When Leah Edmond arrived at University of Kentucky, she had some pretty lofty goals for her first season with UK volleyball.
She accomplished all of them.
Starter? Check. All-Southeastern Conference Freshman Team? Check. All-SEC Team? Check. SEC Freshman of the Year? Check. All-American? Check.
“I just can’t get over it,” she said. “I just can’t believe how my freshman year went. I never would have expected it. I just wanted to come in here and play. I didn’t think all that would happen.”
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As amazing as those accomplishments are, Edmond knows she still has much to do to improve her play and help No. 14 Kentucky achieve its championship goals. And the Cats have added another top-ranked recruiting class toward that end.
“I’ve got big expectations,” she said. “We were really close to the SEC championships last season. I know that’s something that we’re all really wanting to have this year.”
Her recent experience playing for Team USA in the U20 World Championships showed her that there’s another level she can achieve.
“Going to play from college to international is the craziest thing ever,” she said. “I was like, ‘OK, these girls are my age. It won’t be that bad.’ (But) it’s just a completely different world. Everybody’s just so consistent and the players are just so good. Serving, things like that, you’ve got to really focus on the little things.”
UK Coach Craig Skinner has noticed a difference since Edmond has returned this summer.
“She’s obviously a very competitive person, and, you know, sophomore year is tough,” said Skinner, who is in his 13th season at Kentucky. “She’s going to have to be diligent about her preparation in practice. She’s never shied away from any of her competitive challenges, so I expect the same.”
Edmond arrived at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in April of her freshman year. It didn’t take long for word to reach Dunbar volleyball coach Jennifer Morgan.
“‘Have you seen the new transfer that we have in the building? You need to go find her. She’s got to play volleyball,’” Morgan remembered another teacher telling her.
Edmond’s father, Corey, had just been hired as part of UK football’s staff. Morgan pulled her out of her algebra I class and was impressed immediately.
“Normally, you never know what you’re going to get when they say somebody has transferred in. We were very pleased,” Morgan said. “She was a great personality, and very open and fun to get to know.”
Having played club volleyball before her move, Edmond’s athletic ability jumped out, as did her height, 6-2. But she was raw as a player, Morgan said. Her previous coaches asked her only to do the thing she did best: jump up and kill the ball. It was at Dunbar and later Lexington United where she developed the desire to become an all-around player.
“She’s a sponge. … She is a perfectionist and wanted to do everything right, so she was always eager to find out and learn more,” Morgan said. “If she wasn’t working back row, she was working as hard as she could to play back row, because she didn’t want to come off the court. She wanted to be the leader on the court physically, and then as well as a mental leader.”
Inside track at UK
Edmond’s father was part of Big Blue Nation, but it was a mention from Skinner’s wife, Megan, that got Leah on UK’s recruiting radar. The Skinner children, of course, played volleyball and had attended a Dunbar camp, Craig Skinner said. Morgan and Megan Skinner became friends, and the new kid at Dunbar soon became a topic of conversation.
“I went and watched a practice and obviously liked the athleticism, and then I think (she) came to camp that next summer and just played hard and had a great time,” Craig Skinner said. “We knew then she would be someone we’d want to recruit.”
It didn’t take much to convince her that UK was the place for her.
“My first visit here, seeing everything, I just knew I wanted to come here,” she said. “Even just walking around with them in the facility and talking with them it just felt like home. They were straightforward, to the point, told me what they want, what they see in me and just offered me on the spot, and it just resonated with me. And I also took like five more visits after that because I couldn’t get enough.”
She made up her mind before a national club competition that summer, when she hit every college’s radar.
“I played one good game at nationals, and after that, it was just ridiculous,” she said.
More offers from bigger volleyball power schools came, but she committed to the Cats a month later.
Edmond enjoys being part of Big Blue Nation, but she also cherishes her time at Dunbar and has visited her old high school team a number of times.
“It’s still very prevalent, even going into my second year, people are still finding out that I’m from Lexington,” Edmond said. “So it’s fun when I’m walking in the mall or something people say, ‘Hey, didn’t you go to Dunbar?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah!’ So, it’s really nice. I like being from here and playing in front of all my friends and family. It’s still amazing.”
Dunbar also likes having Edmond close.
“She’s the first Lexington player that has ever been recruited (for volleyball) and played at UK, and to watch her come in the gym (at Dunbar), it’s like all eyes are on her,” Morgan said. “Not only is she a great volleyball player that’s known across the nation now; she’s also a very well-rounded role model for a lot of these girls.”
Arkansas State at Kentucky
When: 11 a.m. Friday (WatchESPN)
Utah at Kentucky
When: 9 p.m. Friday
Cincinnati at Kentucky
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Note: All three matches will stream live on WatchESPN