Curry stepped into star libero position after Dusek’s graduation


Kentucky sophomore Gabby Curry is greeted by teammates on the bench during the game against Mississippi State on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018 at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won in the first three sets. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

Strong libero play has been a staple of UK volleyball for, at the very least, the last four seasons. Ashley Dusek, regarded by many as the greatest libero to wear blue and white, is described by head coach Craig Skinner as one of the smartest volleyball players he’s ever been around, much less coached.

Naturally, upon the three-time SEC Libero of the Year’s graduation, concerns surfaced about UK’s floor defense: How effective would they be at stopping outright kills? Could sophomore Gabby Curry take that mantle as the next Dusek?

While that’s one of the biggest 5-foot-7 shadows that Curry has had to step out from, she’s rounded into form as the next phase of UK’s defensive machine.

Dusek, now a volunteer assistant in her home state with the Texas A&M Aggies, said that Curry has “taken more of a leadership role.”

“The libero position for Kentucky is huge, obviously, when I was going to libero, it’s big shoes to fill,” she said.

Curry has stepped into the defensive spotlight for the Cats and hasn’t looked back. She’s tripled her assists per set from last year and nearly doubled her digs per set, even though she was coming from as good a year as a freshman can have playing under Dusek.

The new star libero, however, doesn’t feel like the pressure was on to make things happen like her legendary predecessor.

“I think it’s been pretty easy,” Curry said. “The more and more I go on with this season, the block is the one that I need to give credit to. Last year, it was really easy because Ashley [Dusek] had most of the court and I just got the junk… but now, I feel like the block has most of the court so I honestly just have to get their junk and play around them. So, if they block well, I can dig well.”

Curry emphasizes the play up front, but her stats are eerily similar to, and in some cases better than, Dusek’s. This season, Curry is averaging 4.41 digs per set. Dusek averaged 4.35 her senior season. Dusek posted a negative hitting percentage her senior year, and Curry is attacking at a 21.4 percent clip. Granted, both were on very limited attacks as defensive players, but Curry is more involved in the offense than ever.

Even the two players’ mannerisms line up sometimes.

“Before [receiving serves], I’d always wiggle my fingers to tell the server to come on,” Dusek said. “I’ve noticed that she does that now, so that’s pretty cool to see.”

The road wasn’t clear cut for Curry to take over Dusek’s spot, however. She committed six errors, three receiving and three serving, in the team’s second game against USC. That was their second of three straight losses, and the Cats lost four of their first seven matches. The last loss, a four-set defeat to Texas, was the last time UK has lost.

Plenty of this can be attributed to Curry. She’s committed two or fewer errors in 16 of the last 19 matches for the Cats, all victories. She’s taken the helm of the defense, and the passing of the torch is complete at a school that’s quickly becoming a hot spot for talented liberos.

“You see [Curry’s] dig numbers, but her serve receive numbers are as good as any passer that we’ve had in the program,” Skinner said. “She’s playing as well as any libero in the country.”

While the passing of the torch may be complete, and Dusek holds her permanent spot in UK volleyball history, the Cats are now an SEC opponentv for her.

“We only played [UK] once, so I’ve got free reign now to talk to [the UK players] when I can,” Dusek said. “I love them all and I miss them all.”

The Cats have felt the absence of one of their best, but excellent young talent has made missing Dusek a little easier.