in Cleves, Ohio, Jones tallied 606 kills and racked up 144 total blocks.

Outside hitter Shayla Meyer closed out her high school career with over 1,700 kills. The Superior, Nebraska, native was named first team All-Conference three years in a row, found a spot on the C-2 Volleyball All-State first team in 2020 and 2021 AVCA Honorable Mention All-American honors.

Ready for her first season in a Rebel uniform, Vivian Miller comes to campus as a highly touted recruit out of Jupiter, Florida, being named to the Prep Volleyball Top-100, AVCA Phenom List, AVCA Best and Brightest First Team and 2021 AVCA Second Team All-American honors. At Jupiter High School, the outside hitter totaled 500 kills in 154 sets played.

Cammy Niesen, listed as a defensive specialist, hopes to make an impact for the Rebels at the libero position. The 2021 AVCA Second Team High School All-American graduated as the all-time dig leader at Roger Bacon High School, where she led the Miami Valley Conference in digs as a senior. Niesen was also named first team All-District, District Player of the Year and first team All-State in 2020.

Outside hitter Emma Schwieger caps off the freshmen talent. The Bishop Moore Catholic High School grad was tabbed as the No. 5 player and the No. 1 right side in Florida for the class of 2022 and was listed as one of Prep Volleyball’s 2022 players to watch.

After establishing herself as one of the top middle-blockers in the SEC last season, Sasha Ratliff received an invitation to the Women’s National Team Open Program in Colorado Springs, Colorado, this past February. The junior spent three days training with some of the top athletes in the nation as part of the selection process for the U.S. Women’s National Team and the 2022 U.S. Women’s Collegiate National Team.

Back on the bench for year two with the Rebels is Brad Creamer; however, when Ole Miss takes the court this season, he’ll have a new role with the program: assistant coach. This offseason, Creamer was elevated to assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the Rebels after assisting them in one of the best seasons in program history. Also added to the staff this offseason was assistant coach Bre Henry, who makes her way to Oxford from Santa Clara University. During her time with the Broncos, Santa Clara produced three AVCA All-Region selections, 12 All-WCC accolades and 10 WCC all-academic nods. Prior to Santa Clara, Henry was a graduate assistant with one of the nation’s elite programs at Nebraska alongside Banwarth. Rounding out the new faces is volunteer assistant Douglas Florencio, who just wrapped up his playing career at King University and University of Charleston.

Follow the Rebels on Twitter at @OleMissVB, Facebook at Ole Miss Volleyball, and on Instagram at @olemissvb. You can also follow head coach Kayla Banwarth on Twitter @KaylaBanwarth2.