Volleyball set for new season

When the UK Volleyball team took the court at Memorial Coliseum on Aug. 22, it faced one of the toughest opponents of the season – itself.

In the squad’s annual Blue vs. White intrasquad scrimmage, the 14th-ranked Cats gave UK fans a preview of what to expect this season. The Blue side defeated the White side in straight sets, but players on both sides impressed coaches and fans alike.

“I thought we played really well, we blocked and played defense better than I expected,” senior middle blocker Lauren Rapp said.

“There is still more for us to work on, but I know it can all come together and I am excited.”

UK head coach Craig Skinner agreed the scrimmage offered a glimpse of how prepared the team is for the season.

“There were the typical nerves of a Blue vs. White game which caused some uncharacteristic mistakes, but overall I have a better feeling towards our readiness for the season now than I’ve had all offseason,” Skinner said.

To prepare for this scrimmage and their 2010 season, the Cats traveled to Europe this summer to play a tour of games against professional and junior national teams.

“You learn to live with each other out of a suitcase for two weeks, and you eventually learn to coexist,” Skinner said. “We hope to carry that with us into our season.”

The Cats open their regular season schedule at the AVCA/Runza Showcase Aug. 28-29 in Omaha, Neb. In the showcase, UK plays two games; first against the 2nd-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers, followed by a matchup with the No. 9 Iowa State Cyclones. The Cats’ first home game will be Sept. 1 against intrastate-rival Louisville at Memorial Coliseum.

“Opening the season against that kind of competition is very exciting for UK,” Rapp said. “It is a good opportunity for us to prepare for the SEC and to see where we are at as a team. It should be fun.”

UK will be an experienced team, returning six players who competed in 30 or more matches a season ago.  Rapp and junior middle blocker Becky Pavan were both named to the All-Southeastern Conference preseason team, and together will be leading the Cats through their conference schedule.

Coming off a 29-4 (17-3 SEC) campaign, the Cats will look to defend their Eastern Division title over conference opponents Florida and Tennessee. In the Western Division, UK will be chasing after the Louisiana State Tigers, the defending conference champions who finished a game ahead of UK in the final 2009 standings. But the team has high expectations for their 2010 season in the SEC and beyond.

“We all have high expectations for this season,” Rapp said. “Our goal is to win the SEC and go far in the NCAA tournament.”

Skinner has similar goals for the team this year.

“Our goal is to win the SEC and be one of the top programs in the country, and that won’t change as long as I am the coach at UK.”