Dusek Continues UK Volleyball's Libero Legacy
This is the fifth of a six-part series of feature stories on the 2016 Kentucky Volleyball team.
The Kentucky volleyball program has a history of great players at the libero/defensive specialist position. In fact, Kentucky has won the SEC Libero/Defensive Specialist of the Year award five of the last six seasons, including the last two.
What might be surprising is that during the current five-year streak of winning the award, it has been three different players who have accomplished the feat. It started with Stephanie Klefot, who took the honor three straight years, from 2010-12. UK took a year off in 2013 before Jackie Napper brought home the award in 2014.
Last season, the Wildcats were at it again, with Ashley Dusek laying her claim to the title which has taken up near-permanent residence in Lexington. Just a sophomore, Dusek laid her claim to the award that has been held by so many Wildcats before her, while setting the school record for digs by a sophomore (566) in the process.
“I wasn’t expecting that at all,” Dusek said of being honored by the SEC. “I know I had big shoes to fill with Stephanie Klefot and Jackie Napper here before me. I just went out and played. I had fun and made sure everyone was in sync and I just played my game, and my reward was the award.”
Now a junior, the 5-7 native of East Bernard, Texas, will try to match Klefot by winning the award in consecutive years, even if that’s not her primary goal.
“I just can’t think about that all the time,” Dusek said. “I just want to compete with everyone. Even if I got an award, I don’t think of it as me being on top.”
Like teammate Kaz Brown, Dusek had the opportunity to play with the USA Volleyball Collegiate National Team over the summer. It was an experience that Dusek will never forget.
“It was an awesome experience,” Dusek said. “It was great to meet new people. I didn’t know anyone. It was great to meet people we will play in the season.”
Kentucky head coach Craig Skinner knows that Dusek will be an improved player because of her summer playing experience.
“I think she’s improved a lot,” Skinner said. “I think being in that program gave her another layer of confidence. I think we’re seeing a lot of improvement in her from that experience.”
Dusek is already sixth in Kentucky volleyball history in digs during the 25-point rally scoring era. If she’s able to match last year’s dig total, she could be as high as third on Kentucky’s career list by the end of the 2016 campaign. She also has a good chance of becoming the 11th member of Kentucky’s exclusive 1,000-dig club this season.
How can a player who has already been recognized as the best at her position in the conference, and who is setting records in the process, stay motivated?
“Ashley is someone who has a lot of drive to improve internally,” Skinner said. “Sometimes people relax when they feel good about where they are. Ashley’s never going to stop trying to learn and get better.”
Having Dusek behind them instills a lot of confidence in her teammates. Knowing that they have the best libero in the league on their team allows other Wildcats to concentrate on themselves.
“Her defense is great, and the good thing about her is that she works hard every single day,” said senior Anni Thomasson. “She brings it every single practice. She makes the hitters better. If you can get past Ashley, libero of the year, you can get it past anyone.”
Sophomore setter Olivia Dailey points out another way Dusek makes the team better.
“Having Ashley in the back row makes the setter’s job so much easier,” Dailey said. “It makes us have such a better offense. Having Ashley in the back row makes each hitter get the most opportunities to hit, and it makes my job easier.”
Skinner thinks that Dusek’s best could be yet to come.
“She still has a lot of things to improve on,” Skinner said. “She’s motivated. She’s so athletic that her potential is limitless, in our opinion.”
And Dusek’s continued improvement may keep the SEC Libero of the Year award in Lexington once again this season.