By LARRY VAUGHT
Senior Anna Nyberg knows Kentucky’s season-opening matches in Los Angeles are going to be emotional for her, but she knows the home opener Aug. 31 in Memorial Coliseum against College of Charleston will be even more emotional.
“I think they will be very emotional for me,” said Nyberg, a senior on the UK volleyball team.
Her father, James, was diagnosed with cancer in May of 2017 and passed away at age 52 on Dec. 3 — one day after UK beat Western Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
Anna Nyberg missed that game — as well as the win at Georgia a week earlier that clinched a share of the Southeastern Conference title — because she was home in Wisconsin. Her father’s celebration of life service was the same day UK beat BYU in five sets to reach the Elite Eight for the first time since 1987 — and the family had the game on TV before the service. Kentucky players wore blue ribbons in their hair in support of Nyberg. Coach Craig Skinner even flew to Wisconsin the night before the BYU match to visit with the Nyberg.
“My parents were very supportive of my career. My dad was the one always recording my matches. It will be a little emotional to look up and not see him there but my mom will be here and she’s crazy about volleyball,” Nyberg said last week at UK’s Media Day. “But I will be thinking about him and playing for him all year.
“My mom was so appreciative — and so was I — of everything that everyone did for me last year from flying me home after they (her family) called and said I was needed. That really touched her. It was important for me to be back with my family obviously, but to see what this team did for me and accomplished when I wasn’t there, it just warmed my heart.”
Nyberg said the constant communication with UK staff and teammates even touched family friends.
“Our family friends at home would see the ribbons everyone wore. There was just so much support for me. It was amazing. For everything I was going through, they were there for everything. It was amazing truly and I’ll never forget it,” Nyberg said.
Nyberg hopes this might be a season UK fans won’t soon forget. Kentucky has been picked not only to win the SEC championship but is also ranked No. 5 in the preseason poll. The Cats’ goal is to make the team’s first Final Four appearance.
“It’s weird that I am already a senior. It just gives you a different drive than you have had any other year,” Nyberg said. “This will be done before I know it. I am excited just to lead these girls because I am one of the older people on the team. I am excited to see what we can do.
“There is a lot of depth in every position and people that can do everything now. That is a huge advantage for us. The freshman are good and are buying into what we want to do and they are competing well. That’s going to be a huge plus for us.”