After finishing the regular season 24-4 and capturing the SEC Championship outright with a 17-1 conference record, the No. 7 Kentucky volleyball team now turns its attention to the post-season as they begin their defense of last year’s NCAA Title.
The Wildcats earned the No. 7 seed in this year’s NCAA Volleyball Championship and will host the first and second rounds of the tournament after being named one of the Top 16 seeds announced by the committee.
The four teams in the Lexington sub-regional are Kentucky, Southeast Missouri State, West Virginia and Illinois. Illinois will take on West Virginia in the first match of the weekend at 5:00 pm ET before the Cats clash with SEMO at 7:30 pm ET. The winners of both matches will then play Saturday at 5:00 pm ET.
Other teams of note in Kentucky quadrant of the bracket are 10-seeded Nebraska, who knocked the Cats out of the tournament three years ago, and 15-seeded Washington, who Kentucky beat in last year’s Final Four.
But it’s the potential matchup in the Elite Eight for Kentucky that has everyone’s attention, as if the seeds hold, the Cats would have to take on No. 2 Texas in Austin for a berth in the Final Four in what would be a rematch of last year’s National Championship match.
“It’s definitely easy to look ahead and think, ‘We lost to Nebraska my freshman year so man, it’d be good to get revenge,’” Alli Stumler said of looking at the potential matchups. “Obviously, Texas last year to go back and do that again. It’s easy to look ahead, but all year long you want to look ahead to what the standings could be for the SEC Tournament and all those things, but you just have to stay focused on this day right now. Craig (Skinner) always challenges us to be the best today so that we can be the best tomorrow and then the day after. So, whether that’s nutrition, sleep, whatever it is, today we’re going to be really good, this week we’re going to be really good in practice to focus on SEMO and then we’ll take it day by day after that. Just competitive maturity for sure.”
Along with learning their path to another NCAA Title Sunday evening, it was also a busy afternoon for Kentucky, as several Wildcats were honored with SEC awards after exceptional regular seasons.
Taking home the most prestigious award was senior Alli Stumler, who was named the SEC Player of the Year, the fourth-consecutive season that a Wildcat has taken home the honor. She joins Sarah Rumley (2006), Leah Edmond (2018, 2019) and Madison Lilley (2020-21) as the only Kentucky players to ever be given the award.
Stumler averaged 3.62 kills per set on a .252 clip along with 2.26 digs per set. She also leads the team in aces (24) and is second in total digs (224) and total kills (358).
After quarterbacking the Kentucky offense to the fifth-highest hitting percentage in the nation at a .301 clip, freshman setter Emma Grome was named the SEC Freshman of the Year. Grome is the fifth different Wildcat to take home the honor and joins Rumley (2006), Edmond (2016), Lilley (2017) and Stumler (2018) as the only Wildcats to be given the award. Grome averaged a whopping 11.4 assists per set and ranks fifth in the country, leading all freshmen, in that category.
Rounding out the Yearly Awards, freshman Eleanor Beavin took home SEC Libero of the Year, the first freshman in the program’s history to ever win the award. Beavin averaged a team-best 3.36 assists per set and led all SEC liberos in passing average and good-pass percentage. With the award, Kentucky has now won the last eight-straight SEC Libero of the Year awards.
Along with Grome and Stumler, sophomore Madi Skinner and junior Azhani Tealer were named to the 18-member 2021 All-SEC Team. Beavin and Grome were also named to the 2021 All-Freshman Team.
“Really excited for those guys,” UK head coach Craig Skinner said. “They’ve earned it. All of the people that were recognized really, really earned it.”
Kentucky will begin its quest for another NCAA Title Friday at 7:30 pm ET inside Memorial Coliseum. Tickets will go on sale to UK Volleyball season ticket holders on Monday at 9:00 am ET. The general public can purchase all-session tickets beginning at 9:00 am ET on Tuesday and single-session tickets beginning at 9:00 am ET on Wednesday.