By LARRY VAUGHT
Freshman Gabby Curry has had a superb freshman season for Kentucky, one reason UK is still playing in the NCAA Tournament in hopes of making the Final Four for the first time.
Kentucky hosts BYU Friday at noon in Memorial Coliseum in the Sweet 16 with the winner advancing to Saturday’s regional championship game at 4 p.m. against the Nebraska-Colorado winner.
(Warning: BYU (30-2) is playing in the Sweet 16 for the sixth straight year and has not dropped a set in this year’s NCAA tourney. Two years ago BYU lost in the Sweet 16 to Nebraska in Memorial Coliseum.)
Curry was a multiple sport standout in Georgia — her father played in the NFL and her brothers played or are playing college football.
“I used to play basketball. My high school is very good at women’s basketball. My grade (class) was very good but then all of us kind of made a shift freshman year to volleyball,” Curry said.
“I also did competitive cheerleading. Competitive cheerleading and volleyball were the same season, so it would be like two hours of competitive cheerleading practice a day and then two hours of volleyball practice. It was hard, but I loved it.”
Did she have aspirations of being a championship cheerleader like the ones at Kentucky?
“I am a little big for that. I actually would have loved to go and cheer in college, but volleyball obviously is my calling,” she laughed and said.
Caroline Goyco went to the same high school as Curry. She’s on the UK cheer squad and was part of last year’s national championship squad.
“They are a lot better than me. They are all petite and the most flexible things you have ever seen. They are the most powerful little humans. I love watching them. I wish I could have done all-star cheerleading but it didn’t work with club volleyball, so I stuck with high school cheerleading,” Curry said.
Curry never saw a play she didn’t think she could make in volleyball. Lack of effort is never a problem with her, one thing coach Craig Skinner likes.
“She’s the youngest kid in an athletic family, so he had to fight and scrap for all she could,” the UK volleyball coach said. “She is very focused at school, practice, watching video. She is very passionate about everything she is doing.
“I had her watch video with me one day and her eyes were just searing through that screen and how she could make herself better. Intensity is something you never worry about with her.”
Could he see her as a big-time cheerleader?
“That kid could do any sport and be good,” Skinner said. “Every spring we have a whiffle ball game. The first swing she took she nearly drove it through the third baseman. I was like, ‘Whoa, this is a little different.’”
Curry’s father, Buddy, said cheerleading was something his daughter always enjoyed.
“She likes to tumble because she’s not afraid of anything. She used to actually get more nervous cheering than playing volleyball,” Buddy Curry said. “She is one who can stand in and compete when the game is on the line. She is the one who says, ‘Give me the ball and let me do what I have do’ to help the team win. That’s just her.”
The freshman can be a cheerleader on the court encouraging teammates — something UK will probably need against BYU Friday.
But could teammates actually envision this emotional, intense, physical player as a cheerleader?
Freshman Avery Skinner said she knew Curry was a high school cheerleader but not just how much she was into cheering.
“When I found out she was competing, I was amazed. She still does some stuff on the court that is fun to see,” Avery Skinner said. “It’s crazy but she could do multiple things.”
Junior McKenzie Watson said it is “crazy” that Curry was so into cheerleading while she became an elite volleyball player.
“I probably shouldn’t admit this but I think that honestly helped her athleticism. Cheerleading, I got to give it to them … that is crazy stuff they do and they are just crazy athletic,” Watson said. “I didn’t know until about three months before she got here that she cheered but then she uploaded a photo on Instagram. But whatever she did, it sure made her a great volleyball player.”
Can't find something?