The 2017 Kentucky Volleyball season was filled with record-breaking achievements and national attention, but there is apprehension about the upcoming season. The Cats are coming off of a record-breaking season, which included and SEC Championship and the first Elite Eight since the NCAA Tournament field was expanded to 64 teams.
According to the SEC Preseason Coaches’ Poll, Kentucky is predicted to finish first in the league. 8 coaches in the SEC voted for Kentucky to win the SEC regular season Championship for 2018, while the 2017 National-Runner Up Florida squad received 5 first-place votes.
Kentucky will bring four Freshman and one JUCO transfer to their lineup. There are 10 returning players on the roster, while 7 players have either graduated or transferred. Two of the teams’ All-Americans, Kaz Brown and Ashley Dusek, have graduated and forced the 2018 team to match their play.
Let’s now look at the five new additions by head coach Craig Skinner.
The four freshmen are Gabby Goddard, Cameron Scheitzach, Alli Stumler, and Lauren Tharp. The one JUCO transfer is Caitlyn Cooper. Cooper originally signed with the 2016 freshman class but opted to spend two years at Iowa Western at the last second.
Each player is a great addition by the Kentucky staff, and she will make an immediate impact when they step on the court.
Gabby Goddard is a 6-2 middle blocker from Lexington High School in Lexington, Massachusetts. She is an Under Armor All-American, and she was the Lexington High School Volleyball Team Captain. She is a four-year letter winner with incredible speed.
Goddard is a well-rounded volleyball player and registered 134 kills in her senior campaign. The Massachusetts native will be the first-ever Bay State resident for the UK Volleyball team, but Gabby is ready for the change of scenery.
With her distinct knowledge of where to be near the net at all times, Goddard collected many offers from elite schools around the country. In the midst of her sophomore season, Goddard had offers from Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, American, and many others.
For her, it was a relief to know where she was going to go to college at such a young age, because she could then focus on academics. Goddard plans to be on the pre-medical track, all while being a useful middle blocker for the Cats. Although she is replacing two Kentucky Volleyball greats, Kaz Brown and Emily Franklin, Gabby is only going to worry about making herself a better athlete every day.
Lauren Tharp is a 5-6 libero out of Mercy Academy in Louisville, Kentucky. Nationally, Lauren is the 24th-best player in the 2018 class. Additionally, she is a Third-Team Under Armor All-American.
The libero and defensive specialist is known for her quick reflexes, accurate passes, and the ability to cover a majority of the court defensively. Tharp has always been a Kentucky fan, and she committed to UK during her sophomore season in 2015.
In her senior season at Mercy, Tharp registered 269 digs, 15 assists, 24 aces, and 7 kills offensively. Much like Gabby Goddard, Tharp received interest from many of the most prestigious volleyball schools. Offers included 5-time and defending National Champion Nebraska, Ohio State, North Carolina, Auburn, Louisville, and many others.
Tharp’s dream of wearing the blue and white will become reality this fall, and will give the Kentucky defense the much needed assistance. Tharp is replacing All-American and 3-time SEC Libero of the Year, Ashley Dusek. With the assistance of a tenured back row, Tharp can rely on McKenzie Watson, Meredith Jewell, and Gabby Curry to help her when needed.
Cameron Scheitzach is a 5-9 setter out of Bishop Moore High School in Orlando, Florida. Scheitzach is a quick setter on the court, and she knows where to place the ball at all times. Bishop Moore High School won back-to-back state championships, and Cameron was one of the key players during both seasons.
Her winning mentality and Volleyball knowledge will translate into success throughout the season. Cameron is an AAU Academic All-American, which proves how she can be a successful student and play at such a high level of volleyball.
Versatility is one of Cameron’s best features, and she will play any position to help her team. Cameron’s parents both went to school in Kentucky, so she was uses to Lexington and felt like it was a second home. Scheitzach’s dad went to Louisville, while her mom went to Kentucky.
Many teams took interest and recruited Cameron because she was on many successful teams in Florida, but she decided to commit to Kentucky before her junior season in 2016. Statistically, Cameron can do it all. During her Senior year, she had 477 assists, 215 digs, 46 aces, and 85 kills.
Scheitzach will take the place of Olivia Dailey, a setter who transferred during the offseason to Ohio State. Cameron will have the guidance of All-American Madison Lilley throughout the season, which will surely elevate her game. The setter position will not be a spot of concern any time in the near future.
Alli Stumler is a 6-foot outside hitter from Christian Academy of Indiana in New Albany, Indiana. Stumler has been to three state title games and two AAU championships.
When you add Stumler’s craftiness and power at the net to the mix, you get an elite player. Much like the rest of the incoming class, Alli is a natural leader and is one of the most successful high school students in the nation.
Stumler is an Under Armor All-American, a National Honor Society member, and a recipient of the Indiana 2A Volleyball Mental Attitude Award Winner. She is a pure power outside hitter, and she will balance well with other “big” hitters on the Kentucky roster.
Stumler is a dual-sport athlete, and competed with the girls’ basketball team throughout high school. Her 6-foot stature helped her be very successful in basketball, but she knew that volleyball is her sport that she wanted to continue playing.
Stumler is a hard worker who had multiple offers from championship teams. Her offers included schools such as Nebraska, Purdue, Indiana, Louisville and multiple others. Stumler decided to sign with Kentucky before her junior season in 2016 and is very excited to show her talents to the BBN.
During her senior season, Stumler registered 751 kills, 61 total blocks, 395 digs, 61 aces, and a 0.472 hitting percentage. Stumler is replacing senior Darian Mack and will add a fresh face for the opponents. Leah Edmond and Avery Skinner will guide Alli and will make the Kentucky offense primed for another successful season.
Caitlyn Cooper is a 5-11 outside hitter from Missouri City, Texas. Cooper originally signed with Kentucky in 2016 but opted to play and develop at Iowa Western for two years. She re-signed with Kentucky in 2018 and will round out a deep outside hitting rotation.
In her high school career, Cooper was First-Team Under Armour All-American and has 1,100 kills. In her two years at Iowa Western Junior College, Cooper collected a total of 1,066 kills, 798 digs, 186 blocks, and had 24 aces behind the service line. Cooper led the Iowa Western to a seventh-place finish on the season and created different shots that kept the defense off of their toes. Cooper will have two years of eligibility left and will be a great look when the offense wants a crafty shot or a solid two-way player.
What to expect this season:
Plain and simply put, this Kentucky team is going to be very solid. Kentucky lost 6 offensive players last season, but the combination of All-SEC players Leah Edmond and Avery Skinner and a hot Brooke Morgan will be balanced by the three new offensive players. The new look will create a balance on the team, and make the opposing defense question where to be at all times. The backbone of Kentucky Volleyball, Leah Edmond, will return and looks to maintain her First-Team All-American status.
Traditionally, people know Kentucky Volleyball for its stellar defense. After losing libero Ashley Dusek, Kentucky will need to rely on four main defensive specialists. Seniors McKenzie Watson and Meredith Jewell will be the most experienced defensive players, but sophomore Gabby Curry has already had time at the libero position.
While Ashley Dusek was injured at the beginning of last season, Curry took over and quickly became accustomed to the elite level of talent in the NCAA. The addition of Lauren Tharp will strengthen the lineup and add a new face to offset the ones lost from last season. There will be no lack of talent on the defensive side of the court this season and will continue the legacy of Kentucky Volleyball.
Lastly, sophomore setter Madison Lilley and Freshman Cameron Scheitzach will continue to be great. The lack of error and elite level of play will continue to set up the offense for success.
As a whole team, Kentucky will be balanced, talented, fun to watch and a team that won't lose a lot. Games between Texas, Florida, Kansas, Creighton, USC and other elite programs will make this team tournament tested. This team is special, and has all the potential for a deep run come December.