Before the season has even begun, the University of Kentucky’s new head volleyball coach Craig Skinner is certain that the volleyball program is poised for success.
Q: Coming from such a successful volleyball team at the University of Nebraska, what do you think will be the most challenging factor in improving UK’s volleyball team?
A: “We just need to get the pieces in the right places and show them the level of work that it takes to be great.”
Q: What weaknesses will you concentrate on this season?
A: “We need to work on some depth; we don’t have a lot of depth in positions. We need to train fundamentals, and that will be a huge part of what we do as coaches. And just the level of work it takes to be SEC Champions.”
Q: What do you think the team’s strengths are?
A: “I think it’s a pretty energetic group. I think they want it and they want to work hard. They’re a pretty close group. I think they enjoy working hard for each other and I think they’re good teammates.”
Q: What are the positive aspects of UK’s athletic organization as a whole?
A: “I think UK is awesome. I think that any sport that is successful at UK has the opportunity to create a great following. I think volleyball is a sleeping giant.
Q: What is the timeline for making UK volleyball successful?
A: “The timeline is now. We’re recruiting as we speak. We’re putting on a coach’s clinic April 1st and 2nd. We’re getting our camps organized. All of that is critical to a successful program. We have high expectations and with the current team we can have some success.”
Q: Did the move from Nebraska to Kentucky present any challenges for you, especially when your wife is the assistant women’s soccer coach at University of Nebraska?
A: “It was a tough decision – professionally, in some ways, because we did work in great programs, successful programs. I think that Megan [Skinner’s wife] has been a coach for ten years, and though it was very hard for her to walk away from that, she has been very supportive of me and my goal of becoming a head coach.”
Q: What has been your most enjoyable experience as a volleyball coach?
A: “If you think of material things, obviously winning a National Championship, but I think coaching is more than that. It’s people, it’s teaching, it’s seeing people evolve into a complete student-athlete. Those are the things that are most rewarding to me. For those kids to really and totally understand what it takes to be great.”
Q: Will working with Jenae Dowling, who played for you at University of Nebraska, as assistant coach make coaching a new team easier?
A: “Jenae was one of my first recruits and I think it speaks very highly of her as an individual. She understands my philosophy as a coach, and she understands what it takes to be a National Champion so she can answer some of the questions players are going to have.”
Q. The staff you’ve put together boasts some pretty impressive numbers - 2 NCAA National Championships, 8 Final Four appearances, 11 conference titles and 19 NCAA Tournament appearances. How do you feel this staff can benefit the Kentucky volleyball program while making an immediate impact on the national scene?
A. Robert and Jenae are great people who I trust very much. Robert is one of the most experienced recruiters in the country with a great mind for the game. We will not lose a beat in recruiting with him on our staff. His enthusiasm for volleyball and life in general is a great asset to our program. Jenae is a young energetic coach who has played at the highest level and is really excited to be starting her coaching career at UK. We will work hard, enjoy what we do and I think our players, recruits and fans will feed off that.
Q: What made you decide to move to Kentucky?
A: “One of the reasons I wanted to be at Kentucky was the people. The people are what make the University and what make the state. I just had a great gut feeling on the interview that this is where I want to start my head coaching career.”
Q: Is there anything you want UK fans to know about the volleyball team?
A: “What’s important to me is that when they come once, they’ll want to come again, and I think we’re going to put an exciting team on the floor. They’re going to play with a lot of joy and passion. I think when kids come to watch our team play they’re going to walk away wanting to be part of it.”
Assistant Coach Robert Pulliza, Head Coach Craig Skinner, Assistant Coach Jenae Dowling