The Kentucky volleyball team is among the hottest in the nation. Having won 14 of 15 matches, the Wildcats have raced out to a 16-3 record, including 7-1 in the Southeastern Conference. This week, the No. 25 Cats will host a team that has matched them win for win.
The No. 18 Tennessee Lady Volunteers (15-2, 8-0 SEC), winners of 11 straight, travel to Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday to face a UK team only a match back of first place in the SEC in a match that will be televised on ESPNU. When they take the floor at 8 p.m. ET, both squads will be looking to make a statement and position themselves in the race for the conference title.
Being at the top of the SEC standings has been a regular occurrence for these two squads, which has made for excitement on the court.
"It's been a very competitive rivalry," UK head coach Craig Skinner said. "The last two or three years our programs have been in the top part of the SEC and it's no different this year. Them being in first place in the SEC and the rest of us trying to get to that point, it's a big match for us."
A "White Out" is planned for the match and Skinner expects a big crowd to be on hand. With the match being televised yet again, it's clear the rivalry has attained visibility on a national level.
"This match has done really well (in terms on attendance) the last couple years," Skinner said. "I think this won't be any different. It's the third year in a row it's been on ESPNU so I think nationally it's being recognized as a great match."
The national exposure is great, but Skinner is more concerned about what the match can do for volleyball in the Lexington area. He and his staff have worked tirelessly to help build the game locally and highprofile matches like this one can advance those efforts significantly.
"More importantly, it's great for volleyball in this area," Skinner said. "It's as high a level of volleyball as we're going to see around here and I think it's going to be exciting."
Unfortunately, the Lady Vols have taken five in a row in the series, though the Cats winning five straight before that. Skinner is most certainly aware of the ongoing streak against Tennessee and he wants to put it to an end.
"I told someone yesterday, 'It hasn't been much of a rivalry the last couple years,'" Skinner said. "They've won the last five and we need to try to do something about that."
Skinner said the team will have to turn in its best match of the season to earn a win on Wednesday, but the offensive and defensive balance the Wildcats have so consistently shown of late seems to have the team peaking at the right time. Six different players average more than two kills per set for the Cats and seven have led the team in kills for at least one match.
"The strength of (the team) is balance," Skinner said. "It's hard for me to tell who's going to lead us in kills each night so it's got to be hard to prepare for us."