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December Madness

Kentucky survives and advances in first round of NCAA Tournament (Photo Dr. John Huang).

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – It’s December. For Kentucky Volleyball fans, that’s the equivalent of basketball’s March Madness. Like a prowling lion, the NCAA Tournament surreptitiously sweeps in, taking everything by storm through its dizzying array of kills, blocks, and digs.

Kentucky stormed through its first-round opponent, Loyola-Chicago, with a surprisingly easy three-set sweep (25-17, 25-14, 25-20). The Ramblers, known as a fearless team with great energy and aggressiveness, just never got it going against the more-talented Wildcats.

“Loyola-Chicago is a very good team,” Kentucky head coach Craig Skinner said afterwards. “They proved that all year long, won 25 matches on the year and 17 in their league. For us to hold them to 20 and under for three sets is a pretty significant defensive performance.”

Adanna Rollins and Reagan Rutherford led the Blue and White with 15 and 11 kills respectively. Emma Grome, the newly crowned SEC Player of the Year, had a game-high 44 assists.

“We have so many good hitters on this team,” said Grome, who found out about her prestigious honor through Twitter and Instagram. “As I was able to do today, we keep it really balanced. I think just having so many different options makes it really fun for me because I can have a little more freedom to be deceptive. I have a lot of confidence in my hitters.”

A season that started out on a rather pedestrian note has suddenly morphed into a runaway freight train barreling into postseason play. After licking their wounds against a murderer’s row of early-season defeats, the Wildcats have improved game by game, week by week, culminating their regular season with an astounding sixth straight SEC championship.

“You get exposed when you play good teams,” Skinner said when asked about the early-season lumps. “Whether you win or lose, you’re going to find out a lot more against good teams than against a team you steamroll. We’re blocking a lot better than we were early in September. Our execution after point 20 is significantly better. That comes with chemistry. That comes with after a few weeks in a row we’ve had the same lineup out there. Continuity with that helps. And I think this team starts to believe a little bit.”

No. 12 seeded Kentucky (21 – 7, 15 – 3 SEC) now faces Western Kentucky (29 – 3, 14 – 0 C-USA) on Friday night at 7 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum for the right to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. The Hilltoppers swept Bowling Green (25-20, 25-23, 25-20) in the earlier game this evening.

Western Coach Travis Hudson, a twenty-eight-year veteran on the Hilltopper campus, had some insightful words about Coach Skinner’s accomplishments this year.

“What Craig’s done this year at Kentucky, the fact they’ve won an SEC championship with all that they’ve faced this year, is maybe a better coaching job than when they won the national championship,” he said. “This year has been a culture year for Kentucky Volleyball too. Because they’ve had a lot of bumps along the way. And they too have withstood them because in life we find out what we’re like when things aren’t going well. They’ve had a lot of hurdles they’ve had to cross. And now they’re getting healthy, and they’ve got their lineup together. Do not get it twisted. They’re a Final Four caliber team.”

We shall see. I’m ready for a long ride. Hopefully for Kentucky Volleyball, it’ll be a December to remember.

Dr. John Huang is a UK columnist for Nolan Group Media and editor-in-chief of JustTheCats.com. He also covers the NFL and MLB for Sports View America. You can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs. If you enjoy his writing, be sure to check out his new book, KENTUCKY PASSION. https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669

Dr. John Huang
Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist and military veteran. As a lifelong Wildcat fan, a fledgling author, and an occasional guest host of Just the Cats Radio, he's now living out his dream as a UK Sports columnist. Dr. Huang also covers professional sports on a regional level. You can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs or contact him @KYHuangs@gmail.com. If you enjoy his writing, you can also read more at www.huangswhinings.com.

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