2020-21 AVCA National Coach of the Year
UK all-time winningest coach
Five-time SEC Champion (2017, 2018, 2019, 2020-21, 2021)
17-straight NCAA Tournament appearances
Since being tabbed Kentucky’s head coach in December 2004, Craig Skinner has rejuvenated the Kentucky volleyball program into national prominence and is the program’s all-time winningest head coach. He will enter his 18th season in 2022 with an all-time record of 401-131.
He reached the pinnacle of the sport in April of 2021, winning the 2020 NCAA National Championship at the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska. In doing so, he became the head coach of the first volleyball team in Southeastern Conference history to win a national championship. He was named the AVCA’s National Coach of the Year in 2020-21.
Skinner has directed the Wildcats to 17 consecutive NCAA Tournaments – a feat only nine other schools in the nation have achieved. That run includes seven Sweet Sixteen appearances since 2009, two Elite Eight appearances, the 2020 NCAA Final Four and back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back SEC titles in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020-21 and 2021. Furthermore, the Wildcats have captured 17 or more victories in all 17 seasons under Skinner’s direction, including tallying 20 or more wins in 13 of the last 15 seasons.
Kentucky’s historical run to a national title in 2020-21 was one to remember. UK went 24-1 on the season in an all-conference regular season, winning the SEC for the fourth year in a row. UK then swept through the bubbled NCAA Tournament, winning games against UNLV, Western Kentucky, Purdue, Washington and Texas along the way to the NCAA National Championship. Skinner helped guide Madison Lilley to the 2021 AVCA Player of the Year Award, 2020-21 Honda Award for Volleyball and was one of three players to be named AVCA First Team All-America.
In 2014, a 3-0 victory over Georgia Southern gave Skinner his 211th win as the head coach of the Wildcats to become the school’s all-time leader in career wins.
Skinner became the fastest coach in school history to total 100 career victories in just his fifth season, and is the only coach in program history to advance to postseason play in each season at the helm. In 2012, Skinner notched his 100th career Southeastern Conference victory.
During his tenure, the Wildcats have amassed 24 All-America first, second or third team distinctions, while UK has hauled in 66 All-Southeastern Conference honors in his 17 seasons – including the 2008, 2018, 2019, 2020-21 and 2021 SEC Player of the Year, 2006, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2021 SEC Freshman of the Year, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020-21 and 2021 SEC Libero of the Year and the 2005 SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
The Wildcats have enjoyed unprecedented success which has included a school-record run of 86 consecutive weeks ranked in the top 25 of the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, record-breaking attendance marks and a nine-time host of NCAA Tournament play including serving as one of four host sites for the 2017, 2015, 2013 and 2011 NCAA Regionals.
Skinner and the Cats reached the pinnacle of success in back-to-back SEC Championship winning seasons in 2017 and 2018. The Wildcats claimed the 2017 title and Skinner was tabbed the co-SEC Coach of the Year and led the Wildcats to the Elite Eight for the first time in modern program history. UK earned a top-four seed for the time ever after winning a share of the SEC title with an impressive 17-1 record. Two Wildcats – Leah Edmond and Madison Lilley – were named to an All-America team while Edmond earned first team. Madison Lilley won SEC Freshman of the Year, and Kentucky continued its dominance in the SEC Libero of the Year category as Ashley Dusek won her third straight.
The 2018 season saw the Cats drop their first three matches of the season before putting together a Skinner-record 23-match winning streak, including a perfect 18-0 run through the SEC for another title. Kentucky advanced to the NCAA Regional Semifinals and Edmond and Lilley repeated as All-Americans. Skinner was tabbed the SEC Coach of the Year, while Edmond was named the league’s Player of the Year. Gabby Curry took home SEC Libero of the Year accolades and Alli Stumler was the league’s Freshman of the Year.
The magical run continued through to 2019 when the Wildcats went 16-2 in SEC play to earn their third-straight SEC title. Included in the SEC run was a home-and-away sweep of Florida and wins over Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Mizzou on the road. Leah Edmond was named the SEC’s Player of the Year, a First-Team AVCA All-American and the AVCA Region Player of the Year, as well.
Prior to Skinner’s arrival, the Kentucky volleyball program had not experienced a winning season in the previous five years and had not made an NCAA Tournament appearance since the 1993 season.
In just one season in the Bluegrass, Skinner led the Wildcats to a 17-12 record and their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 1993. For the team’s accomplishments and quick turn-around, Skinner was named the 2005 SEC Coach of the Year.
In 2006, Kentucky posted a 19-12 record – its most wins since the 1993 campaign – and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament after toppling No. 20 Ohio in the opening round. The Wildcats took perennial power Florida to five sets for the first time since 1988 and knocked off No. 18 Tennessee in Lexington. The win over the Lady Vols was significant as it marked the first time UK knocked off a ranked foe in 66 attempts dating back to Sept. 24, 1993.
Skinner in his third season then achieved something no other UK volleyball coach had ever done – he led his team to a third consecutive NCAA appearance after another improved season. The Wildcats went 22-10 and toppled another ranked opponent in No. 18 LSU on national television in Lexington on its way to a fourth place overall finish in the conference.
The Wildcats emerged as one of the best teams in the nation in 2008 reaching the AVCA national polls for 10 consecutive weeks, including finishing the year with a No. 22 overall ranking. Kentucky posted 26 victories, including a school-record 17 wins in the SEC. Skinner’s squad finished second in the league standings, the best finish for the school since 1990. Included in that extraordinary conference run was a five-set upset victory over No. 12 Florida in front of the fifth-largest crowd ever to witness a volleyball match in Memorial Coliseum.
Additionally, the Wildcat program took another big step under Skinner’s direction when Lexington was selected as a host site of the 2008 NCAA Tournament First and Second Rounds. The selection solidified Kentucky as a program no longer on the rise – but, as one of the teams others will have to contend with for years to come.
Several Kentucky players achieved impressive honors, including junior Sarah Rumely who was named the 2008 SEC Player of the Year. With the honor she became the first player in UK history to win the award voted on by league coaches. Rumely and senior Queen Nzenwa were All-America honorees and led a record-breaking five UK players on All-SEC ballots.
The 2009 season signified the Wildcats had officially arrived on the national scene. The Blue and White opened the season rated as the No. 21 team in the country and remained in the polls during every week of the season en route to a 29-5 year and the first Sweet Sixteen appearance under Skinner’s direction. UK was selected to host the First and Second Rounds of the national tournament for the second consecutive year, and the Wildcats knocked off the tournament’s No. 13 seed in Oregon to advance to Regionals. UK soared up the polls and reached as high as No. 7 in the national rankings during the season.
The Wildcats finished second overall in the SEC and claimed the SEC East crown for the first time in program history. For the fifth consecutive season, Skinner led the squad to more victories than the previous year. On Oct. 9, Skinner claimed his 100th career victory in Lexington with a 3-0 win over Auburn. Kentucky’s fifth-year head coach reached the 100-win plateau faster than any other previous coach in the history of the program. In postseason recognition, Kentucky matched its record of five players named to the All-SEC squads with Rumely and junior Sarah Mendoza tabbed to the first-team. Senior BriAnne Sauer would team with the duo to claim a school-best three All-America distinctions. Rumely was a second-team selection, with Mendoza and Sauer named honorable mention honorees.
Although faced with a tough challenge of replacing three All-Americans from the previous season, the 2010 edition of the UK volleyball team continued its impressive streak of NCAA tournament runs. Kentucky capped its season with 17 victories for the sixth consecutive season and advanced to the NCAA Tournament yet again. Sophomore Stephanie Klefot headlined postseason accolades as she became the first player in school history to obtain SEC Libero of the Year honors, while Lauren Rapp earned All-America honorable mention honors.
The 2011 season saw the Wildcats back among the top-rated teams in the nation with UK capping a 28-6 season ranked No. 13 in the country and hosting the NCAA Regionals for the first time in program history. Led by Klefot, a second-team All-America selection, UK ventured on the road to College Station, Texas, and knocked off Dayton and the host-team Texas A&M Aggies to return to Lexington for its second appearance in the Regionals in the last three seasons. Kentucky went toe-to-toe with the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed in Texas before the largest crowd in the Skinner era in Memorial Coliseum.
Klefot repeated as the SEC Libero of the Year and set a new-single season UK record with more than 600 digs. She also helped match a program-record with three All-America selections joined by junior Christine Hartmann and sophomore Whitney Billings. Billings became the youngest player under Skinner’s direction to earn All-America status. Kentucky also matched a program-record with five All-SEC selections for the third time in four seasons in addition to 17 victories in the grueling SEC. For his efforts, Skinner earned AVCA All-South Region Coach of the Year accolades for the first time in his career.
UK continued its run of success stories in 2012 as the Wildcats claimed a 22-11 overall record and advanced to its third Sweet 16 in the last four seasons. The Wildcats knocked off No. 14 Ohio State in Lexington after having been picked to host a portion of the NCAA Tournament in four of the last five seasons en route to another Regional appearance.
Led by three-time SEC Libero of the Year in Stephanie Klefot the Wildcats again had three players selected as All-Americans. Billings was a second-team selection and joined Klefot and Hartmann (honorable mention selections) as the only trio of teammates to earn consecutive All-America honors in program history. Senior Ashley Frazier was a Senior CLASS award All-America selection honoring excellence achieved both on and off the court.
For the fifth time under Skinner’s direction, the Kentucky volleyball program capped the season ranked among the top 25 in the nation to end the 2013 season. UK posted a 22-9 record and an unprecedented ninth-consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats finished the season ranked No. 20 and Billings became UK’s first-ever three-time All-America selection. Senior Alexandra Morgan became the ninth player in Skinner’s tenure to earn All-America accolades.
Memorial Coliseum played host to the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament for the third time in Skinner’s tenure and also hosted the Regional rounds. It marked the first time in program history UK hosted the NCAA Tournament in consecutive weeks.
The 2014 season was highlighted by Skinner becoming the all-time career wins leader in program history. Junior Morgan Bergren claimed second-team All-America accolades and senior Jackie Napper earned the program’s fifth league award as the top defensive performer when she was tabbed the Libero of the Year. Napper was joined by classmate Lauren O’Conner as honorable mention All-America honorees. The trio all earned All-SEC honors and were joined by sophomore Anni Thomasson.
UK earned a 27-6 overall record, hosted the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament and finished the season ranked 17th in the country. The final ranking marked the 33rd consecutive poll UK was tabbed a part of – besting the program and Skinner’s record of 31-consecutive polls ranked.
In 2015, Skinner guided the Wildcats to their 11th-consecutive NCAA berth following a second place finish in the SEC. Ashley Dusek continued a lineage of success at the libero position, earn-ing SEC Libero of the Year for the first time, while marking the fifth time in six years that a Kentucky player had earned the distinction. Dusek, along with Bergren and Kaz Brown, earned both All-SEC and AVCA All-Region nods. Dusek and Bergren became the Wildcats’ 26th and 27th AVCA All-America selections, while Bergren became Kentucky volleyball’s first ever first-team CoSIDA Aca-demic All-America selection.
In 2016, Skinner took the Cats to the NCAA Tournament once again, and saw four players earn awards for their play after the season. Three players were named to the AVCA All-America team. Edmond found herself on the third team, while Olivia Dailey and Dusek were honor-able mention.
Edmond had a spectacular season, as she was named All-SEC, SEC Freshman of the Year, All-Region and Region Freshman of the Year. For the second straight season, Dusek earned the SEC Libero of the Year award, giving UK the award for the sixth time in seven years. The trio of All-Americans were also named All-Region and All-SEC, and were joined by Kaz Brown.
In addition to on court success, Skinner has also led an impressive youth movement to Lexington, as first-year players have garnered 25 SEC Freshman Player of the Week awards. Kentucky won back-to-back-to-back SEC Freshman of the Year awards in Lilley, Edmond and Stumler from 2016-2018. UK has since had at least one first-year player earn All-SEC accolades in every season with Skinner at the helm except one.
In addition to Skinner’s success at Kentucky, he was selected as the head coach of the 2006 U.S. Junior Women’s National Team. Skinner led the team to the gold medal in the 2006 Under-20 NORCECA Championships. Prior to joining the Wildcats, Skinner spent five seasons as an assistant at Nebraska under John Cook and was named head assistant coach in 2003. During his tenure, the Huskers put together a 154-11 record and claimed the 2000 NCAA title with a perfect 34-0 record. The Huskers made a return trip to the Final Four in 2001 and advanced to NCAA regional semifinals or finals in every season after. In Skinner’s five years, Nebraska compiled a 97-3 record in Big 12 action and four Big 12 Championships.
A native of Muncie, Indiana, Skinner spent three seasons as an assistant coach under Cook at Wisconsin, from 1994-96, aiding the Badgers to a 68-35 record and three postseason appearances, including the 1996 NCAA regional semifinals. Skinner returned to his alma mater in 1999, helping guide the Ball State men to wins over three nationally ranked teams and an 8-4 record at midseason in 2000 before leaving for Nebraska. That team finished the season ranked 13th in the USA Today/AVCA Top 25.
Skinner is married to former Nebraska assistant women’s soccer coach Megan Bechtold Skinner. The couple has two daughters, Sophie and Isabel and a son, Eli.