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Assistant coach Kenny Payne
Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress
Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress
Leading up to Kentucky's season-opener on August 29, we asked each member of the team what Kentucky Volleyball meant to them. Next up is senior Jackie Napper:
"It's a home away from home, my second family. I know my teammates, coaches and staff will always have my back. We all have different personalities, but together we make up a team that has one goal in mind, to win a championship. We like to have fun and get our laughs in, but most importantly we love to compete and WIN!"
A senior, Napper started at libero in all 31 matches for the Wildcats in 2013. The Louisville, Ky., native earned All-SEC Academic team honors and led the team with 443 digs for a 3.99 digs per set rate to go along with 111 assists, the second highest total on the team during her junior season. Napper tallied a career-best 24 digs in UK's upset win over No. 4 Minnesota and had a career-high nine assists vs. VCU, both last season.
Preseason Team Update: August 14, 2014
From a morning yoga session to picture day and an appearance on the SEC Network's inaugural show, Thursday was a busy day for the Wildcats.
Picture day is another sign that the season is just around the corner. UK's staff photographer, Brittney Howard took a team photo in addition to headshots and select other group photos. Kentucky Wildcats TV was there to document all the action:
Also Thursday, with the SEC Network's launch just hours away, it was announced that 27 of UK's 31 matches will appear on the SEC Network +, the digital platform of the SEC Network. All of Kentucky's home matches and every home and road SEC match will air nationwide on SECNetwork.com and WatchESPN, which is available to all SEC Network subscribers. More information and a full schedule, which includes eight matches already announced to be broadcast on the SEC Network and ESPNU, can be found here.
Finally, after practice and a team dinner, the Wildcats participated in the launch of the SEC Network. In the three-hour kickoff show, the team was involved in a live look-in as they watched the show from the team room.
For an archive of previous "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and practice reports, follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.
Through more than a week of fall camp, Mark Stoops has talked consistently about how his team has improved in facets.
He's praised the offense for playing at a pace closer to what Neal Brown's offense calls for and the defense for executing more cleanly.
On Wednesday, with UK's first full scrimmage, it was time to put it all to the test at Commonwealth Stadium.
"We really need to just put the ball down and move it," Stoops said. "Obviously there's a fine line there with all the tackling that goes on, but this was a full, live scrimmage over there today. I think we stayed relatively healthy and we got a lot of good work in, and we really needed to do that."
The offense stepped up and had one of its best days Stoops can recall since the new coaching staff's arrival.
"It was nice for them to put it together," Stoops said. "I thought they really did some good things. And that's why we need to do that -- just put it down and go -- so they can put all their play-actions together and their runs and their passes and all those good things. So it was good to see."
Asked which players performed well, Stoops didn't name names before watching tape. That, however, is a positive. It means UK is operating as a team.
"I thought they did a nice job of -- you've heard me say it time and time again -- making the routine plays," Stoops said. "So when we have our play passes or the situations where we have a slant that's open, we catch it and make a first down rather than be second and 10. That's a huge difference."
UK's quarterbacks once again shared time with the first team as they compete for the starting job, a race that is progressing but still very much up in the air. Stoops expects a decision to come "in the next week," but reiterated that he won't name a starter just to name one.
"One of the reasons why we're trying to be very critical of ourselves in making this decision is because it's so important, and when we give that person the reins, we want them to go," Stoops said. "You've heard me say that for a year now. Every time a year ago when we thought we were giving somebody the reins to the quarterback situation, something happened. Maybe they got hurt or maybe they didn't play very good. So we want to make sure we're very precise in our decision-making, and once we give them the keys to the car, we want them to drive it."
As for the defense, the group didn't have its best day of fall camp, but UK still had reason to be encouraged on that side of the ball. Competition is good for everyone.
"In practice, it's not good if you win because they screw up," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "You didn't do anything, right? So a good practice is one where they execute, you execute and then a player makes a play."
Besides, Wednesday will be far from the last time their offense gives a defense fits if Stoops and Brown have their way.
"We're much further along than we were all year last year, but that's the good thing, that's what I told the offense, that's what they can do when they go put that kind of pressure on you," Stoops said. "That's what helps them put some pressure on defenses. You all watch college football and you see some great defenses struggle with tempo because it neutralizes you a little bit because of what you can call and what you can execute."