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2015 Summer of Preparation Part 1 - UK Volleyball

In a funk because UK Sports are (mostly) wrapped up for the year? A Sea of Blue is here to help.

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Ah, summer. That deadest of dead time for college sports writers and fans alike. Unless you're lucky enough to send teams to the College World Series (we're not) or the Track and Field Championships (we are!) there's just not much to do except endlessly speculate about the NBA draft, prep your kajillion question for SEC Media days, and bicker with certain crazy people in Jefferson County about who really started that on-field ruckus November 29th. Right?

Au contraire! This is the time the true enthusiasts take to reflect about what happened last season, mourn seniors' departures, get giddy over the newbies, and generally get their inner crazy fired up for next year. They go through the closet to find that shirt from April 4th and burn it, lest it taint the rest of their BBN wardrobe. They figure out in advance exactly how much bourbon they need to survive close games in football season, how much they'll need to celebrate beating Florida this year, and then work closely with their local supplier to ensure they have enough in stock. They plan out corn mazes (the corn doesn't just grow that way, ya know!), map out how many times they'll be able to pull off the Daily Double this fall, try and guess what wacky dance routine  Matthew Mitchell will pull off, and replace any key equipment for the BBM CampOut.

You know, normal summer stuff.

As ever, ASoB is here for you, to help make your summer preparation a success. Today, we're reviewing UK Volleyball, to help YOU get ready as Skinner's Winners look to make history.

The 2014 season was a challenging one for UK Volleyball. Ranked in the top 25 all season, the Cats ended the year 27-6 overall and 15-3 in conference play. They had great victories over ranked teams, both home and on the road, but struggled to take out the top dog in the SEC, losing both series to Florida. Their winning team play ensured the Cats would host the first and second rounds in the NCAA tournament, but this proved no sure step to the Sweet 16 as the Cats fell to Ohio State on their home court.

It was, in short, not the season seniors Jackie NapperLauren O'Conner and Alyssa Gergins had dreamt of. This fantastically talented group of seniors included the SEC Libero of the Year (Napper), and All-SEC Team honors (O'Conner). Their guidance and experience will be very missed when the Cats take the floor for their first game on 8/28 to face Michigan State.

Happily for Coach Craig Skinner and UK Fans, this year's club returns 5 starters to blend with their Top Ten Recruiting class. Our outstanding retuning players include:

  • Power setter Morgan Bergren: Received 2nd team All American honors this year, and was selected for the U.S. Collegiate National team. Morgan was also named to the All-Southeast Regional Team by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) and the All-SEC team. We'll need Morgan's skills this year as she led the team in assists and is currently directing UK offense to a .272 hitting percentage and a SEC-best 14.25 kills per set, both the highest totals by the Wildcats since 2009.
  • Outside Hitter Anni Thommasson: Joined her sister Morgan in being named to the All-Southeast Regional team as well as the All-SEC Team. Anni was second only to Lauren O'Conner last season in kills (not a bad place to be, as Lauren is ranked 12th in all-time kills at UK), wrapping up the 2014 year with 334 kills, and 118 sets. Anni was second only to Jackie Napper (again, pretty heady company) with 118 sets, and was the second best blocker on the team. I'd call that a heck of a sophomore season!
  • Middle Blocker Kaz Brown: Named to the SEC All-Freshman team after her outstanding opening season for UK. Kaz led the squad in blocks (98) as well as blocks/set (1.09).  Kaz also tallied up 147 kills. Kaz was a huge asset this year, and her sophomore year is shaping up to be outstanding.
  • Outside Hitter Shelby Workman: Second best player on the team for kills/set at 2.84, and logged 327 kills, 115 sets, and 222 digs in her junior season. Look for Shelby to make noise and fight for All-SEC team nods this year.
  • Middle Blocker Sara Schwarzwalder: Sara is a great all-around player with key game experience. She is a consistent threat on offense (182 kills, 99 sets, 13 digs) who could have a breakout senior year.

As you can see, we have a very solid group of athletes returning to Memorial this year, but what of our incoming recruits, the lifeblood of any program? Have no fears, Skinner's Winners kicked it up a level by landing the #10 recruiting class in the country for 2015. Our newbies to the court will include:

  • Setter Olivia Dailey: Olivia earned AAU All American honors in high school, and helped lead her team to 5th place at the AAU Nationals. Skinner seems very pleased her incoming skills, saying that Olivia "has an IQ of the game unlike any player her age. Olivia really sees the game happen before others."
  • Outside Hitter Anna Nyberg: Hold onto your hats, folks, Anna is a four time state champion in a state known for volleyball talent. (No, really: club volleyball here is crazy competitive!) Anna also claimed AVCA 2nd team All American and All State First Team honors her senior year in H.S.
  • Middle Blocker Brooke Morgan: Currently ranked as the 12th best player on a feat as she spent much of this season battling injuries. Brooke is a three time state champion player in Iowa, and had been long predicted to join the UW Badgers before picking Kentucky. (When you can find a highlight reel for a high school volleyball player? Chances are she's pretty good.)
  • Libero McKenzie Watson: Native of Louisville (Assumption H.S.) McKenzie was named to an AAU All-American. Skinner is looking to McKenzie to step into the huge shoes left behind by fellow Assumption alum and outstanding libero Jackie Napper.

Now that you know WHO is playing, let's talk about WHAT they're playing for. Simple answer: an SEC title and a trip to Omaha! With this in mind, Craig Skinner has definitely set his team up for success in their non-conference schedule, with tough matches scheduled against Michigan State, USC, Illinois, Wichita State and Louisville. From there the Cats kick off their SEC schedule with a road games against South Carolina and reigning SEC Champ Florida. The Cats host their first SEC Home game on October 2nd against Mississippi State, and from there it's a race to the tourney.

As we discussed last season, no SEC team has EVER brought home the title in volleyball. This is a wrong that needs rectified, and I think this club has the chops to make history.

Is it August 28th yet?