The University of Kentucky hosted the first-annual All-Sports Media Day on Monday morning in Wildcat Den. Head coach Craig Skinner and UK athletes spoke about the upcoming volleyball season.
The Wildcats are coming off back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since the 1992-93 seasons and are receiving votes in the CSTV/AVCA Preseason Coaches' Poll for the first time since 1993.
Quotes from the media day are below.
Head Coach Craig Skinner
"To go along with the group that we have of three all-conference players returning [Nicole Britenriker, Queen Nzenwa and Sarah Rumely], our recruiting class was, by one publication, ranked top-eight in the country. We feel like we have a good balance of youth and a returning core group of players that give us experience. The other thing is that our average height across the board has gone from about 5-11 to 6-1 this year. Weíll have four players in the starting lineup that are about 6-2, one is 6-3. In the sport of volleyball Ė and the net is 7 feet, 4 inches Ė height makes a big difference along with jumping ability. Itís an exciting time, we think, for our program, coming off a second-round NCAA Tournament appearance last year. The recruiting that has joined us this year and the leadership that we have definitely gives us the foundation to continue on some of the success weíve had the last couple of years. A couple of things in regard to last season: Last season, we were No. 2 in the SEC in attendance and weíve tripled the attendance in Memorial Coliseum from our first season in 2005 and weíve generated a lot of excitement through marketing. The first 50 students to each match receive a prize and they are eligible for a round-trip ticket anywhere in the U.S. Thatís something that we feel is exciting for our students to be a part of. Our schedule is a great balance of difficult competition that will help lead us into the SEC. Last season, the SEC got seven teams into the NCAA Tournament, which is a record. The number of teams that have made it have increased each of the past four years. The other part of our schedule is that in the pre-season poll, five teams that we will be playing were either ranked or receiving votes in that initial poll. We have a tough conference schedule as well as a tough pre-conference schedule that will help prepare us for a good year."
On being picked to finish second in the SEC East in the preseason coachesí poll Ö
"Iíll give the typical coach response in that I guess pre-season doesnít mean a whole lot, but at the same time, I think itís a sign of respect and I think our players have earned that respect. It at least makes the opponent think about what they have to do, but I think it also forces us to really be prepared each match that we go into because we have to be ready to go. Itís a nice thing to be recognized for that and I think that, really, itís a sign of respect for our players."
On how to compensate for the loss of the SECís all-time digs leader Jenni Casper Ö
"We led the conference in digs two years ago and were very good in that area last year. Itís something that we had to address in the spring and this upcoming season, but after going through the first 10-11 days of the preseason, our libero competition is between Alisa Pierce, from Louisville, and BriAnne Sauer, from Louisville, two very good players. Iím not 100 percent sure who will fill that, but we are confident that our defense will be as good or better than what it has been in the past. We feel thatís a trademark of who we are as a program, not only with those people, but itís all inclusive. That includes Nicole [Britenriker] and Sarah [Rumely] back there, and even Queen [Nzenwa] has put herself in position to play back row in one rotation and sheís 6-2. We still think itís a strength of ours."
On his overall expectations for the 2007 seasonÖ
"I think when we came in this program, each year our goal is to win the SEC Championship. I think with a conference like the SEC, that should be everyoneís goal. Weíve given ourselves standards to accomplish that and those are statistics Ė seven categories Ė that we feel we need to measure ourselves by and those are compiled of teams that have won the conference the last several years. More importantly, we wonít probably talk about winning the SEC Championship on a daily basis, weíre going to talk about getting better every day that we perform. Through this pre-season, we are very encouraged that we are set in our leadership and that we are going to continue to improve on a daily basis. With our young players, I think that hopefully thatís going to be an automatic with the leadership that we have. We want to go further than we did last year in the NCAA Tournament. We feel like we can compete with anyone we play. Our players feel like that and, again, thatís kind of the goal of the program and weíre looking forward to the challenge."
On Memorial Coliseum becoming the exclusive practice home of UK VolleyballÖ
"We are ecstatic to be in Memorial Coliseum training on a daily basis. I canít say enough about our administration and the people that donated the money - Joe Craft, included and the Will Rouse Family who donated several hundred thousand dollars to give us an outstanding new floor in Memorial Coliseum. It really makes a difference in training because the old floor was very, very hard. Jumping and landing on that floor now is a big benefit for volleyball athletes."
On how the upgrade to facilities has helped with recruitingÖ
"Itís significant. When we bring recruits through the Craft Center, through our offices and into Memorial Coliseum, I canít think of a better volleyball venue or volleyball facility in the country. Personally, as a coach, I know our players and coaches have played in a lot of venues and itís special. It gives us a warm feeling. It gives us an elite feeling that we play in an environment that is as good as anyone."
On the improvement of the Southeastern Conference over the past few yearsÖ
"Thereís no doubt. Our conference is as good as it ever has been and thatís exciting, I think, for the conference because volleyball is one of the few sports that hasnít won a national championship in the SEC. Itís well on its way and has already cemented itself as one of the top conferences in the country."
Senior Middle Blocker Nicole Britenriker
On her personal goals for the upcoming season Ö
"Personally, I would like to play to the highest level of my ability each match out. I would like to have a .300 or better hitting percentage each match, so I really want to be consistent with my hitting percentage and play to be the best I can possibly be."
On how the new floor in Memorial Coliseum has helped the team Ö
"Overall, itís really helping us because weíre doing pretty good as far as injuries. The new floor is really working good for us."
On her expectations for her senior season Ö
"Iím excited about it. I know what I have to do to for us to be able to be successful, itís just really important to stress to the young players what they have to do and thatís win matches consistently and continue improving with each match.
Junior Middle Blocker Queen Nzenwa
On the teamís improved height Ö
"Having a bunch of tall players up at the net really makes the opponent stop and have to think twice. We have four players 6-foot-2 or taller, so having big blockers out there definitely makes a difference in how our opponents approach attacking against us."
On Memorial Coliseum becoming the exclusive practice home of UK Volleyball Ö
"Right now, we really have a lot more space Ė we have three courts set up now for practice in there. It is a great environment to work out in and Iím very fired up about that."
On the new floor in Memorial Coliseum Ö
"The new floor is excellent because it makes landing much easier on our knees. It also helps with our verticals because the floor has more spring in it."