Freshman living up to the billing


at {Memorial Hall} on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2010. Photo by William Baldon

Throughout its season, the UK volleyball team has relied on seniors to provide the Cats with the experience and leadership to win in the Southeastern Conference. But one of UK’s biggest playmakers came into this season with no collegiate experience under her belt—freshman sensation Whitney Billings.

“She is a competitor, she is a great athlete, and she has very good touch and feel,” UK head coach Craig Skinner said of his star freshman. “This is just the beginning of what Whitney can develop into in terms of being a big time division one collegiate volleyball player.”

Billings arrived in Lexington following an accomplished high school career. Billings was a two-time National High School Player of the Year finalist in her freshman and sophomore seasons. Before high school, she traveled to South Africa with the USA Junior Olympic 14-and-under volleyball team.

Last year, Billings came to UK as a redshirt freshman and was named to the All-SEC Freshman Academic team for her stellar work in the classroom. Now, in her first full season competing for the Cats, Billings seems to have had little trouble adjusting to the game at the collegiate level. She has posted 215 kills in 77 sets played, both of which are second on the team.

“It’s a huge difference (from high school to collegiate volleyball),” Billings said. “The competition and the tempo of the game are way faster. My goal is always to play to my fullest potential every game, give it my all, and to be more consistent.”

Billings also adds a lot to the team’s chemistry and play on the court that doesn’t show up in your box score. As one of the most energetic and enthusiastic players on the team, Billings provides the team with energy and adrenaline to get them through closely contested matches, and the rest of the Cats rely on Billings to energize them in crucial situations during a match.

“I need to keep improving my consistency and my energy during matches,” Billings said. “I need to get my energy back up and energize the rest of the team.”

As one of four freshmen or sophomores who currently start for the Cats, Billings and her fellow underclassmen have had to figure out the game on the fly in order to help their team succeed. Skinner understands the challenges of having talented but inexperienced players see big minutes for his team, but he has remained confident in his young team all season long.

“They have just had to learn in the middle of the fire, and that’s hard to do at times, so I think their ability to catch up to the speed of the game has happened relatively quickly,” Skinner said. “That really has to be a theme for them this year so that the game slows down and it doesn’t feel like they are trying to catch up. They all have made big strides in that area.”

Despite her inexperience on the court, she has absorbed her coach’s message and fully understands what it is going to take to win in the SEC this year, and going forward through her career at UK.

“We need to do what coach was telling us. Yeah, we beat teams like Arkansas and Mississippi State, but  those are teams we should beat,” Billings said. “For the second half, we have to beat the teams that we need to beat, like Florida and the other big teams in the SEC.”