Volleyball focusing on fundamentals


Photo by William Baldon

The UK volleyball team is officially halfway through its Southeastern Conference schedule, and after 10 games, the team is right back where it started — dead even.

After a slow start to conference play, the Cats (11-9, 5-5 SEC) rebounded with a recent three game winning streak, capped off by wins at home against Alabama and Mississippi State this past weekend.

“We have worked really hard and we definitely have gotten better,” UK head coach Craig Skinner said after Sunday’s win over Mississippi State. “Our offense is much smoother, we’re much smarter, our IQ of the game is much better and we are taking care of the ball. I think our execution has gotten to a different level and I think that helps us.”

Over the weekend, the Cats hosted the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Memorial Coliseum. On Friday night, UK battled back from an early deficit and defeated Alabama 15-25, 25-22, 25-19, 25-12 in front of about 1,200 fans. The Cats then followed that victory up with a straight-sets victory of Mississippi State 25-20, 25-22, 25-13 on Sunday.

“We have gotten more contacts in practice in the last two weeks than we have in the six years I have been here,” Skinner said. “The team has really bought into that, we feel good about what we are doing and it is really showing on the court.”

Since the start of conference play, the Cats have come a long way in all facets of the game. This year’s UK team is one of the youngest in the SEC, and as conference play began the youthful Cats looked flawed in their execution of fundamentals. But during the recent three-game winning streak, Skinner has gotten back to the basics in practice, and it has showed on the court.

“Coming into the week, the coaches really had us focusing on passing and fundamentals,” senior Blaire Hiler added. “In practice we really break it down and focus on our passing techniques and hitting techniques and setting techniques. We just break it down and work on fundamentals, and obviously it’s working now.”

The Cats also struggled to find rhythm on offense as they opened conference play, but in a straight set loss to Louisiana State on Oct. 8, Skinner and his coaching staff noticed an improvement in their offensive execution because of a simple lineup change. Skinner inserted freshman Jessi Greenberg into the starting lineup to play back row and rotated Hiler in off the bench for offense in the front row. Since that game, UK’s front line, including seniors Hiler and Lauren Rapp, junior Becky Pavan and freshman Whitney Billings, have all started putting up big kill numbers, while sophomore setter Christine Hartmann has re-established herself in the starting lineup with excellent passing.

“I think being a young team, we are starting to grow, and we are starting to learn,” Hiler said. “We are starting to come together as hitters, and as the season goes on we are progressing as a front line.”

Now the Cats enter the second half of their SEC schedule right back where they began their season, at an even .500 record. But UK is playing better volleyball now than it has all season and will look to build off of its recent success, continuing to grow as a team as it prepares for the last 10 games of  the season.

“(The win streak) really gives us a boost, and our confidence has definitely come up from these wins,” Hiler said. “We are eager for the second half, and we are excited.”

“There’s a lot of good chemistry out there,” Skinner said. “The people on the bench are doing the right things for us; it’s a total team effort. The team has great chemistry and always pushes each other to be their best. We have to be our best at the end of the season, and we are on our way.”