UK fall sports’ success has made history

Kentucky sophomore Gabby Curry dives for the ball during the match against Murray State in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky defeated Murray State three sets to zero. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

While basketball success is a staple at UK, the fall sports at the school took the nation by storm as several experienced extremely successful seasons.


UK’s volleyball team, led by Lexington native hitter Leah Edmond, got off to a rocky start as the Cats lost four of their first seven games following the graduation of former Libero of the Year Ashley Dusek. Their senior class last year consisted of Dusek, blocker Kaz Brown and hitter Darian Mack, among other impactful players.

Once the team adjusted, however, they never looked back. They rattled off 21 straight regular season wins, going undefeated in conference play and steamrolling everyone in their path.

“Just proud to be part of such a special group,” UK head coach Craig Skinner said after the team’s SEC-clinching win over South Carolina. “We’ve known from the beginning, we will need all of us… as a collective staff, we really respect how our team embraced the challenge tonight.”

The Cats won the outright SEC Championship with their undefeated conference season after sharing the crown with Florida last season. When the Cats played Florida this year, they swept the Gators in Memorial Coliseum.

Men’s Soccer

UK men’s soccer became a national powerhouse seemingly overnight. After a less-than-ideal 8-6-4 season that featured several seniors in 2017, the Cats followed junior forward J.J. Williams and his “dynamic duo” partner Kalil Elmedkhar to a blistering 15-1-1 regular season in which they allowed only one goal at home the entire season. They won their first conference tournament crown and defeated then-No. 2 Indiana 3-0 in brutal fashion during the season.

“I think that’s something that when we were getting up at 6 a.m. a few times throughout the year when there wasn’t light out we were going out and grinding every single day, doing the hard workouts, pushing through,” Williams said. “You don’t do it for no reason and at first we were wondering where the holes were going to be filled in and who we were going to get, and all this but then we’re playing our spring games and we’re getting good results.”

The team won an NCAA Tournament match at home for the first time in school history after several attempts in previous years, blowing out No. 21 Portland 4-0. They made their first Elite Eight in school history after defeating Lipscomb at home, 2-1. They became a national contender as a surprise to the nation, employing much of the young core that was in place last season.


What to say about the gridiron Cats that hasn’t already been said? The 9-3 UK football team has its best record in 40 years, thanks in no small part to top NFL prospect Josh Allen’s powerful edge rushing and junior running back Benny Snell’s pursuit of UK history.

Allen holds the career and single-season school record for sacks, repeatedly penetrating the backfield and bothering opposing quarterbacks. Snell is still pursuing the all-time UK rushing record set by Sonny Collins, and he’s got just over 100 more yards to try to gain in UK’s upcoming bowl game.

In every season under head coach Mark Stoops, the team has tied or improved the previous season’s record over the last six years. When Stoops came to the team, the Nutter Training Facility with the statues out front, celebrating SEC football’s racial integration, wasn’t standing. The Cats competed for an SEC divisional title against Georgia at home this season, and had a legitimate shot to win for the first time in the school’s frustrating football history.

“[The seniors] have just set such a great example for our younger players because of their work ethic, so many things. But they have been leaders, they have been, they have had a great work ethic,” Stoops said. “They have been very unselfish and really about the team and far from perfect, but they have really, they really have great hearts and their minds are in the right place and they really want to lead and set a great example and set the precedent for the future.”

With more and more recruits looking toward the bluegrass, Stoops has cemented himself as one of the greatest Kentucky coaches of all time, and this season as one of the greatest in the history of the program.