After a cold start to the season, the University of Kentucky volleyball team is on a major hot streak.
The Cats began the year with three straight losses in the University of Southern California Tournament in Los Angeles, but since then they’ve won nine of 10 matches and risen to No. 19 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll.
On Sunday, UK knocked off Missouri 3-1 (21-25, 25-14, 25-17, 29-27) for its sixth straight victory to improve to 9-4 overall and 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference. A major factor in the Wildcats’ quick turnaround has been the play and leadership of an emerging young star who has stepped into some mighty big shoes.
For the last three seasons, UK had a rock in the middle of its defense. Ashley Dusek was named the SEC Libero of the Year in each of her final three years with the program. When she graduated after last season, it made sense to expect a drop-off at the position.
But that doesn’t appear to be the case. Gabby Curry has stepped in as the Wildcats’ starting libero and has quickly earned the confidence of her teammates and emerged as one of UK’s leaders. The sophomore from Buford, Ga., leads the Cats with 193 digs on the year and is second on the team with 49 assists.
But Curry didn’t come out of nowhere. With Dusek sidelined by an injury at the beginning of last season, Curry started at libero the first six games and helped the Cats to a 5-1 record out of the gate. She finished last year with 275 digs, second behind Dusek, and played in all 33 games. After Sunday’s win, during which she had 13 digs, five assists and two aces, Curry praised Dusek for showing her the ropes.
“There’s always pressure stepping in and filling in a jersey, especially from the three-time SEC Libero of the Year,” Curry said. “But learning from her and playing with her, there was just a calming sense. So I kind of just stepped into where she left off, and I’m not as good as her, but I hope to be and I’m going to work for it. Her impact on this program has made it really easy for me to step in and just do my job.”
UK Coach Craig Skinner said Curry’s demeanor makes her well-suited to her new role.
“She’s very calm under pressure. She thrives in it. She likes it,” Skinner said. “And she keeps everybody organized on the floor, so she’s along the same line of the liberos we’ve had at Kentucky and doing a really nice job.”
Curry was clearly humble when asked about her early success this season, but UK junior All-American Leah Edmond isn’t so sure that Curry has far to go to reach Dusek’s level.
“I didn’t even know Ashley left, it’s just like another one behind me,” Edmond said. “She’s doing really, really well. She just always keeps me smiling and happy on the court, which is something I definitely need. So it’s nice to have someone ... that’s in my corner so that I know I can do whatever I want up at the net because I know she has my back behind me.”