Kentucky celebrates national championship win at Memorial Coliseum


UK poses for a photo after the University of Kentucky vs. Texas NCAA women’s volleyball championship game on Saturday, April 24, 2021, at CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska. UK won 3-1. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Barkley Truax

14 hours after achieving the ultimate feat and capturing the 2020 – 2021 Volleyball National Championship, Kentucky volleyball was welcomed home with a celebration on their home court Sunday afternoon.

The team arrived from Bluegrass Airport to the cheers of the Big Blue Nation as they entered of Memorial Coliseum. Each member of the volleyball team was introduced individually, and head coach Craig Skinner, Alli Stumler, Avery Skinner and especially Division One Player of the Year, Madison Lilley received huge ovations from the crowd.

“I don’t think you understand how hard this group of people worked since August 4th. There’s no way winning a national championship was harder than what we just went through,” Skinner said. “…When you come to Kentucky, your goal is to win the big daddy trophy. . . When we were in Omaha we could feel you, the Big Blue Nation.”

A standing ovation followed by a “Go Big Blue” chant ensued. Gabby Curry took the stand next. Before the season, Coach Skinner asked this group of seniors what they wanted to be remembered for.

“We wanted to be legendary,” Curry said.

The 2020 National Championship banner was revealed behind a standing ovation as the crowd clapped along to the UK fight song.

“Why not? Why can’t we win a national championship at Kentucky,” Coach Skinner said in a video package. Their dreams have now become reality as they replayed the game winning spike, killed by Stumler, on Saturday night as the crowd cheered their Cats on one more time.

“Indescribable,” Avery Skinner said about the feeling she felt the moment her team realized their dream. “You can’t think about what it’ll feel like until you’re in it and it was amazing. We were all holding hands; the power of fifteen is so strong and I’m just so proud of everyone. It was a real team effort to get here.

This championship transcends just volleyball; it has given the Lexington community something to cheer for the Lexington community in a tough year. For young local girl with dreams of playing Division One volleyball someday, they now have something to hold onto and women to look up to.

“I’m excited to watch the game grow even more because of this. . . we’re not just female athletes, we’re athletes,” Lilley said. “Being able to bring [a championship] back to Lexington and spread the game even more, we always talk about giving back to the game.”

Lilley’s hardware collection has expanded tremendously over the last several weeks. She claims the titles of 2020-21 SEC Player of the Year, AVCA All-Southeast Region Player of the Year, First Team All-American and 2020-21 AVCA Division One Player of the Year, but none can compare to being called national champion.

“It’s a completely different ballgame,” Lilley said. “The individual stuff is one thing, but to see all of the hard work that we’ve put in as a collective group to come together for a national championship, that’s something that will forever mean more.”

“To grind for nine months with the same group of girls, the trust and the relationships you build and then ultimately winning a championship is everything,” Lilley continued. “It’s far more special than anything else.”

But what’s next for Kentucky Volleyball?

“Whoever doesn’t think we couldn’t do it, they definitely know we can now,” Azhani Tealer said. “I think we know what it takes. . . we will be back [to the national championship], I can promise you that.”