When freshman Leah Edmond stepped into her first summer workout for the University of Kentucky volleyball team, she immediately noticed the speed and effort of her new teammates.
The 6-foot-2 outside hitter from Paul Laurence Dunbar came in as the No. 7 recruit in the country and had been playing club volleyball for a few years. But this was another level.
“I said, ‘OK, this is the real deal now,’” Edmond, UK’s first scholarship player from Lexington, noted before the season got underway.
Now, Edmond is proving to be the “real deal” herself, leading the Cats in kills (3.95 per set) and points (4.4 per set) as Kentucky enters Southeastern Conference play. During the Cats’ current five-game win streak, Edmond has been named SEC freshman of the week twice in a row.
Still, despite the individual success, the college game has taken her aback, at times.
She wants to compete for the name on the front of her jersey, and I think that’s why you see such a level of passion out there.
UK coach Craig Skinner on Leah Edmond
“The speed is crazy. You have to be ready for anything,” Edmond said Wednesday after the Cats opened SEC play with a straight-set home win over Georgia. “I’m still adjusting, because, you know, each team runs a different offense. Some run slower. Some run faster. You have to be ready for people to dig your ball because we have such great defenses. It’s an adjustment, but I think I’m doing OK.”
The mention of her freshman teammate brought a huge smile to junior Kaz Brown’s face Wednesday night. Edmond served out the first set against Georgia with four straight points and provided the hammer spike that ended the second set.
“She’s big-time. She’s a stud. I want to be like Leah Edmond when I grow up,” Brown said. “… She’s really lucky to get to play in front of friends and family all the time, and you can tell she wants to be in this position. She likes the pressure. She likes leading the team, and she’s doing really well at it.”
That’s high praise from an All-SEC middle blocker who toured with the U.S. National Collegiate team this year.
“She’s great. She’s really competitive. She’s fiery. You can see it on the court. And we love it,” Brown said.
As always, 12th-year head coach Craig Skinner put his Cats through a tough early-season schedule. Ranked No. 23 in preseason, Kentucky (7-4, 1-0) lost its season opener to Washington State, then fell to Southern California, Northern Iowa and Marquette. But the Cats also knocked off then-No. 22 Creighton and archrival Louisville as they found their footing.
“I think after those loses, we knew our potential, so we started pushing each other to make sure that we’re always reaching that potential,” Edmond said Wednesday. Edmond led the team in kills (16) and was third on the team in digs (nine) in a convincing win over the 12-2 Bulldogs.
For Edmond, that potential seems boundless at this early stage of her collegiate career. Her personal goals before the season included starting, playing every rotation and earning freshman of the week honors. Check, check and check.
“Certainly, we expected a lot, and expected she could play at a very high level,” Skinner said Wednesday. “You never know what to expect when freshmen come in: how they handle expectations, the lights being on them. She enjoys it and thrives in it and wants to compete. She wants to compete for the name on the front of her jersey, and I think that’s why you see such a level of passion out there.”
Mississippi State at Kentucky
When: 1:30 p.m.