Kentucky Opens 2011 at Florida State Invitational
Aug. 24, 2011
LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Kentucky volleyball team will officially begin its quest for an unprecedented seventh consecutive run to the NCAA Tournament with a round-robin tournament on the campus of Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla., Friday and Saturday. UK is set to take on Albany, Florida State and No. 23 Tulsa in the opening weekend of competition.
"It's that time of the year when players are really amped up to begin playing some matches, and our team is no exception," UK coach Craig Skinner said. "We've made a good deal of progress during preseason and we're looking forward to a great weekend ahead of us."
Skinner has led the Wildcats to six consecutive NCAA Tournaments. It is a feat only 17 other teams in the nation have achieved in that same six-year span. The Blue and White return four starters from a 17-win team a season ago, along with the reigning Southeastern Conference Libero of the Year in Stephanie Klefot.
UK opens with Albany at 11 a.m. ET Friday morning, before taking on the host Seminoles at 7 p.m. later that evening. Kentucky's opening weekend is capped off by a 1:30 p.m. ET matchup with Tulsa Saturday.
The Scoop on the Cats
Kentucky returns nine letterwinners from a season ago and welcomes five new players to the rotation in 2011 including redshirt junior Ashley Frazier. The Wildcats quartet of freshmen was ranked among the nation's top-30 classes and figure to become prominent figures in UK's lineup.
In 2010, the Wildcats' defense was a focal point with an average of 2.59 blocks and 14.12 digs per set. UK has two senior middle blockers in Becky Pavan and Gretchen Giesler returning to the net. Both players have rejected more than 200 opponent attempts in their careers. Klefot leads the back-line defensive effort after becoming just the fifth player in school history to chart 500 or more digs in a season with a tally of 517 in her sophomore campaign.
With the addition of Frazier and freshman Lauren O'Conner to add to the rotation of senior Ann Armes and Whitney Billings, UK will have a marked improvement on a .214 hitting clip and 12.3 kills per set from a season ago.
Billings was a 2010 All-SEC Freshman team selection after averaging 2.68 kills per set. Armes is a talented player who could perform in a multitude of roles in her senior season. Frazier and O'Conner provide the Wildcats with depth at the outside hitter position and will be looked upon to contribute early.
UK returns both of its setters from the 2010 season in junior Christine Hartmann and sophomore Elizabeth Koberstein. Hartmann tallied more than 1,000 assists last season, while Koberstein attained two matches with 40 or more assists.
Following its opening weekend of action on the road, Kentucky is slated to play 10 consecutive matches in the friendly confines of Memorial Coliseum.
Under Skinner's direction, Kentucky has scored a 13-4 overall record in the opening weekend of action. Three times in his tenure he has led the Blue and White to an unblemished first weekend of play.
Scouting the Opponents
All three of Kentucky's opponents this weekend were NCAA Tournaments from a season ago. Tulsa is rated as the No. 23 team in the nation to open the season and the Seminoles are receiving votes in the polls to begin the year.
Albany (Friday, Aug. 26/11 a.m.)
The Great Danes were an NCAA opening round squad in 2010. Albany is led by fourth-year coach MJ Engstrom who has earned a 67-27 record leading the Great Danes.
Albany averaged 12.6 kills per set on a .224 hitting clip in its 2010 season. The squad also averaged an astounding 16.9 digs per set to offset its 2.1 blocks per stanza.
This will mark the second time in the history of the programs that UK and Albany have met on the court. UK took the only other meeting by a 3-1 margin in 2008.
Florida State (Friday, Aug. 26/7 p.m.)
Led by fourth-year head coach Chris Poole, the Seminoles advanced to the NCAA second round a season ago before falling to the No. 1 ranked Florida Gators in a five-set match.
Florida State averaged 13.12 kills per set on a .289 hitting clip in 2010. The Seminoles also turned back opponent attacks at a rate of 2.42 per set and picked up 13.78 scoops per stanza.
Kentucky and Florida State have met on the floor in each of the previous two seasons. The teams first rekindled its rivalry in the Sweet 16 in 2009, and again in a five-set thriller in Lexington in 2010. The teams are tied with both squads claiming five victories against the other in the all-time series.
Tulsa (Saturday, Aug. 27/1:30 p.m.)
Tulsa enters the weekend ranked No. 23 in the country following a Sweet 16 run in 2010. The Golden Hurricane is led by first-year coach Steven McRoberts. The matchup with Kentucky will be a first in the series.
Tulsa posted a tremendous 15.18 kills per set on a .289 hitting percentage a season ago. The Golden Hurricane was also remarkable on defense with a 16.66 dig-per-set average and 1.50 blocks per set.
Kentucky's Memorial Coliseum will play host to the NCAA Regionals Dec. 9-10. UK is one of four sites selected for Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups with one team advancing to the Final Four in San Antonio, Texas, from the Lexington Region. Tickets are on sale now through the UK Ticket Office.
Visit UKathletics.com for the most up-to-date information on the UK volleyball team and all of Kentucky's 22 teams.