"Game Dailey" Boosting Kentucky Volleyball's Offensive Attack

The Kentucky volleyball team has been on a roll lately. After starting the season 3-4, Kentucky had won nine matches in a row, including five straight in Southeastern Conference play, heading into Sunday’s match against Tennessee.

On Sunday, the streak continued as the 25th-ranked Wildcats steamrolled the Vols 3-0 (25-16, 25-18, 25-16) at Memorial Coliseum. Kentucky is now 13-4 on the season, and a perfect 6-0 in SEC play.

Kentucky’s offense has been clicking during the 10-game winning streak, with a number of the Wildcats’ hitters getting in on the action. Freshman Leah Edmond is second in the SEC in kills per set, while Kaz Brown, Emily Franklin, Darian Mack, Brooke Morgan and Anni Thomasson have all been contributing to Kentucky’s offensive attack.

On Sunday, it was much the same, as the Wildcats hit .333 as a team, the fifth-highest percentage of the season for Kentucky. Four different Wildcats had at least six kills in the match.

And while the hitters deserve a large portion of the credit for Kentucky’s offensive success, the player that leads the offense is the setter, a position that sometimes gets overlooked.

Kentucky setter Olivia Dailey has not been overlooked in the least, especially over the last three weeks. Two weeks ago, the sophomore from Trussville, Alabama, was named SEC Player of the Week, followed by an SEC Setter of the Week honor last week.

And why not? Dailey has been the driving force behind Kentucky’s strong play, as the Wildcats have grabbed the early lead in conference play.

“Our nickname for her is ‘Game Dailey’, she’s ready on game day,” Kentucky head coach Craig Skinner said of his setter. “She’s very calm and composed, no matter the situation. She has a clear mind out there about who to set at the right time. She’s a gamer and she really enjoys the competition. She thrives when the ball is in her hands and makes people around her better.”

On Sunday, Dailey was at it again, racking up 40 assists in the three-set win over the Volunteers. Dailey was a model of consistency in the match, with 14 assists in the first set, and 13 in each of the last two sets. Kentucky had 45 kills in the match, and Dailey assisted on 40 of those. Sunday’s victory also marked the sixth straight match in which Dailey has had at least 40 assists.

Dailey knows that she can make life easier for her teammates with great setting, but also that her teammates can make things easier on her.

“It makes my job a lot easier when I have such great passes and I have the ability to set anybody and they have the ability to put the ball away,” Dailey said. “I feel like almost any rotation, I have four options and they’re all doing a great job of putting the ball away.”

Skinner knows that his team’s offensive balance helps Dailey as well.

“It’s a setter’s dream to be able to have three or four options in every rotation,” Skinner said. “She’s still expanding her game, but she’s doing a great job so far.”

Dailey came into Sunday’s match second in the conference in assists per set (11.41), and she improved on that number with another big outing against Tennessee.

After winning at Mississippi State on Friday night, the Wildcats had a quick turnaround, facing Tennessee in an early afternoon match on Sunday. But this Kentucky team is playing well and having fun, so the short time between matches did not seem to affect them. 

Winning 10 matches in a row has made the last month an enjoyable one for the Wildcats, something that’s not lost on Dailey.

“We’re having a lot of fun,” Dailey said. “When we have fun, we’re winning, and when we’re winning, we’re having fun. It goes hand in hand. Winning is fun.”

And if Dailey can continue to set the Kentucky hitters up for success, the fun should continue.