By Dr. John Huang
Kentucky Volleyball coach Craig Skinner appeared on a Zoom media conference this afternoon. Yes—it was the same Coach Skinner who’s been a previous guest on the radio show—and the same Coach Skinner who just reeled in the No. 1 recruiting class for the upcoming year.
Entering his 16th season, Skinner’s coaching resume is impressive. He’s UK’s all-time winningest coach, a three-time SEC Champion (2017, 2018, 2019), has 15 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, he’s the 2011 AVCA All-South Region Coach of the Year, and a three-time SEC Coach of the Year (2015, 2017, 2018).
In other words, he’s a victim of his own success. Now with five additional uber-talented newcomers joining some experienced returning veterans, expectations are running rampant this year, as they should be. Skinner has never shied away from lofty goals. He embraces the success of his program and wants fans to know that this year will be no different.
“We expect to compete for championships,” Skinner said. “We expect to compete for SEC championships, and we expect to compete for national championships. “We’ve been talking about that to our recruiting classes for years. We’re all going to be disappointed if we don’t perform at the standards we set…That standard will be as high or higher than we’ve ever had before.”
So what can fans expect to see when they fill up Memorial Coliseum this year on game nights?
“There are going to be a lot of wild moments when you see some of these guys attack the ball and stuff people straight down and make explosive defensive plays,” he continued. “Expectations are high. You gotta believe and gotta know you can compete with the best.”
I’ve said many times that volleyball is one of the most exciting sports on campus. Throw in legitimate national championship expectations, and excitement is going to be off the charts.
Fears for Player Safety?
But with the ongoing pandemic, will the season even be played?
Although Skinner gave the usual expected answer about having his team prepared regardless of what happens, he did offer one particular nugget that I thought was rather insightful. Fans and media often assume that players all want the action to resume—that everyone’s chomping at the bit to get back on the court. But has anyone ever asked players directly if they had any fears about their health and safety?
“No one has specifically said they are anxious or fearful about coming back,” Skinner said when asked about particular members of his team. “I would be crazy to think that not everyone has a different opinion, and families have different opinions about how to work themselves back or what the restrictions are going to be—what the safety—how we sanitize things to make sure everyone is healthy.”
“Obviously when I was twenty years old, I thought I was indestructible and nothing could bother me,” he added. “I would assume there are a lot of people who feel the same way at that age. And I think it’s going to have to be up (to) our leaders from the President, and the governors, and the athletics directors, and the conferences to give us the guidelines to go back…Specifically about our players, no one has brought that up individually about the fear of coming back and being around multiple people.”
For Craig Skinner and the UK volleyball team, it appears like it’s business as usual. It sounds to me like it’s about time for a Final Four run.