Kentucky Volleyball: Wildcats make history with first National Title

The Kentucky Wildcats National Champions Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
The Kentucky Wildcats National Champions Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports /

Kentucky volleyball made history on many levels, but let’s keep this short and sweet – they are the  NCAA National Champions.

They wanted it. They knew it was there for the taking, and they went out and claimed it 20-25, 20-18, 25-23, 25-22 over Texas in a classic match that had even the casual Big Blue Nation fan on the edge of their seat and every little girl dreaming they one day could play on the big stage wearing blue and white.

Those role models are sure to include Alli Stumler, Madison Lilley, and Avery Skinner who were each named to all Final Four teams. Moments later Lilley was crowned Most Outstanding Player.

Winners have that look in their eye and you could see it in the Wildcats as they crossed over the 20 point mark in set No. 4 with the title in sight.

On match point, it was Curry hoisting one final set high into the air that Stumler soared from the left side and delivered the blistering blow crosscourt that couldn’t be handled and the celebration was on.

The sport is played sparingly across Kentucky except in the more populous areas of Louisville, Lexington, and Northern Kentucky. No public school has ever won the title that began being handed out in 1979, but maybe this will inspire more public schools to instill programs across the Bluegrass.

In a season that started in the fall, the Wildcats made it eight matches before things were paused until January 29 when it resumed again.  Kentucky ground it out falling only once all season to Florida 3-2. When they reached Omaha they were awarded a No. 2 overall seed and lived up to the hype.

They dispatched UNLV, Western Kentucky, and Purdue in straight sets before sending Washington home 3-1 and then Texas back to Austin as well before standing alone as the best in the country.

They lost just nine total sets all season two of which were in the past two games.

It is the first National Title for Kentucky on its first trip to the final match and marks the first title for the Southeastern Conference with Florida having the only opportunity previously but coming up short.

They join the UK Rifle team to win national titles this season.

Kentucky fans were hurting after the news of basketball player Terrence Clarke passing away Thursday, and the ladies decided prior to the Texas game to Play for #5. It was an inspiring performance that brought BBN together and tears of joy following the final kill by Stumler off an assist by Gabby Curry.

Stumler, a junior who hails from Floyds Knobs, IN, crushed a season-high 26 kills on 51 swings while committing just two errors.

The Skinner sisters Avery and Madi out of Katy, Texas were bruising at the net once again with the freshman Madi pounding 19 kills and senior big sis Avery 14.

For Madi Skinner, she too picked the perfect night for a career-high in kills to go with just four errors on 33 swings. Her hitting percentage was .455.

But the outside and middle hitters couldn’t do it without the outstanding setting of AVCA Player of the Year Lilley who recorded 19 digs and 53 assists.

Then again Lilley couldn’t have set them up if it wasn’t for the stellar rock-solid play of senior libero Curry who sacrificed her body both on the floor and flying over scorers tables digging our 14 balls and assisting on 13 plays.

All games have runs, droughts, errors, and big points, and while all of those are instrumental in weaving the success that UK had all year and more importantly in the title game it is kind of a blur in the grand scheme of ultimately hoisting the coveted title trophy and cutting down the net.

The NCAA has crowned a champion since 1981 mostly teams from the Pac12 and Big 10 along with the two previous ones Texas had won. So the win by Kentucky will reign supreme by a team outside these powerhouse leagues.

Kentucky was confident and magical in its quest and always seemed destined to claim the prize. Even coach Craig Skinner said afterward that Stumler passed him in the hotel earlier on Saturday before 8 am asking if he was ready to win the naty?

Lilly is one of just three Kentucky players to be named National Player of the Year and be a part of an NCAA Division I national championship team in the same season: Anthony Davis, men’s basketball in 2011-2012, and Mary Tucker, rifle this season as well.

For all of us who watched this team this season, they gave us hope and inspiration through a Covid-19 year and in the end brought us elation on April 24, 2021.

This team could return all its players for next year due to the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA last year. Only Curry, Lilley, Avery Skinner, and Kendyl Paris are seniors. Not to mention this past year Skinner assembled the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class.

For now let the ladies who earned this bask in the glow of a title they so richly deserved, earned, and will forever have their names etched on the championship trophy.

Congratulations ladies. Well done.

dark. Next. Kentucky team built for a title