Volleyball Cats Hope Trip to Japan Will Jump Start 2024 Season

Volleyball Cats Hope Trip to Japan Will Jump Start 2024 Season

by Tim Letcher

The Kentucky volleyball team is preparing for an 11-day tour of Japan, where the Cats will play five games against Japanese universities.

The Cats are seven-time defending Southeastern Conference champions and they hope to use this trip as a chance to get in some early reps ahead of fall practice. UK head coach Craig Skinner knows that this trip, and the practice preparing for it, can allow his team to be ahead of schedule when the fall begins.

“I think the biggest thing for us volleyball-wise is that this will allow us to get into preseason and be a week ahead,” Skinner said. “Typically in preseason, you have about two or two and a half weeks to get ready to play a match. This will give us an extra week ahead of preseason so we can iron out little things. It’s a huge advantage timewise when you get to preseason.”

Skinner believes that UK’s new players will also reap benefits from the practices and the games in Japan.

“Their mind is spinning so much the first few days of preseason,” Skinner said. “Here, we get five days of practice, then 10 days on the road together, we can work through some of the lingo, verbiage and system stuff that will give them a wider range of confidence in things that pertain to our sport.”

Outside hitter Haley Melby agrees with Skinner about the freshmen gaining valuable experience.

“I think it’s awesome, especially for the freshmen and the newcomers  because they get a chance to be with us, not only playing-wise, but we all get a lot closer a lot sooner,” Melby said. “That can only help in the season.”

Senior setter Emma Grome echoes Melby’s sentiments.

“It definitely helps. I think that could be a huge step forward for us this year because now we get to train for a week and then train for 10 days there,” Grome said. “Normally, the freshmen don’t get to acclimate to things until August.”

Senior libero Eleanor Beavin believes that the extra practice time will be beneficial for the Cats.

“I think we’re just really excited to get an opportunity to go somewhere we probably would not ever get to go,” Beavin said. “But also, from the volleyball standpoint, getting to start in May when most people don’t get to start until August is going to be a really good thing for our program. Getting that three weeks to practice, and also, it’s really good for the freshmen to acclimate them before preseason comes. We’re really excited about that.”

Fellow senior Erin Lamb agrees that the extra practices can only help the team prior to the 2024 season.

“I think just having all of us together on one court, being able to have this practice leading up to it and even being in Japan, getting used to playing with each other and next to each other,” Lamb said. “I think it will better prepare us for the upcoming fall season.”

There will be some differences in how the game is played internationally. The Cats are preparing to deal with those differences, according to defending SEC Freshman of the Year Brooklyn DeLeye.

“I think just seeing a whole new way to play the game. I know the rules are different and the style of play is different, so just taking some learning aspects of it and bringing it back here would be really cool,” DeLeye said. “And just having the extra time to spend with the freshmen and just reforming our team so that we’re ready in the fall, so we have a good jump start to the year.”

Grome also noted the differences in rules, but also hopes that she can learn from seeing how the Japanese teams play.

“I think it will be an interesting experience in general because they do a little bit of a different ballgame than us,” Grome said. “There’s some differences in the rules and I think that will be a good challenge for us. It will be cool to see how a different country plays. For me as a setter, it will be cool to watch their setters and see if they do anything different and maybe take some things from that.”

Kentucky hopes to benefit from the extra practices, the games against the Japanese teams and from spending time together in a foreign country. All of those elements should put the Cats ahead of the game when fall practice begins.

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