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Video: Volleyball media day press conference

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At long last, UK's season opener is on the horizon.

After months of work in spring practice, summer conditioning and fall camp, the Wildcats are about to line up across from opponents in different color jerseys. Finally, Mark Stoops' offseason refrain about the progress of his team will be put to the test.

"As I said before throughout this summer, we've improved," Stoops said. "Be interesting to go out there and see how much."

For the first time since 2007, a home crowd will be able to see UK's offseason improvement firsthand in the season opener. The Wildcats will face UT Martin at noon ET on Saturday in Commonwealth Stadium.

"I know our fans are ready to go," Stoops said. "We need to do our part. I know we'll have great support. We need to go out there and start fast and play good football, play with great energy, play with great discipline, make it exciting for the fans."

Opening at home for the first time in seven years and following that with another game in Commonwealth in week two, the Cats have a chance to build some early-season momentum. It's an opportunity Stoops says they can't squander.

"I think it's real important, I do," Stoops said. "I think we need to start fast. We need to go out and play well."

In evaluating that, Stoops will be looking for an accumulation of routine plays, not highlights readymade for SportsCenter.

"We've got to go play well and be consistent," Stoops said. "We're not good enough to make simple mistakes and shoot ourselves in the foot, turn the ball over, things like that obviously."

That's a challenge given how much UK will rely on a number of players who have never been on the field at this level. Seventeen players listed on Kentucky's two-deep depth chart are first-year junior-college transfers or freshmen, including eight true freshmen.

All of them, to this point, have prepared as much as possible in practice and through UK's High Performance program, but there's only so much that can be done.

"Certainly with young guys, some guys are going to go out there for the first time and they're going to exceed our expectations, then some guys will probably have some rough spots here and there, have some mental mistakes, physical mistakes, things like that," Stoops said. "That's why you have to get out there and play. There's no substitution for experience."

As young as this Kentucky team may be, the Wildcats are still in a better spot than they were a year ago. That's why UK won't rely on newcomers quite as much as in 2013.

"We're getting better," Stoops said. "As we get better, it gets harder to beat out some guys for playing time. That's what you want in our program."

Dupree, Smith still drawing raves from Stoops

Stoops isn't normally one to think too far into the future, but he made an exception on Monday.

Asked where he expects senior defensive end/linebacker Bud Dupree to go in next spring's NFL Draft, the second-year UK coach didn't hesitate.

"I'd be very shocked if Bud was not a first-round draft pick," Stoops said.

Stoops went on to say that he can envision Dupree going early in the first round if he has the kind of season expected of him. Given Stoops' experience coaching NFL-level talent at Florida State, his opinion has some weight.

"Bud is special," Stoops said. "He has that ability to play standing up. Put his hand in the dirt. He's a pass rusher. He's got instincts. With everybody going to a lot of the 3-4 things, outside backers, versatility, he's a very good player."

Dupree is listed as a strong-side linebacker on the depth chart, but the versatility Stoops appreciates so much will allow him to play plenty at end as well. When he does, he'll line up opposite Za'Darius Smith, who has a professional future of his own.

He and Dupree bypassed the NFL Draft to return for their senior season. Stoops believes they'll improve their draft stock with their decisions, but he knows UK has already benefited from their presence.

"As I said a lot through the offseason, leadership is the first thing that jumps out at you," Stoops said. "But also confidence. Our players see those guys out there, they make plays, are consistent, they're always there. They're great to have."

UT Martin linebacker Bell has UK's attention

With an offseason for UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson to make changes, Stoops knows to expect the unexpected on Saturday.

"They might get out there and try to pressure the heck out of us, or drop," Stoops said. "They've shown both, where they've been conservative and drop eight guys into coverage a bunch, or they can blitz the house and come after you. I imagine we'll see a bit of everything. It will be good for us to see how we prepare and respond to that."

Whatever looks the Skyhawks show, Stoops knows to be on the lookout for Tony Bell. The senior linebacker returns to anchor the UT Martin defense after an All-American season in 2013 in which he tallied 10.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss.

"They have a great defensive player, No. 40, the linebacker, an exceptional player," Stoops said. "He's a really good football player. He can play anywhere in the country. Really like the way he plays."

Miller, Cunningham suspended for opener


UK announced on Monday that left tackle Darrian Miller and wide receiver Rashad Cunningham have been suspended for Saturday's season opener for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Both will return for week two.

In Miller's absence, regular right tackle Jordan Swindle will move to the left side and redshirt freshman Kyle Meadows will fill Swindle's spot.

Returning to the lineup after a two-game suspension to close 2013 will be Demarco Robinson. He is listed as a starter at one of four wide receiver spots along with Ryan Timmons, Javess Blue and Joey Herrick. Robinson will also share punt-returning duties with Timmons.

UK moves to game prep with opener 8 days away

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The calendar read Friday, but the action on the field at the Nutter Training Facility said otherwise.

With fall camp nearing its conclusion and UK's season opener in barely a week, the Wildcats shifted their attention to preparing for UT Martin.

"We had a normal what would be a Tuesday of game week this week to get that ironed out, and it was good work," Mark Stoops said. "It was good to wrap it up. Players will be done for the rest of the day, get to relax a little bit and get their feet up underneath them."

A typical Tuesday practice includes some team work along with work for the offense and defense against the opposing scout team. According to UK's offensive coordinator, the Wildcats took well to the shift away from the grind they've become accustomed to this month.

"We had really our first day against the scout team look today and I thought we had really good energy for a hot, muggy day, which was encouraging," Neal Brown said. "I think guys are excited about getting into game prep. Had a kind of a little jog through yesterday, but our focus was good. Made some mistakes but overall thought it was a positive day."

Not only was the day positive, it was also full of news.

On the injury front, Stoops announced that Alex Montgomery (recovery from knee surgery) and Jeff Badet (eye) will miss UK's season opener. Badet is improving after injuring his eye in practice catching tennis balls, but will be out at least the first two weeks of the season. Outside of those two sophomore wide receivers, Stoops expects UK to be at full strength on Aug. 30.

Full strength for the Wildcats includes at least nine freshmen. Stoops said on Friday that defensive tackle Matt Elam, defensive back Kendall Randolph, wide receivers Blake Bone, Garrett Johnson, Dorian Baker, Thaddeus Snodgrass and T.V. Williams and running backs Stanley "Boom" Williams and Mikel Horton will all play week one.

Perhaps the biggest surprises in the group are the two running backs, as UK has veterans Braylon Heard, Jojo Kemp and Josh Clemons at their position. Brown, however, in detailing why he expects the Wildcat offense to improve this season, made it clear there will be ample carries to go around.

"The biggest difference is right now on offense, running back is our deepest position," Brown said. "My job is to get the ball to our best players, and right now, several of our top playmakers are at that running back position."

The plan for the remaining freshmen is to redshirt them if circumstances permit. But aware of how quickly things can change, they will all prepare to play, including quarterback Drew Barker.

"I think that would be in his best interest and our best interest," Stoops said of redshirting Barker. "We'll see how that goes. He will prepare to play in a backup role, and if we can save him through the season that's what we'd like to do."


8 Days to 2014 UK Volleyball: Darian Mack

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MACK_TWITTER-FACEBOOK.jpgLeading 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 freshman Darian Mack: 

"Kentucky volleyball is the opportunity to establish lifelong bonds with my coaches and teammates. Being on a team means that somebody always has your back and you're able to rely on each other. With UK volleyball, you have the opportunity to become SEC champions and receive a quality education."

Freshman Darian Mack comes to Kentucky from Raleigh, N.C. The outside hitter was the captain of her high school team and led Wakefield High School to a North Carolina High School 4A State Championship while earning MVP honors. A two-time all-conference selection, she also competed for Triangle Volleyball Club, where she helped the team reach Nationals in 2012. Mack was also named to the AVB Honor Roll and the National Achievers Society and won the Triple A Award, recognizing athletics, academics and attitude.

Preseason Team Update: August 21, 2014
Yesterday, the feature film documenting UK's two-week trip to China was unveiled on UKathletics.com. The 20-minute film was produced by UK's Sports Video department, and takes fans on the cultural, educational and competitive journey with the team. The video can be found on UKathletics.com or below.

Yesterday after practice, the team celebrated the release of the feature film with a Chinese dinner. Stories were shared as the team looked back one last time to a memorable two weeks.

Additionally, the team's trip was featured on the SEC Network, which has been archived on SECsports.com.




For an archive of previous "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and team updates throughout the preseason, 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.


Video: UK Volleyball Goes To China Feature Film

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9 Days to 2014 UK Volleyball: Sara Schwarzwalder

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SCHWARZWALDER_TWITTER-FACEBOOK.jpgLeading 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 junior Sara Schwarzwalder: 

"To me, Kentucky volleyball means we are always evolving. In the gym, in the classroom and in the weight room our team puts in the effort and focus needed to get better each day on and off the court. We have an extremely talented team that can play multiple girls in each position and still have the confidence and opportunity to win."

Junior Sara Schwarzwalder is a two-time All-SEC Academic Team honoree and a member of the 2012 All-SEC Freshman Team. The North Royalton, Ohio, native played in 27 matches last season with 26 starts. Schwarzwalder was second on the team with 95 blocks and tallied 143 kills to hit .299 in 2013. The middle blocker registered a career-best nine blocks in UK's win at Arkansas and had a career-best 14 kills at Georgia. As a freshman, Schwarzwalder had eight blocks three times, with her eight in a win over Lipscomb marking the most by a freshman in one match since 2010.

Preseason Team Update: August 20, 2014
Today, the feature film documenting UK's two-week trip to China was unveiled on UKathletics.com. The 20-minute film was produced by UK's Sports Video department, and takes fans on the cultural, educational and competitive journey with the team:


For an archive of previous "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and team updates throughout the preseason, 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.


10 Days to 2014 UK Volleyball: Shelby Workman

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WORKMAN_TWITTER-FACEBOOK.jpgLeading 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 junior Shelby Workman: 

"UK volleyball means determination and pride. We are determined each day to become a better team and to perform like a champion on and off the court. We take pride in representing the University of Kentucky and the Big Blue Nation!"

Junior Shelby Workman played in all 31 matches last season with 10 starts. The opposite hitter from Overland Park, Kan., tallied 109 kills and 89 digs with five service aces in 2013. Workman had a career-high 13 kills against Long Beach State and a career-best 11 digs against Illinois last season as a sophomore. In a five-set win over LSU, Workman notched 11 kills, seven of them coming in the final two sets.

Preseason Team Update: August 19, 2014
As UK's preseason practice nears the halfway point, it's a light day for news. If you missed it yesterday, the annual Blue/White Scrimmage will take place this Sunday, Aug. 24 at 5 p.m. ET in Memorial Coliseum. Additional information can be found here.

Additionally, single match tickets for the 2014 season are now on sale. Reserved tickets are $5 each, while general admission single match tickets are $5 for adults, $2 for seniors (65+) and youth (6-18). Children ages 5 and under are admitted free of charge in general admission seating.

Single match and season tickets can be purchased by calling the UK Ticket Office at 800-928-CATS, while more information about season tickets is available here.

The film documenting UK's two-week trip to China will premiere tomorrow on UKathletics.com. The 20-minute film was produced by UK's Sports Video department, andfans can get a glimpse of UK's journey with this trailer ahead of tomorrow's unveiling:


For an archive of previous "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and team updates throughout the preseason, 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.


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