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Volleyball equipped to back up lofty preseason ranking

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Kentucky appeared in and hosted a Regional for the 2011 NCAA Tournament. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Kentucky appeared in and hosted a Regional for the 2011 NCAA Tournament. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
At the beginning of the 2010 season, the Kentucky volleyball team had been given its first preseason top-15 ranking in school history, coming in at No. 14 in the coaches' poll. Sarah Mendoza, the highly talented outside hitter, was no longer a part of the team and Kentucky faced two very tough opponents in their opening weekend in Nebraska and Iowa State. Neither match was very pretty. The rest of the season wasn't much to brag about either.

Nevertheless, Craig Skinner's team held things together and made the trip to their sixth-consecutive NCAA Tournament.

Fast forward two years later to Monday afternoon. As is customary for this time of year, the 2012 coaches' poll made its debut for the upcoming season. Kentucky weighed in at No. 13, besting the program's previous high during the Skinner era of No. 14 for the preseason.

Skinner is usually not one to read much into preseason rankings. After all, how can anyone know how a team is going to be without first seeing them perform? But it happens for every sport. Every year the preseason polls come out, and there is plenty of conversation and debate as to who belongs where. It is completely subjective and often times, especially in media-light sports like volleyball, the coaches have not even seen several teams in that appear in the poll.

What may be the most puzzling question of the poll's results is that Kentucky is ranked higher than Tennessee (No. 15), the same team that won the SEC last season over Kentucky and loses very little from their starting lineup in 2012.

Kentucky, however, loses three seniors, including two starters, from the front line. The difference may be Kentucky's late-season success, which took the Wildcats further than Tennessee in last year's 2011 NCAA Tournament. They also gave the No. 1 Texas Longhorns all they could handle before falling 3-1.

Despite the loss, a highly decorated group of returning players will carry that momentum and experience in to the 2012 season while trying to bring a talented freshmen class up to speed.

In that 2010 season, Kentucky was coming off another Sweet 16 appearance the season prior. That momentum was thwarted as the SEC Player of the Year, the team's libero, and top offensive threat would all not return to the lineup.

This year's team is in a completely different situation. A better one. A much, much better one.

Kentucky's depth will be their strength as competition battles for spots at nearly every position on the floor break out on a daily basis. The 15th-ranked recruiting class will impact this team in every way and several returning players will look to break into the starting lineup.

Bottom line: This team is much better equipped to handle the pressure and success that comes along with the high expectations of a No. 13 ranking.

While Tennessee may be considered the favorite to repeat in the SEC as defending champions, Kentucky's No. 13 national ranking shows one thing: respect.

Skinner's program continues to gain respect nationally for the job that he's done in it from the ground up. Last season's late run in the tournament only bolsters the reputation the Cats have built for themselves over the last several years.

While Skinner may not be fond of the preseason accolades, he has to take some pleasure in the fact that he's continuing to raise the bar and help push his program to new heights on a yearly basis. Preseason rankings don't mean much, but they do mean something.

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Nice story Ryan, very impressive.

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  • Patrick: Nice story Ryan, very impressive. read more