Highly-Regarded UK Freshmen Ready to Contribute
The 2017 Kentucky volleyball team is loaded with talented upperclassmen. But the talented freshman class is also ready to make some noise this season.
The group assembled by Kentucky head coach Craig Skinner and his staff was ranked fifth nationally, the highest ranking ever achieved by a recruiting class at Kentucky. And the players in the class have formed a bond that bodes well for the future of the program.
All four of the incoming freshmen were ranked among the Top 100 recruits in the country as high school seniors last season. Setter Madison Lilley was ranked fourth in the nation, followed by outside hitter Avery Skinner (32nd), libero Gabby Curry (46th) and middle blocker Kendyl Paris (81st).
Coach Skinner has high expectations for his freshman group.
“Their accolades speak for themselves and their accomplishments speak for themselves,” Skinner said. “They are completely bought in and I think with group like this, their character and their athletic ability make them who they are.”
All four of the players in the class committed to Kentucky early, which allowed them to get to know each other and form a bond.
“We started texting right after all of us committed, just talking and getting to know each other,” Avery Skinner said. “When we got on campus, on our official visit, I think we got a lot closer, just spent late nights talking. We have a lot of common interests, even though we have different personalities, we make it work.”
Curry liked what the group has in common.
“I definitely felt like these girls all had the intention of coming here and trying to win a national championship, so that was a big connection we had at the beginning,” Curry said. “Throughout the years, we had a group message that we would just check in with each other. Club (volleyball) helped because we would all travel and see each other.”
Coach Skinner appreciates the fact of how close the group is already.
“I think they have developed a genuine passion for each other and liking for each other,” he said. “It’s been really cool to see them bond together and experience this college transition together. It’s gone really well.”
Curry is from Buford, Georgia, and is the daughter of 1980 NFL Defensive Co-Rookie of the Year Buddy Curry, who spent eight years with the Atlanta Falcons. The younger Curry was a two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in Georgia who also had the opportunity to play for the USA Volleyball U20 team in Mexico this summer.
Skinner expects that Curry’s background will make her successful at UK.
“She comes from a very athletic family, they understand competition and they understand what it’s like to earn your place,” Skinner said. “She accepts praise and criticism the same way. She has high aspirations for herself and any team she plays on.”
Curry cites Skinner and the volleyball staff as a big reason she chose to come to Lexington.
“I looked at a lot of schools and they kind of all had the same facilities and resources, but what really made the difference was the coaches,” Curry said. “They did a really good job building relationships.”
Avery Skinner thinks Curry can make an immediate contribution.
“She’s competitive and has been playing at a really high level,” Avery Skinner said. “I think it’s a big role, but I think she can step into it and succeed.”
Lilley, a 5-11 setter from Overland Park, Kansas, was the Gatorade Player of the Year in her state as well. She also won the Andi Collins award from PrepVolleyball.com, an honor given to the best setter in the country.
The first player in the class to commit, Lilley was impressed with everything about the Kentucky program.
“Kentucky just felt like home,” Lilley said. “That was really big for me. The people around me were really great. This program has the best people and it really stood out to me.”
Coach Skinner knows that he has a special player in Lilley.
“She’s a consummate team player and a very successful player in club, high school and internationally,” Skinner said. “She’s all about her team and her teammates. She’s jumped right in and wanted to learn as much as possible and wanted to connect with each player.”
Lilley is expected to compete with incumbent setter Olivia Dailey for the starting job this season, and she feels that her experience will help her make the transition to college volleyball.
“Being able to adapt is something I’ve gotten used to,” Lilley said. “Overall, I need to work on adapting to the speed of the (college) game, and that’s going to come with a lot of reps.”
The 6-3 middle blocker from Hilliard, Ohio, has impressed Skinner with her play in the middle.
“Kendyl is a winner,” Skinner said. “In the middle position, you very rarely find someone who can execute every part of that position at a high level, and she’s one of them.”
A first-team all-state player in Ohio, Paris was also a USA Volleyball runner-up in 2016.
Paris thinks that her knowledge of the game helps her on the floor.
“I think I have a good volleyball IQ,” Paris said. “I need to work on my strength and that will help me with my volleyball IQ.”
Skinner also notes that Paris is an intelligent player.
“She plays the game with a super-high IQ,” Skinner said. “She thinks at a very high level and plays at a very high level intellectually. She’s reserved but very focused.”
The 6-1 Skinner is the son of former NBA first round draft choice Brian Skinner, who enjoyed a 15-year career in the league. The younger Skinner is thankful to have her dad there to push her athletically.
“He’s been super supportive,” Skinner said of her father. “Having him be able to work me out and give me little tips that got him to that high level has been really helpful. We’re really close and I’m glad I have that resource.”
Skinner, from Katy, Texas, played for the same club team that produced UK senior Ashley Dusek. Skinner said that Dusek played a role in her recruitment, as well as getting her settled in Lexington.
“I’ve always kind of looked up to her,” Skinner said. “She’s been super helpful just getting me in and telling me things I need to know.”
Coach Skinner likes what he has seen from Avery Skinner, but also sees an even brighter future for her.
“Very conscientious, very kind person, but very competitive at the same time,” Coach Skinner says of Avery Skinner. “Very explosive athlete. As talented as she has been already, she’s just scratching the surface of what she can be.”
The 6-1 outside hitter is known for her explosive kills.
“She’s one of those players who, (the ball) sounds different when it comes off her hands,” Coach Skinner said. “It’s a thunderous sound and some of her kills can be showstoppers.”
As a whole, this group is the core of the future of UK volleyball. And they are ready for their college careers to begin.
“We have a really good connection throughout our class,” Lilley said. “We’re excited to get playing.”