LEXINGTON, Ky. — The No. 16 Kentucky volleyball team will be back in action with its annual Bluegrass Battle on Friday and Saturday, welcoming College of Charleston, Dayton, and Kansas to Memorial Coliseum for the Wildcats home-opening weekend.
UK will play two matches on Friday, facing Charleston at noon and Dayton at 8:30 p.m., while matching up with Kansas on Saturday at 7 p.m. The Wildcats look to rebound from a tough 0-3 opening week after facing some of the nation’s best in No. 10 USC and No. 13 Creighton at the Trojan Invitational in Los Angeles.
All of Kentucky’s matches will be streamed on SEC Network+ and the WatchESPN app with Dick Gabriel and Kathy DeBoer on the call.
Junior Lead Edmond leads the UK attack with 49 kills (3.50 per set) and nine total blocks (0.64 per set), while sophomore Avery Skinner and freshman Alli Stumler combined for 61 kills. Sophomore setter Madison Lilley currently averages 9.50 assists per set while Gabby Curry totaled 56 digs (4.00 per set).
LAST TIME OUT
The Wildcats dropped a five-set heartbreaker to Northern Iowa inside the Galen Center in Los Angeles at the Trojan Invitational. UK had three players finish with double-digit kills. Leah Edmond notches 17 kills, six digs, two blocks and an assist, while freshman Alli Stumler came up a dig short of her second-straight double-double with 14 kills, nine digs, two assists and a block. Senior Brooke Morgan added 11 kills on a .381 hitting percentage. Sophomore libero Gabby Curry came up one dig shy of her career-high mark that she set in the last match against USC, racking up 21 balls in the five-set match.
Charleston opened 2018 with two wins over Missouri State and Western Kentucky – both of whom were receiving votes in the AVCA poll – before being swept by Alabama. Preseason All-CAA selections Allison Beckman and Kennedy Madison lead the Cougars in all major statistical categories except for digs, which is led by libero McKala Rhodes at 4.08 per frame. Madison is averaging 4.00 kills per set to go along with a .333 hitting percentage and 1.17 blocks per set. Beckman, the setter, boasts 11.42 assists per set with an average of 0.33 aces. Charleston went 27-6 last season and was knocked out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Dayton, who’s been tabbed as the preseason favorite to win the Atlantic 10, won all three opening-weekend matches at the Dayton Invitational with wins over Marshall, Ball State and South Alabama. The Flyers dropped only one set in the wins. Lauren Bruns leads the team with 4.36 kills per set on a .451 hitting percentage. The Flyers are hitting a .289 percentage while posting 3.23 blocks per set. Dayton went 23-8 last season, finishing second in the A-10 (13-1).
KU opened the season 1-1, splitting matches with Arkansas. Patricia Montero led the Jayhawks on the weekend with 3.89 kills per set and 35 total. Kansas has two players currently averaging over four digs per frame with Allie Nelson (4.56) and Lacey Angelo (4.44). The Jayhawks finished tied for third in the Big 12 a year ago with an 11-5 record, 22-8 overall, before being bounced in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
FASTEST TO 1,000
Leah Edmond became the quickest Wildcat in team history to reach 1,000 kills. She did so in the first match of the season – the loss to No. 13 Creighton. Edmond has now surpassed Kaz Brown (2014-17) for third all-time in kills during the 25-point rally scoring era.
PICKED TO WIN THE LEAGUE
Kentucky received eight of the league’s 13 first-place votes and finished atop the SEC Preseason Coaches’ Poll with 140 points. Florida garnered the remaining five first-place votes and finished in second with 137. Missouri trails both schools with 116 points, while Georgia and LSU round out the top five.
Leah Edmond, Madison Lilley and Avery Skinner were named Preseason All-SEC. No school other than Kentucky placed multiple athletes on the preseason All-SEC team. Edmond makes her second appearance on the preseason list after garnering All-SEC honors in each of her first two seasons. Lilley, a first-team selection a season ago, and Skinner, an All-SEC Freshman Team pick last year, were selected for the first time in their careers. All 13 of the league’s head coaches vote in each poll.
BEST PRESEASON RANKING EVER
For a program-record seventh-consecutive year, the Kentucky volleyball team began the season ranked in the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s preseason top 25. With the ranking of No. 5, UK tied its highest mark in program history and its highest preseason ranking ever. UK had never appeared in the preseason top 10 before.
Kentucky’s spot at No. 5 marks the highest ever under head coach Craig Skinner. UK reached No. 6 in the country last season and finished the 2017 final poll at that mark. The Wildcats have now appeared in the top-25 preseason poll for the ninth time in 10 seasons.
For the fourth-consecutive season, the Kentucky volleyball program earned the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Team Academic Award honoring its work in the classroom for the 2017-18 season. UK reached the 3.30 cumulative team grade-point average in each semester during the school year. During the latest semester, the team posted a GPA of 3.418. In the fall, UK had an impressive in-season GPA of 3.654.
REPRESENTING THE USA
Five Wildcats – Gabby Curry, Leah Edmond, Madison Lilley, Brooke Morgan and Avery Skinner – represented the United States of America for various U.S. Women’s Collegiate National Teams last summer. Lilley made the CNT – China Tour, Edmond and Skinner played on the CNT – Europe team while Morgan and Curry made one of the CNT – Detroit teams. All of the athletes were placed on teams through the U.S. Women’s National Team Open Tryouts at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
Kentucky returns two AVCA All-Americans in Leah Edmond and Madison Lilley. Edmond was First Team All-America and the program’s third appearance on the first team and first under head coach Craig Skinner. Lilley was Second Team All-America.
UK had two other All-Americans in Kaz Brown and Ashley Dusek. UK has placed four All-Americans just one other time in program history.
ANOTHER STRONG RECRUITING CLASS
For the last eight seasons, Kentucky’s recruiting class has been ranked in the top 30. UK welcomes four freshman newcomers – Gabby Goddard, Cameron Scheitzach, Alli Stumler and Lauren Tharp – and also added JUCO transfer Caitlyn Cooper.
SEC CHAMPIONS AND ELITE EIGHT APPEARANCE
Kentucky finished the year 29-4 and won a share of the SEC Championship for the first time in Craig Skinner’s tenure and also advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time in the modern era a season ago. The Wildcats earned their then-highest ranking under Skinner, No. 6, and beat the No. 1 team in the nation for the first time in school history.
In Kentucky’s first round win over East Tennessee State in last year’s NCAA Tournament, UK head coach Craig Skinner earned his 300th win. Skinner is already Kentucky’s winningest coach in program history.