Volleyball Opens Season At Long Beach State Tournament

Aug 29, 2013

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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The No. 17 University of Kentucky volleyball team opens the season Aug. 30-Sept. 1 at the Long Beach State Tournament in Long Beach, Calif. The Wildcats begin the 2013 campaign Friday against No. 18 Florida State at 8 p.m. ET, followed by Illinois on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and host Long Beach State on Sunday at 8 p.m.

The 2013 season marks the fifth time in the Craig Skinner era that UK will open the season on the road. Under Skinner, who is in his ninth season as head coach, the Wildcats own an 18-5 record on opening weekend, which includes a 7-1 mark on opening day.

While the Wildcats and Seminoles are both ranked in the AVCA Preseason Coaches Poll, the Fighting Illini and 49ers are each receiving votes. It is the fourth time in the last five years that Kentucky has been ranked in the top 25 to start the season.

A live blog and live stats from Long Beach, Calif., will be available for all three of Kentucky’s matches at UKathletics.com.

Eighteenth-ranked Florida State is coming off its second-straight ACC title in 2012 and third in the past four years. The Seminoles, under the direction of sixth-year head coach Chris Poole, are projected by the league’s head coaches to finish first again in 2013. FSU went 28-4 in 2012 and earned its fourth consecutive NCAA berth, tying a school record.

Florida State is 7-5 all-time against Kentucky and rides a three match winning streak in the series. The Cats and Noles met in 2009, ‘10 and ‘11, with FSU winning 3-2, 3-2 and 3-0, respectively. At neutral sites, the Wildcats are 2-1.

The Noles have two players on the 2013 Preseason All-ACC Team in senior outside hitter Olivera Medic and AVCA All-American senior middle blocker Ashley Neff. Florida State returns nine letterwinners from 2012.

Illinois finished the 2012 season with a 14-16 record but enters 2013 receiving votes in the AVCA Preseason Coaches Poll. The Fighting Illini had 15 matches against ranked opponents and five against teams in the Final Four. The slate included a 3-2 victory at Texas, who would go on to win the 2012 NCAA title. Kevin Hambly is in his fifth season as head coach of the Illini, who finished second in the Big Ten his first three seasons before an eighth-place league mark last year.

UK owns a 3-2 record against UI, with the most recent match being a 3-0 loss in 1988. Kentucky was ranked ninth, while Illinois was fifth nationally. Four of the five all-time matches have been held at neutral sites, with each team winning two of them.

Two Illini were named Preseason All-Big Ten honorees. Junior outside hitter Liz McMahon earned her second-straight selection and was on the 2012 All-Big Ten team, while sophomore outside hitter Jocelynn Birks earned her first preseason award after being named to the 2012 All-Big Ten Honorable Mention and All-Freshman teams.

Long Beach State is receiving votes in the preseason coaches poll after an 18-11 season in 2012. The  49ers finished second in the Big West Conference and open the season on a seven-match winning streak. Head Coach Brian Gimmillaro was named the co-conference Coach of the Year and enters his 29th season at LBSU.

Kentucky downed Long Beach State 3-1 last season at Memorial Coliseum for its first series win vs. LBSU against three losses. The win came in the final match of the Kentucky Classic on Aug. 25, 2004.The only other time the Wildcats and 49ers have met on LBSU’s home floor, with Long Beach prevailing 3-0.

Long Beach returns two middle blocker First Team All-Region selections in 2012 honoree Chisom Okpala and 2011 award winner Haleigh Hampton, both juniors.

Senior Jessi Greenberg has been selected as one of 30 candidates for the 2013 Senior CLASS Award® in collegiate volleyball. To be eligible for the award, a student-athlete must be classified as an NCAA Division I senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence – community, classroom, character and competition. More on Greenberg’s selection can be found here.

UK was selected to finish second in the Southeastern Conference, as selected by the league’s coaches in a preseason poll. Additionally, senior Whitney Billings was named to the nine-member Preseason All-SEC Team. Twice in her career the right side hitter has been earned first team honors. 

Kentucky returns 10 letterwinners with five starters from a Sweet 16 team a season ago. Among the returning players is two-time All-America selection and preseason All-SEC team pick Whitney Billings. The senior right side hitter is seeking to become the first player in the 25-point rally scoring era to tally 1,000 career kills and digs. She enters her senior campaign with 987 kills and 930 digs.

Ninth-year head coach Craig Skinner is the school’s second all-time winningest coach with 180 career victories entering the season. Kathy DeBoer tallied 209 in nine seasons at the helm from 1984-92. In the Craig Skinner era, the Blue and White have amassed 17 or more victories in all eight seasons, and have captured 20 or more wins in five of the last six seasons.

Kentucky’s Memorial Coliseum will play host to the NCAA Regionals Dec. 13-14. UK is one of four sites selected for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups with one team advancing to the Final Four in Seattle, Wash., from the Lexington Region. This marks the second time in three seasons Memorial Coliseum will host this premier volleyball event. Tickets for the event are available now at UKathletics.com/Tickets.

The Wildcats posted a 22-11 record in 2012 and were 14-6 in SEC play. UK advanced to the NCAA Regionals for the second straight year and finished the season ranked 20th nationally. Under head coach Craig Skinner, the Wildcats advanced to a program-record eighth-consecutive NCAA Tournament, one of just 14 programs to do so.

Whitney Billings, Christine Hartmann and Stephanie Klefot earned AVCA All-America honors for the second-straight season, becoming the first group of teammates to earn multiple honors in consecutive seasons in program history. Billings earned second-team honors for the first time in her career, while Hartmann and Klefot were honorable mention selections.