Wildcats Open 30th Year of Volleyball Tuesday
Coming off its best record in 12 years, the Kentucky volleyball team begins its 30th year of competition Tuesday when it plays host to intrastate foe Western Kentucky. Opening serve is set for 7 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum.
The Wildcats return nine letterwinners, including four starters, from last season’s team which finished the year 17-12 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 1993 campaign. The Cats are led by reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year Jenni Casper (Louisville, Ky.) who, entering her senior campaign, is already UK’s all-time digs leader with 1,474 career scoops. In addition to the returners, the Wildcats’ incoming class was ranked 26th in the nation by PrepVolleyball.com.
Western Kentucky opened its season last weekend with a 3-1 record at the Toledo Tournament in Toledo, Ohio. The Lady Toppers dropped their opening match to Michigan, but won three straight 3-0 matches defeating Wright State, Binghamton and Toledo.
“Western Kentucky has a very good team. They made the NCAA Tournament last year and they’ve been dominant in the Sun Belt for several years,” said second-year head coach Craig Skinner. “It will be a great opening test for us. Our players are definitely ready to play someone other than ourselves. We’ve had a couple of practice players who make us practice at a very high-level of competition. We think that is going to prepare us and hopefully that will pay off tomorrow night against Western.
“Out of the eight top players that will be playing significant time for us this year, six of them are either newcomers, freshmen or sophomores,” added Skinner. “This is a great group. They are very athletic and fast. I think that it is going to be an exciting brand of volleyball to see this year, starting tomorrow night against Western Kentucky.”
Among the Wildcats’ four returning starters is sophomore middle blocker and SEC All-Freshman team selection Queen Nzenwa (Baltimore). Nzenwa led the Cats in blocking in 20 of 29 matches last year, totaling a team-leading 145 rejections. In addition, Kentucky boasts a number of talented newcomers as PrepVolleyball.com tabbed UK’s freshman as comprising the nation’s 26th-ranked recruiting class.
Tuesday’s match marks the 15th meeting all-time between the Wildcats and Hilltoppers, though the two squads have not met since the 2001 campaign. Kentucky leads the all-time series 10-4, but Western Kentucky has won three of the last four meetings between the two teams. UK and WKU last met on Sept. 4, 2001 – a 3-1 win for the Hilltoppers in Memorial Coliseum.
The Wildcats are 21-8 all-time in season openers, including a 14-2 record when opening the season at home in Memorial Coliseum. Kentucky has won six of its last eight home openers. In addition, the Cats have enjoyed great success against in-state foes as Kentucky is 69-39 (.639) vs. teams from the Bluegrass State in the program’s 29-year history.
Kentucky, which finished last season with a 10-6 record in SEC play, was picked to finish third in the league’s Eastern Division last week by a vote of the conference’s 11 head coaches.