Volleyball Cats Focused on Task at Hand

Kentucky junior outside hitter Anni Thomasson remembers what happened to her team two years ago. She doesn’t want to see a similar scenario repeated again this year.

In 2013, Thomasson and the Kentucky volleyball team had a great opportunity in front of them. The Wildcats were seeded 15th nationally in the NCAA Tournament, and would have the opportunity to play four straight matches on their home court at Memorial Coliseum, provided they kept winning. If Kentucky was able to win those four matches, the Wildcats would make their first appearance in the Final Four. It seemed like a clear path to glory. 

But Kentucky saw its season end prematurely, as Michigan State knocked the Wildcats out in the second round of the event.

Thomasson did not have to be reminded of those events from two years ago. “We’ve been there before, where we’ve lost and had to watch the third and fourth rounds (at Memorial),” she said. “It was kind of annoying to see other teams playing on our court.”

Thomasson and her teammates hope to avoid that annoying experience this season. Memorial Coliseum is set to host next weekend’s NCAA volleyball regionals. The only question is, will the host team be a participant, or a spectator?

Kentucky opens the 2015 NCAA Tournament on Friday against American University in Columbus, Ohio. Should the Wildcats advance to the second round, they would likely face the host Ohio State Buckeyes with a trip to the regional in Lexington on the line.

Kentucky head coach Craig Skinner knows better than to look too far ahead. “It’s a great opportunity to play against American University, who was undefeated in their regular season and conference championship,” Skinner said of his team’s opening round foe. “We’ll need to be ready to go on Friday night.”

Senior setter Morgan Bergren, an All-SEC performer, has seen what can happen when her team looks ahead. She knows that the Wildcats need to focus on the task at hand.

“We’re worried about one game at a time,” Bergren said. “We’re focusing on American and what they do and what we can do to stop them.”

But the thought of playing at home in the regionals is like the elephant in the room. Everyone knows it’s a possibility, but no one is ready to talk about it yet.

Skinner did address the possibility. “Everybody knows it’s (at Memorial Coliseum), our players know that the regional is here,” he said. “Of course we want to be here next week. We want to do well this weekend, and it would be pretty special to play in front of your home crowd in that round.”

The Wildcats have won three straight matches heading into the postseason, and they hope the momentum of the last couple of weeks will carry over in the tournament.

“I think the big win on Friday really helped propel us into the postseason,” Bergren said. “We’ve had a couple of good practices after that win. I think everyone is gearing up and getting ready to play.”

Thomasson, who will be playing the first round match about 20 minutes from her hometown of Newark, Ohio, agrees. “I think we’re practicing really well and we’re ready to get going,” she said. “We’re excited for it.”

And if Kentucky can make it to next week’s Lexington regional, they won’t have to endure another annoying situation.