(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – If you’re looking for a University of Kentucky sporting event to latch on to this season, may I suggest volleyball. It’s exciting, fast-paced, and features some of the most athletic women on campus. Just as importantly, the team this year is going to be good—really good. Coach Craig Skinner, fresh off a brand-new five-year contract extension, has the Wildcats primed for a national championship run.
“It’s hard not getting emotional,” said Skinner, his voice quivering, when asked about what the contract extension means for him personally. “You think about the people. You think about the first senior class I had. You think about the first time we went to the NCAA tournament. You think about the emotions the kids had when you did that. You think about the volleyball community growing. You think about our family. You think about all kinds of things. It’s much deeper than just a game to me…It means a lot.
Led by senior All-American Leah Edmond, junior All-American setter Madison Lilley, and junior libero Gabby Curry, Kentucky should be a shoo-in for its 15thconsecutive NCAA tournament—something achieved by only nine other schools nationwide. During that span, the Wildcats have four Sweet Sixteen appearances, including two back-to-back SEC titles in 2017 and 2018. In addition, Skinner’s teams have captured 17 or more victories in all 14 seasons under his direction, including tallying 20 or more wins in 10 of the last 12 campaigns.
However, with great success, comes even greater expectations. Upsets are few and far between in the sport of volleyball. A high postseason seed is a requisite for a legitimate Final Four run. Hoping to avoid the pitfalls of last season, it’s critical for Kentucky to get off to a great start.
“For everyone around the country, the first four weekends are non-conference weekends,” said Skinner, the reigning back-to-back SEC Coach of the Year and the program’s all-time winningest head coach. “How you schedule and how you perform definitely affects seeding at the end of the year…It is important. Our players know that the better competition we play in the preseason, the better prepared we’re going to be for the SEC season.”
It all begins this Friday, as Kentucky travels to Salt Lake City to face Cal Poly, Utah, and St. Mary’s. The first home game will be Friday, September 13 at noon versus Cleveland State.
Dr. John Huang is a regular columnist for Nolan Group Media. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.