In 2017, the Kentucky volleyball program earned the number four overall seed in the NCAA tournament en route to an Elite Eight appearance. On Sunday, the Cats topped that show by earning the second overall seed in the 2020-21 NCAA Tournament.
The common thread between these two Kentucky teams is this year’s British senior class, consisting of Gabby Curry Madison Lilley Kendyl Paris and Avery SkinnerAs a freshman, that group played a key role in getting the Cats to the Elite Eight. Now as seniors they hope to take the UK to new heights, including reaching the Final Four or something beyond.
British head coach Craig Skinner knows his seniors have been on missions since arriving on campus and he knows his team is ready for this year’s postseason.
“If they don’t have nerves or are not looking forward to the excitement, they don’t care,” Skinner said. “But I know these guys really care about the game, about each other. They’ve been on a mission since August. Will we run into pressures? Will we face setbacks? Absolutely. You’ll never go through an NCAA tournament without them. We’ve got that. “I’ve been through a lot of those things, both in the regular season and in tournaments in the past. There’s not much these seniors haven’t seen. They’re excited to play.”
The Cats open the NCAA Tournament game on April 15 and face the winner of the first round match between Illinois State and UNLV.
Skinner could not have scouted either team at the time of Sunday’s press conference, but he generally knows what he will get from both teams and what his team should do in response.
“What happens in the NCAA tournament, everyone hits the ball harder, everyone is physical, everyone is athletic,” said Skinner. So, are we better at scoring points if it’s not how you set it up? We try to create real-life scenarios that are things we may not have seen or done. Are there things we can see or encounter? which we don’t have? haven’t seen much in the season. We have to assume that at some point we won’t play perfectly. And if we don’t play as well as we can, what adjustments do we make or how do we win? those situations because every team is good. “
This will be an NCAA tournament like never before. In recent years, making it second overall seed would have given Kentucky the right to play at home through the regionals. Now the entire tournament is played in a bubble in Omaha, Nebraska. How will this year be different?
“I think the biggest change for us, and for all the teams out there, will be another game day,” said Skinner. “We’ve never played games like that before, in a convention center. There will be four courts, it’s a great set-up. But the match day routine will be very different from what all teams are used to and I think that will probably happen. the biggest challenge for teams going to Omaha. “
How do the cats cope with the change in routine?
“You have to lean on your seniors, you have to lean on your senior classmates,” Skinner said. “We can tell them everything to look out for, but there could be a crooked ball at the last second. I think that’s why we’re lucky to have a great upper-class group, including the juniors. But these seniors and upperclassmen have adapted well so far and we will continue to trust them. “
Skinner knows his team has reacted to adversity all season and he doesn’t expect that to change now.
“I never worried that our team would be ready for the next challenge, starting August 4thth so far, “Skinner said.” You wonder how they will go about getting back in shape after quarantine, you wonder how they will come back after the holidays, when we had the big long hiatus, to our first game against Arkansas. But now they just prepped every time they needed to be done, so I have a feeling that will be a consistent theme emerging here. “
With a high national seed and high hopes, the Kentucky volleyball team is ready for a new challenge in an already challenging season.
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