UK Volleyball ready to put last season season behind them


UK volleyball photo day. Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

Allie Hennard

After coming one game short of a SEC Championship last year, the UK women’s volleyball team is fired up for its upcoming season opener.

Head coach Craig Skinner and returning Cats talked about the team’s promise this week as they looked forward to Friday’s opener against Washington State at Purdue.

Early practices have been intense and telling as incoming freshmen mix with a team that has a respectable amount of returning players.

The early practices have been a platform for the team to grow closer and improve as whole, but spots in the rotations have also been up for grabs.

“It has been really competitive,” Skinner said. “We have a lot of depth in positions that we haven’t necessarily had before so it’s created a lot of opportunity.”

Last season the team was one match shy of clinching the SEC Championship. With many of the squads improving across the SEC, its path to a conference title will not be any easier this season.

“I think we have a shot at winning the championship. We’re as athletic as we’ve ever been. We have the nine people that played for us last year, seven are returning,” Skinner said. “We were a match away from winning the SEC last year so there’s no reason why we can’t compete with all the teams that are returning a lot of people too: A&M, Florida and Missouri.”

Preseason All-SEC team selections Ashley Dusek and Kaz Brown both provide leadership as they head into their junior seasons, and hope they will be able to help the Cats get over the hump this season in the SEC race.

Brown finished last season third in the nation in blocks per set and spent the summer with the USA Collegiate team.

“We’re coming in aggressive for it this year and I think we’ve got a good shot,” Brown said. “I mean it’s going to be a tough run but there’s a lot of good returners so we’re going to go after it for sure.”

Dusek was able to carve out an important role defensively on the team last year and will look to continue it in the new season. She had a standout performance last October against Auburn breaking the 22-year-old school record for most digs in a single match with a career-high 40.

Dusek also focused on improving her game this summer by training with USA volleyball.

The team still thinks about the tough loss last season after being so close to a championship, but has not lost motivation to get the title this season.

“Of course we still have that bitter taste in our mouths, so we’re going to get after it this year,” Dusek said.

Several of the players credit the team’s success to their close relationships with one another and their ability to hold each other accountable.

 “What’s special about this team is the chemistry, really good chemistry on and off the court,” Brown said. “We all live together outside so, I mean we don’t have to do that, that’s something we choose to do.”

This season the team will focus on one game at a time and work toward a championship.

“The team is pretty aggressive, pretty fearless,” Brown said. “I think we’re all pretty confident in what we do and I think that is gonna be a definite intimidation factor for our opponents.”

Skinner is pleased with the progress during summer practices and the experience gained in the tournament last year.

“We still aren’t quite settled on a lineup yet, but a lot of fun, a lot of energy, a lot of competitive fire and I think a lot of that is because we have so many returners coming back,” Skinner said.