By LARRY VAUGHT
Growing up in Floyd Knobbs, Ind., exposed Alli Stumler to a lot of fan bases.
“My mom was a Kentucky fan and my dad was IU fan. All my family was between those two and then also Louisville fans,” said Stumler, now a freshman starter on the Kentucky volleyball team. “I was kind of all over the place to all the games. I wasn’t really a set fan on any one team. We were just a diverse family.”
Yet she still had no trouble picking Kentucky. She visited and liked everything from the coaches to the academics to the atmosphere created by UK fans.
“They were also one of the first teams to offer, so that made it even more special. It was my first visit and that made it more fun and it just felt like home,” Stumler said.
It’s even beginning to seem like home to her father because he now has UK shirts.
“Last year his co-workers bought him a UK shirt and then underneath the tag had an IU sticker on it. He had to wear that for a little bit just to have some IU on there,” Stumler laughed and said. “But he actually has some UK shirts and on the side he had to get them monogrammed with volleyball. That’s a big step for him.”
It was a big step for her when she recently helped UK win at Louisville.
“That was so much fun. I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Just hearing things from being close to Louisville about how big the UK-Louisville rivalry is, I was determined to make an impact. I had a lot of friends and family there and it was fun just to compete and win,” Stumler, a second team All-American in high school, said.
She also played a key role in Kentucky opening Southeastern Conference play with a win at Tennessee Sunday. She had her second double-double with 10 kills and a season-high 14 digs. She also had a season-best three service aces along with three blocks. She was named SEC Freshman of the Week.
Stumler briefly considered transferring to high school volleyball power Louisville Assumption. She played AAU with players from both Assumption and Louisville Mercy, but opted to stay with her friends at Christian Academy.
“I was really happy at my school. We were a small school and I wasn’t sure how good the high school team would be to allow me to be recruited. I considered transferring and my mom said whatever I wanted to do was fine, but I loved my school and loved the family atmosphere. I never regretted my decision,” she said.
Christian Academy went to the state championship every year she was there and won the state title her sophomore year.
She also was a better basketball player than she likes to admit. She gave up basketball her freshman year to concentrate on volleyball but her uncle was the head basketball coach. He persuaded her to play her final three years in high school.
“I loved playing. It was so much fun,” Stumler said. “I was labelled a center, but I kind of did it all.”
That included going over the 1,000-point mark her senior season.
“That was one of my main goals. My main job was just to score and rebound since I was the tallest one on the team. I worked hard for my points, but I got them,” Stumler said.
Kentucky volleyball reached the Elite Eight last year and returned a strong nucleus of veterans. Stumler wasn’t sure what her role might be or who she would fit in but she knew what she was going to do.
“I was going to be the hardest worker on the team and give everything I have just to be on the court. It’s starting to pay off. I am so happy to just be here,” she said.
That’s obvious when you watch her play. She smiles — a lot — and says “those are contagious” with teammates.
“I don’t really have like a rah-rah personality. I am more laid back and lead by example. I am not going to get in your face and yell at you,” Stumler said. “I am just a competitor and fighter but I am also a leader and I love to do that by example. This sport is definitely different than most sports. It is a team sport and whether you are on the court or on the bench, we all have fun together.”
Kentucky continues SEC play when it hosts Arkansas Friday and Missouri Sunday. The Cats were the preseason pick by league coaches to win the league title after tying for the top spot with Florida last season.
“We obviously started out a little rough at 0-3 but we have come back and have been winning. It has been fun to learn and grow with these girls,” Stumler said. “Obviously as a freshman I have a lot to learn but it has been fun. Our practices have been more intense and competitive lately and everyone is on the same level. We all want to grow together and be best we can be, especially in SEC play.”
She says All-American Leah Edmond and sophomore libero Gabby Curry have both been a huge help to her.
“Leah plays the same position and coming in under her, she has been a lot of help just telling me to do this shot or do that. In college everything steps up. Everybody is hitting harder,” Stumler said. “Gabby Curry ever since we (the freshmen) got here first day, she has been the one telling us in this drill you do this. She is a big help and encourager. I love her. She’s made this transition a lot easier for all of us.”