Updated: Aug 28, 2021
(Picture Credit: UK Athletics)
Volleyball is back in the Bluegrass! Our NCAA women’s volleyball defending champions open up their season with a 3 game tournament hosted by Dayton. To start our season, our ladies picked up right where they left off with a dominant 3-0 sweep over Texas State University, before taking on the University of Dayton later tonight at 7:00 ET. Dayton will be a legitimate challenge as they were also a tournament team last season. They round out the event by playing the University of Cincinnati at 12:00 ET tomorrow.
Last season was a historic one for our team as we won our program’s first ever national championship and became only the 11th program ever to win one, including the SEC’s first. Because of these great accomplishments, expectations for our team are at an all time high. These expectations are reflected with a #3 preseason ranking and an all time high level of anticipation from the Big Blue Nation.
As a lot of us BBN members have experienced with our basketball team, great seasons commonly prelude great roster turnover. Our volleyball team was no exception. The Wildcats lost their 2nd highest point scorer in Outsider Hitter Avery Skinner, who transferred to Baylor to pursue a Masters degree. The good news is that we are returning our leading point scorer and last year’s tournament's Most Outstanding Player, Outside Hitter Alli Stumler. She lived up to that title in her first returning game with 5 digs and a team leading 14 kills.
One of our other biggest losses from last season was our Libero Gabby Curry. Not only was she one of our most productive players on the court, but she was both a leader and a common fan favorite of the Big Blue Nation off of the court as well. She was a clear first place leader in digs on our team, as well as one of the most vocal players on the team. Senior Lauren Tharp will play the difficult role of trying to replicate Gabby’s production from last season at Libero.
However, due to last year's very experienced team, a lot of talented and younger players didn’t have an opportunity to show what they are capable of yet. A consensus top 3 recruiting class from 2020 was headlined by now sophomores Opposite Reagan Rutherford and Middle Blocker Elise Goetzinger, who both made our season opener starting lineup. Outside Hitter Sophie Fischer is another sophomore I expect to make a huge jump from last year. The 6’5” South Carolina native is full with potential that I expect will soon be recognized with more opportunity.
Coach Craig Skinner took no breaks getting back onto the recruiting trail for this season, as he once again put together a high ranked recruiting class for the class of 2021. In fact, we already had two of those freshmen start in the opener: Setter Emma Grome and Kentucky’s own, Libero Eleanor Beavin. Emma was Prep Volleyball’s 25th ranked player in her class and Eleanor was named MaxPreps Best Volleyball Player in Kentucky.
The Big Blue Nation can see our cats soon, as we host our own tournament, the “Bluegrass Battle”, next weekend, where we will greet the University of Northern Iowa, Creighton University, and the University of Southern California in Memorial Coliseum.