Kentucky volleyball returns several stars, ready to defend SEC Championship


Kentucky junior Madison Lilley, senior Caitlyn Cooper and junior Kendyl Paris celebrate a point during the game against Western Kentucky University on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019, at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

Hailey Peters

After cementing the title of SEC Champions in the 2018 season, the University of Kentucky volleyball team feels extremely prepared, excited and competitive about the upcoming fall matches.

“I think we’re in a good place. I think we’re ready to compete,” said returning head coach Craig Skinner at his media conference early last week. “Having a lot of players back that have started for us over the years, I think helps.”

Returning superpowers this season include 2018 SEC Freshman of the Year Alli Stumler, Libero of the Year Gabby Curry and all-around Player of the Year Leah Edmond. Also starting this year for the Cats is eight-time SEC Setter of the Week and AVCA Second-Team All American Madison Lilley.

Last season, the Wildcats were undefeated at home, landing them the No. 10 spot nationally in volleyball programs. After traveling to the Sweet 16 and facing off against No. 6 Nebraska for the second year in a row, the Cats were ultimately swept out of the tournament. This year, Skinner believes that the team before him has never been more ready to compete for the school’s first volleyball national title.

“We talked to everybody in the recruiting process about trying to compete for a national championship, which is very difficult to do obviously,” Skinner said. “They’re elite competitors…our junior class, senior class and kids that we’ve recruited, those are the types of kids that you want to be next to as a staff to try and accomplish something great.”

On Wednesday, Aug. 21, the Cats competed in front of a crowd for the first time this fall in an exhibition match against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. Skinner used the exhibition opportunity to test out various lines and strategies to see how his team functioned the best together.

“We have a lot of people that can play,” Skinner said. “We played four sets, and in every set we had a different line-up.”

Skinner, along with the rest of his coaching staff, was mostly impressed by the team’s improved serving and the ability for certain girls to flourish in multiple different positions. Considering all of the physical talent the Cats have to bring to the table, the competitiveness of the team is what Skinner thinks will be the push for the Cats to succeed in the upcoming season.

“To see what we did in Brazil, and see how we did in the spring and seeing what we’re doing right now…that makes us very difficult to prepare for,” Skinner said. “Those are some things we saw on Wednesday.”

Kentucky volleyball will begin play at home in Memorial Coliseum on Friday, September 13 in a doubleheader against Cleveland State and Florida Gulf Coast University.