Ahead of volleyball championship, UK students excited to have something to root for

Kentucky Wildcats setter Madison Lilley (3) sets the ball during the UK vs. Ole Miss game on Saturday, March 13, 2021, at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 3-1. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Natalie Parks

On Saturday night Kentucky volleyball will take the court in Omaha, Nebraska to play in their first national championship game against No. 4 Texas.

Back in Lexington, UK students are excited to watch their team compete for a national title.

Emily Carstens, a nursing major, said the volleyball team playing in the finals is cool because it’s the first time the team has made it all the way to the championship.

“Just hoping that they win, and I used to play volleyball, so it’s kind of cool to know what’s going on instead of basketball and football,” Parstens said.

Daniel Martzolf, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, also hopes to see the team take home the title.

“I was excited that one of our sports was actually doing well this year,” Martzolf said. He has not watched the volleyball team play this year but plans to watch the championship game.

“It’s really cool to see something happen here, something that’s new for the team happened in my four years here,” Martzolf said.

Kentucky volleyball made history all along their path to the title game , setting a program record for sets won in a row (38), a program record for SEC championships won in a row (4) and making their first Final Four in the NCAA tournament.

“I’m really happy for everybody on the team and just really proud of how hard they’ve worked and everything they’ve done this season,” said Andrew White, a junior kinesiology major. White watched some games on television but hadn’t attended an in-person match.

Freshman Dylan Klare said the volleyball team has been fun to watch this season

“You could tell that they were going to be something special eventually, and now that they’re like coming back, they’ve been the most exciting sports team by far this this year,” Klare, an accounting major, said.

Klare said that at the beginning of the season, the team wasn’t playing at the level he saw them compete in the Final Four.

“All the energy that they had, playing together and all that, it was just really fun to watch,” Klare said.

Landon Blackwell, junior accounting finance, heard volleyball was in the championship game from a professor.

“I was happy for them. It’s good to see. I think it’s the first time ever doing it in history, so it’s definitely a big deal and we’ll support them,” Blackwell said.

For some students, volleyball’s Final Four match-up against Washington was the first game they watched this school year. Other students plan to tune in to volleyball for the first time for Saturday’s championship match.

Students have the opportunity to attend a watch party in Memorial Coliseum, where volleyball plays their home games, to view the 8:00 p.m. title game.

Though the volleyball players view their tournament run as a ‘business trip,’ they are also eager to spread awareness for their sport and prove how entertaining volleyball can be.

“People are really starting to buy in and see that volleyball, one is an amazing sport, but these girls on the court are even cooler and even more special,” said UK outside hitter Alli Stumler. “So that’s awesome and I’m so happy and just thrilled and honored that there are people who are taking time to support us, tune in and really pay attention to our team because they’re awesome.”

Throughout the tournament, head coach Craig Skinner commented on how volleyball games even in the NCAA tournament were not as visible on television or in the media despite the sport’s popularity and athleticism. He said one of his goals is to increase the sport’s viewership and that he’ll never forget his first game at Memorial Coliseum in 2005.

“There was about 67 people in the stands, and boy, a dream starts somewhere and that was my hopes and dreams, that my daughters could be in the stands with thousands of people watching and obviously a different time with a pandemic, but to know that there’s a watch party in Memorial, it’s pretty damn cool,” Skinner said in a press conference the day before the title game.

Students said they were happy to see at least one team at UK doing well this year, often expressing dismay at the men’s basketball season.

“We’ll support any sport, so it’s definitely good just to see some success,” Blackwell said.

Klare said he chose Kentucky as his college because he loves basketball and wanted to watch the team win a national championship.

“But then coming here and being a down basketball year, seeing the volleyball team do good and actually being able to get excited for a sports team is pretty fun,” Klare said.

UK students are hoping for the win but also glad volleyball is getting some recognition.

“Either way, whatever happens, I’m still really proud of them and hopefully we can get the win,” White said.

Martzolf summed up the feelings of many students, downtrodden by a year of isolation, cancelled plans and disappointments.

“It’s nice to have at least one thing to root for.”

Jack Weaver contributed reporting.