Experience serves up hope for UK

The UK volleyball team is ready to win — now. After making it to the NCAA Tournament in each of head coach Craig Skinner’s three years at the helm, the Cats want more.

“We want to win the SEC,” Skinner said. “We want to be known as a tall and great blocking team with an aggressive, fast offense.”

The Cats will look to their two seniors, Queen Nzenwa and Alisa Pierce, to provide them with the leadership to accomplish these goals. Nzenwa returns to UK after her best season last year when she was named All-Southeastern Conference and an All-American honorable mention. This year, Nzenwa is again preseason All-SEC, but for her, it’s all about leadership.

“Leading by example is contagious,” Nzenwa says. “You have to go 100 percent each time you’re out there, and you have to practice what you preach.”

Skinner has watched the senior middle blocker grow and knows the future is bright for Nzenwa.

“Queen has had a great preseason so far and has accomplished a lot,” Skinner said. “She has stepped up her intensity and has an opportunity to dominate her opponents.”

Kentucky enters the 2008 season with an incoming freshman class that was ranked in the top 20 by PrepVolleyball.com. Last season, the Cats won more than 20 games, a feat that they hadn’t accomplished since 1993. They also won 13 conference games and had nine wins on the road — both school bests. Now with the preseason finally over, the Cats are ready to get back on the court.

“We’re looking forward to playing again,” junior setter Sarah Rumely said. “We want to show the state of Kentucky what we’re about and we want to show the fans a good time and that we’re a fun sport to watch on campus.”

Rumely enters her junior season already ranked fifth all-time in school history with 3,004 assists. With her experience and leadership on the court, the Cats should have an opportunity to win in every match this season. As sophomore middle blocker Lauren Rapp points out, one of the team’s philosophies this year is to do just that.

“We have the confidence to play at the highest level,” Rapp said. “No team will intimidate us.”

To continue their success on the court, the Cats will need the leadership not only from their two seniors and three juniors, but also from their six sophomores.

“There is more of a leadership role,” Rapp said about being a sophomore this year. “When something goes wrong, you’re expected to speak up and to speak your mind now.”

The Cats are hoping their trust in each other and toughness will lead to more wins. If accomplished, the team can “walk with that UK swagger,” Nzenwa said.

UK will begin its season in the Kentucky Classic against Pittsburgh on Friday at 7 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum. The Cats will follow with Western Carolina and Wisconsin in a doubleheader on Saturday at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., respectively.