Final Countdown: Kentucky VB takes its award winners into the postseason
The regular season is all wrapped up in Lexington for Kentucky Volleyball, but as one door closes, another opens. It’s all eyes on the 2022 NCAA Tournament with the Wildcats opening play on Thursday evening in Memorial Coliseum.
Kentucky was given the No. 12 overall seed in the big dance and will host first- and second-round matches this coming week. Loyola Chicago, Western Kentucky, and Bowling Green are the other squads that will play in Lexington. The A-10 champions, Loyola Chicago, will be Kentucky’s first opponent and will face the winner of WKU and Bowling Green on Friday.
A plethora of heavily decorated Wildcats enter the NCAA Tournament after being awarded all-conference honors earlier this week. There’s truly no place like Kentucky, seeing that four players from head coach Craig Skinner’s squad were named to the All-SEC team, including a sophomore sensation winning SEC Player of the Year.
Not enough room on the podium
If this were an award ceremony at the Olympic Games, there would need to be an extra spot. Kentucky led all SEC schools with the most players that were named to the all-conference team. Emma Grome took home the illustrious SEC Player of the Year, which has been an award that ‘Cats fans have gotten to know well in past years. Grome was the fifth-straight Wildcat to win the award. If that doesn’t say something about this program, I don’t know what does.
Grome is no stranger to picking up awards this season. She earned five SEC Setter of the Week awards this season and two SEC Player of the Week honors. If this isn’t enough, Grome is coming off a season where she took home SEC Freshman of the Year. Yet, the ceiling just got higher for her. Grome started every match for Kentucky this season and led the team in aces and assists. She ended the regular season with 32 aces and 1,167 assists. Let’s get to work on that statue.
Joining Grome on the All-SEC squad were Adanna Rollins, Azhani Tealer, and Reagan Rutherford. The trio from Texas has been a pivotal piece to Kentucky’s SEC Championship this season. Both Rollins and Rutherford were attacking menaces this season. Rollins racked up three double-doubles this season while Rutherford walked away with six. While Tealer showed her dominance on offense, her defense was arguably the best on the team. The senior, who decided she’ll be returning for a fifth season, set the Kentucky record with 13 block assists five days ago. Kentucky will need a healthy mixture of kills and blocks from this trio if they hope to go deep in the tournament.
Where it matters most
There’s no way to sugarcoat it, this is do or die. Win or go home, or in Kentucky’s case win or stay home. With the Wildcats drawing a 3-seed in the dance (12th overall) they will need to beat Loyola Chicago on Thursday night to maintain homecourt advantage for a potential Friday night second-round showdown.
Two west coast foes are in Kentucky’s region of the bracket. Stanford owns the No. 1 seed, while San Diego has the No. 2 seed. If both teams win their first two matches and Kentucky does the same, a trip out west would be what awaits. However, don’t look at those plane tickets just yet.
Loyola comes to town with a 25-8 (17-1) record, only losing to Dayton in conference play. Earlier in the year, Loyola lost a five-set match to Tennessee. Kentucky beat the Vols 3-1 just over two weeks ago. WKU and Bowling Green were also champions of their respective conferences and they earned automatic bids into the tournament. There seems to be a lot of hardware coming to the Bluegrass tomorrow.
Memorial Coliseum should be rocking Thursday night in hopes of seeing a championship run begin at home. There won’t be many excuses for students not to show out, as the match will be free of charge for UK students.
Postseason play will start at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN+ for the Wildcats. This is where the fun begins.