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Volleyball notes and quotes from Fall Sports Media Day

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Craig Skinner and Stephanie Klefot talk about the approaching volleyball season (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics). Craig Skinner and Stephanie Klefot talk about the approaching volleyball season (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics).
UK Athletics held its inaugural Fall Sports Media Day Thursday, and head coach Craig Skinner along with senior libero Stephanie Klefot represented the volleyball team. Both Skinner and Klefot had much to say about the upcoming season as well as the daily grind in the gym among other topics. The Wildcats had special visitors into practice, they've seen the ups and downs of the dog days of preseason preparation, and they are embarking on their first live competition of the fall when they step on to the hardwood of Memorial Coliseum for their annual Blue/White Scrimmage.

In his eighth season, Skinner returns three All-America selections and six starters from a season ago, including five All-SEC selections.  Along with a highly-touted group of newcomers, the Wildcats are poised to back up their preseason No. 13 ranking, tied for the highest in program history.

Here are some thoughts, notes and quotes from Thursday's media opportunity.

  • If Stephanie Klefot is representative of the collection, this team is going to play extremely hard. Effort will not be a problem. Skinner spoke to Klefot's ability to be a student of the game throughout here time as a Wildcat, and now she's become a leader, along with the other seniors in the group.
  • Former Wildcat and current Boston Celtic Rajon Rondo peeked into volleyball practice Wednesday afternoon to speak some words of wisdom to Skinner's squad. Skinner said Rondo preached that consistency is what separates the best players from the pack in the NBA.
  • The leadership from the three seniors - Klefot, Christine Hartmann and Ashley Frazier - will go a long way in just how effective this team can be this year. They began emerging as leaders late last season, so the experience should only help them in that role this year. With a young group of players who may see significant playing time this year, that experience and leadership from the upperclassmen is vital.
  • The freshmen started off hot in preseason practice and came out with guns blazing. After getting accustomed to the friendly confines of a sometimes inhumanely warm Memorial Coliseum, the freshmen began to play more like freshman.

"They started off really well, then they went through the freshman-get-worse-before-you-get-better stage for a few days," said Skinner. "Sarah (Schwarzwalder) unfortunately had a concussion for a few days and has been out, but I think she's going to be back here shortly, but they started to come back up on the rise."

  • The addition of the freshman class, which was ranked No. 15 nationally, along with transfer Desirre Wilkerson, provides depth at several positions on the floor for Kentucky. More talent in the gym has led to greater intensity and competition on the court. This could lead to several new looks for Kentucky attackers this season.

"We're trying to expand a little bit," said Skinner. "We're trying to attack a little bit more out of the back row and create some different set opportunities for our attackers. We do have some versatility. We have several people who can play on both antennas, play on the left side of the net and the right side of the net. Left-handed and right-handed, there's a lot of different looks we want to be able to show people.

  • That leadership helped make for one of the most productive summers in Skinner's time at Kentucky. With the freshmen enrolled in classes during the summer session, the team was able to start early with building their chemistry on and off the court. A slow start to last season and big time success on the back end fueled their fire in preparation for the upcoming year.

"Last year, we did start off slow, and it was really disappointing," said Klefot. "We were all sitting around in the circle and I remember us just being like this is not where we want to be. So in the summer, we trained literally every day. We've never done that before in the past, and I think it's just helped us push each other and stay focused and realize what are goals are this year."

  • After last year's Sweet 16 run that saw them nearly pull off an unprecedented upset over the No. 1 seeded Texas Longhorns, the Wildcats feel like they can play with anyone. While upcoming games with Tennessee and Florida will continue to be significant matches, this roster views those challenging opponents with less fear and hope but with more of an expectation to win.
  • Kentucky faces a very tough stretch of road games at the forefront of their schedule. They begin the season at home with the Kentucky Classic. From there, they go on the road to Louisville, two tournaments in Ohio and Nebraska respectively, before returning home for their SEC home opener with Florida. After their first SEC road trip to Baton Rouge, La. and their first SEC trip to College Station, Texas, Kentucky will have battled through a brutal stretch of nine of 10 matches on the road.

"Thinking about scheduling, you do want to be on the road," said Skinner. " We're playing at the Yum! Center this year against Louisville and that's where the Final Four is. We're playing at Ohio, which is a very difficult place to play. And then Nebraska, that we'll play in front of 4,000 people. So being in different environments around the country I think can prepare us in the long run. We want to be playing our best volleyball towards the end of the season, so we're going to find out what the things are that we have to get better at early."
  • Klefot, a Louisville native, is more than happy with heading to the Yum! Center this year to face the Cardinals on their home turf. It not only gives her and her team a chance to see the facility for the first time, but it allows her to play in front of a large family contingent.

"It's so exciting," said Klefot.  "My mom called me and she goes, 'I already have 100 t-shirts made up. I have 100 tickets, and we're ready to go.' It's my senior year, I want to go out strong, and having the Final Four there, just, I could not go out a better way if we can get there. Playing Louisville at home, just with everyone there, my family and friends, it's going to be great."

The Wildcats will finally step on the main court for the first time, albeit against one another, when they get together for the Blue/White scrimmage this Sunday at 6 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum. The competitive dress rehearsal will serve as a primer to the season opener against North Carolina in the annual Kentucky Classic Friday August 24 at 7 p.m.

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