Memories Abound as Current Memorial Coliseum Hosts Final Event
Thursday night’s exhibition volleyball match between Kentucky and Athletes Unlimited served several purposes. But more than anything else, the match blended the past and the present of the UK volleyball program while looking ahead to the future.
The score of the match didn’t really matter (Kentucky fell in four sets). This match served as the final event inside the current configuration of Memorial Coliseum. The venerable building will undergo an $82 million renovation beginning next month, upgrading the facility in a number of areas.
Memorial Coliseum, opened in 1950, has seen many memorable moments during its existence. From the Baron of the Bluegrass, Adolph Rupp, roaming the sidelines as the head coach of the Kentucky men’s basketball program, to the UK volleyball team bringing home the NCAA national championship in 2020; from a tennis exhibition match featuring John McEnroe to the great Valerie Still setting the Kentucky basketball scoring record, there have been hundreds of highlights.
The past was also represented on this night by a number of UK Volleyball alums who were in attendance for the match. Specifically, Kaz Brown and Leah Edmond were playing for Athletes Unlimited, while Alli Stumler, Cam Scheitzach and Lauren Tharp were among other alums who also took in the match.
UK head coach Craig Skinner has many fond memories of 18 years as the UK head coach in Memorial Coliseum, even though things got off to a slow start, especially compared to where the program is today.
“It’s night and day. We were begging people to come, begging people to buy tickets,” Skinner said. “I think there were 75 people at that first match.”
However, with impactful players like Brown and Edmond, the program has grown into an annual national championship contender.
“Just to see the growth and the people who have gone on from this program,” Skinner said. “We owe it to Kaz and Leah, but all of the other players who came before them to get this program where it is. It took a lot of heart and soul to get there.”
While the Cats will return to Memorial Coliseum upon completion of the renovation, the building will not have the same look. Skinner had a difficult time reflecting on the facility.
“It’s emotional to think about some of the memories in this building,” Skinner said. “I can pick five huge wins every season in the last 18 years to give me goosebumps. It’s a special place.”
The present was represented by the 2023 Kentucky volleyball team, the six-time defending Southeastern Conference champions. The Cats, with standout returnees Azhani Tealer, Emma Grome, Eleanor Beavin and others, figure to be in the mix for a seventh straight SEC title this fall.
On this night, Reagan Rutherford notched 13 kills and Erin Lamb had 10, while Grome had 29 assists and eight digs.
The future, a renovated Memorial Coliseum that will be a showcase for one of the nation’s best programs, lives only in the renderings of the building that have been released. But that future will continue to be bright with Skinner at the helm of the UK program. And it will be bright because of players like Brown and Edmond who laid the foundation.