Hard Work, Perseverance Earns Kentucky Volleyball a National Seed

Hard Work, Perseverance Earns Kentucky Volleyball a National Seed

by Tim Letcher

After being swept by Tennessee on September 24, the Kentucky volleyball team fell to 3-7 on the season. But the Cats never lost faith and never stopped working hard to improve.

All of that hard work paid off. Kentucky has not lost since falling to Tennessee that day, winning 16 consecutive matches and claiming a seventh consecutive Southeastern Conference title.

On Sunday night, the Cats’ hard work was rewarded again. Kentucky will host an NCAA Volleyball Tournament regional at Rupp Arena this week, something that didn’t seem likely two months ago.

Kentucky earned the eighth overall seed in the tournament. UK will face Wofford in the first round of the event on Thursday. Should the Cats win, they would face the winner of the match between James Madison and Baylor, the other two teams in the Lexington Regional.

UK head coach Craig Skinner has seen his team get better all season and hopes that the Cats are peaking at the right time.

“Exciting time of year. I know our team’s excited to get going,” Skinner said. “We’ve been pretty hungry all year long. They’ve continued to improve from day one. You can see it in their eyes, they’re ready to go.”

Skinner thinks that his team has the ability to advance in the NCAA Tournament because they do several things well.

“The positive things about this group are that we’re pretty balanced, so we have a lot of people who can score, we’re getting better defensively, which helps compliment our offense, we’re serving well,” Skinner said. “To make a big run in the tournament, you have to be good in all phases.”

When asked what the Cats can take from their 16-match win streak in preparation for the NCAA Tournament, Skinner knows that it’s about doing the little things.

“Just continuing to win today and win tomorrow and we’ve always done a really good job of that,” Skinner said. “There’s still things out there we want to improve. Our team understands that you can’t overlook anything and you can’t look past today.”

Kentucky still has four players (Elise Goetzinger, Reagan Rutherford, Azhani Tealer and Riah Walker) from its 2020 NCAA Championship team. Those players, in addition to juniors like Emma Grome and Eleanor Beavin, have played in many big matches and pressure situations during their UK careers. Skinner believes that can be beneficial in the NCAA Tournament.

“Experience always helps in the tournament, and being in situations,” Skinner said. “Even the experience of playing the tough preconference schedule we had, playing in tough environments against really good teams, being able to boil it down to winning this point and being the best we can. Having people who have played in tough matches, played for conference championships, played in the NCAA Tournament is certainly a benefit.”

Kentucky stuck with its plan and continued to improve all season long. The results include a current 16-match winning streak, a number eight national seed and the right to host the first two rounds of the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

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