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Coaches pick Kentucky to win SEC volleyball title. Cats dominate all-league team.

Kentucky's McKenzie Watson celebrated with Leah Edmond after they defeated Western Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Memorial Coliseum last December.
Kentucky's McKenzie Watson celebrated with Leah Edmond after they defeated Western Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Memorial Coliseum last December.

The University of Kentucky volleyball team had one of its finest seasons ever in 2017.

The Wildcats were co-champions of the Southeastern Conference, received their highest-ever seeding in the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the Elite Eight.

Could this season be even better?

The SEC's coaches gave Kentucky a huge vote of confidence Thursday, voting the Wildcats the preseason favorite to win the league in 2018 and naming a conference-best three players to the preseason All-SEC Team.

UK, coached by Craig Skinner, received eight of 13 first-place votes to finish on top of the preseason coaches' poll with Florida receiving the remainder of the votes.

All-American Leah Edmond, a Paul Laurence Dunbar High School graduate who earned All-SEC postseason honors her first two seasons at Kentucky, was joined on the nine-member 2018 preseason team by sophomore teammates Madison Lilley and Avery Skinner, both earning their first all-league accolades.

Kentucky finished 29-4 overall and 16-2 in the SEC last season, ending up as co-league champions with Florida. The Cats were awarded a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament but fell to Nebraska in a heart-breaking Elite Eight loss in Memorial Coliseum.

This year's team garners higher expectations. The first-place SEC vote and a roster that includes some of the nation's leaders in assists and kills signals the possibility of the program's first-ever Final Four appearance.

The 6-foot-2 Edmond's 539 kills last year broke the single-season school record for the 25-point scoring era. Her 4.53 kills per set ranked No. 14 in the nation, and she had 20 or more kills in a match 11 times. She was named to the All-America and All-SEC First Teams.

Leah Edmond, left and Madison Lilley, right, laughed during last year's UK volleyball media day in Memorial Coliseum. Both were named Thursday to the 2018 preseason All-SEC Team. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

Lilley, a 5-11 setter, was named SEC Freshman of the Year last season after averaging 12.14 assists per set — good for third in the nation.

Skinner, a 6-1 outside hitter, was named to the SEC's All-Freshman Team last year after she slammed home 3.28 kills per set.

The Wildcats open the 2018 season with an exhibition match at Western Kentucky, a rematch of the teams' NCAA Tournament second-round meeting last season.

UK will open the regular season at the Southern California Tournament in Los Angeles, where it will face Creighton, USC and Northern Iowa Aug. 24-25. Kentucky was ranked No. 6, USC No. 7 and Creighton No. 16 in the final coaches' poll from last season, and Northern Iowa was among teams receiving votes.

Kentucky's first home matches will take place Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 in Memorial Coliseum, when the Wildcats host the College of Charleston, Dayton and Kansas in the Bluegrass Battle.

Preseason coaches' poll

(First-place votes in parentheses)

1. Kentucky (8), 140

2. Florida (5), 137

3. Missouri, 116

4. Georgia, 105

4. LSU, 105

6. Auburn, 78

7. Arkansas, 71

8. Texas A&M, 65

9. South Carolina, 62

10. Tennessee, 54

11. Mississippi, 40

12. Alabama, 29

13. Mississippi State, 12

Preseason All-SEC Team

Rachael Kramer, Florida

T'ara Ceasar, Georgia

Leah Edmond, Kentucky

Madison Lilley, Kentucky

Avery Skinner, Kentucky

Taylor Bannister, LSU

Alyssa Munlyn, Missouri

Mikayla Shields, South Carolina

Hollann Hans, Texas A&M