The official start to the volleyball season is only four days away, as the Wildcats are set to open the regular season on Friday with the annual Bluegrass Battle. Kentucky gets the season started at 11 a.m. vs. Arkansas State, before hosting No. 23 Utah at 9 p.m. on Friday.
Coach Craig Skinner got an early look at his club last week, thanks to the first exhibition match in program history. The Wildcats topped Western Kentucky, the preseason favorite to win Conference-USA, in straight sets. Familiar faces led the way for the Wildcats; however, some new faces made their debut on the floor.
The Wildcats debuted the No. 5 recruiting class in the nation, which is the highest rated class in school history. The class includes Madison Lilley (No. 4 player), Avery Skinner (No. 32 player), Gabby Curry (No. 46 player), and Kendyl Paris (No. 81 player). All four newcomers made their presence felt and each posted solid numbers.
Skinner, a 6-1 outside hitter from Katy, TX., led the way with a match high 15 kills, while owning a .520 hitting percentage. Skinner brings a winning pedigree to UK, following a strong career at HCVA High School, where she won state championships in 2015 and 2016. The Under-Armour All-American looks to make an instant impact for the Wildcats this fall.
Freshman Madison Lilley also had an excellent match, setting up her teammates for success, while also leading the Wildcats with four aces. Lilley, a 5-11 setter from Overland Park, KS., was awarded the Andi Collins Award during her senior year at Blue Valley West High School, which recognizes the best setter in the nation. Like Skinner, Lilley also won two state titles in 2015 and 2016, while adding a Club title with the KC Power in 2017. Her strong play led to her being named Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year.
While Skinner and Lilley showed off their offensive skills, freshman Gabby Curry controlled the match with her defense. Curry, a 5-8 libero from Buford, GA., led the way with a match high 23 digs. Curry was a two-time Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year recipient, while leading her team to two state championships.
Last but not least, freshman Kendyl Paris led the way at the net for the Wildcats. Paris, a 6-3 middle blocker from Hilliard, OH., led the Wildcats with four rejections vs. Western Kentucky. She is the only incoming freshman to not own a state championship, however, it wasn’t because she didn’t play well, as she was a First-Team All-State member in 2016, along with being named Ohio Capital Conference Player of the Year.
Skinner, Lilley, Curry, and Paris will join a group of talented and experienced returning players this fall. The Wildcats will mix in freshman talent to play alongside Ashley Dusek, Kaz Brown, and Leah Edmond, three preseason All-SEC selections. The Wildcats look to win the SEC for the first time in thirty years and a strong freshman class will play a big role.