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Photo slideshow: UK defeats WKU in volleyball exhibition game

UK defeats WKU 3-1 in volleyball exhibition game Wednesday at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School.
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UK defeats WKU 3-1 in volleyball exhibition game Wednesday at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School.

Three takeaways from the University of Kentucky volleyball team’s 3-1 victory over Western Kentucky in an exhibition at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School on Wednesday night.

1. The match helped a worthy cause.

Though admission was free, approximately $3,000 in donations were received to benefit the Bone Marrow and Cancer Foundation. Former Western Kentucky star Alyssa Cavanaugh, who nearly led the Hilltoppers to a win over UK in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, is battling Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

“Being able to do something like this for someone like Alyssa, that stuff is way bigger than what we do as coaches and players,” said UK coach Craig Skinner afterward. “Just glad we could be a small part of it.”

Both teams wore orange warm-up shirts, the color of the Bone Marrow and Cancer Foundation, before changing into their regular uniforms.

The match was also a homecoming for Leah Edmond. UK’s senior star played her high school volleyball at Dunbar.

“When I walked in here I was like, ‘Oh My God,’” she said. “I haven’t been here in so long. Playing here was really fun.”

Also, Dunbar Coach Jennifer Morgan played her college volleyball at Western Kentucky. And with Memorial Coliseum in use and WKU only able to travel to Lexington this week for the two teams’ annual preseason match, Dunbar made for a perfect setting.

Kentucky volleyball star Leah Edmond talks about coming back to Dunbar High School, her alma mater, for UK’s exhibition match against Western Kentucky on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019. The Wildcats open the season Aug. 30 in Utah.

2. A grad transfer from Duke will play a key role.

Coming off back-to-back SEC titles, and ranked No. 7 in the AVCA preseason rankings, Kentucky returns such stars as Edmond, Madison Lilley and Gabby Curry, the latter two of whom played on the U.S. Pan Am team this summer. But a graduate transfer from the Duke Blue Devils could also play a major role.

Leah Meyer, a 6-foot-3 middle blocker from Buffalo, New York, joined the team for 2019-20. Judging by Wednesday’s match, which UK won 3-1, the two-time first-team All-ACC selection will be an important piece in Skinner’s puzzle.

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“Just a level of IQ of the game that you can’t teach a freshman or someone who is new to this level of volleyball,” Skinner said afterward. “She’s played in high-level matchups before in a great conference. And she’s calm. Nothing really rattles her a whole lot.”

“She’s kind of the grandma of the group off the court, which is kind of cool,” said Lilley. “Obviously she hits the slide attack really well which is awesome and we really take a lot of pride in that.”

Kentucky junior Madison Lilley talks to the media after her team’s exhibition match against Western Kentucky at Dunbar High School on Aug. 21, 2019. Ranked No. 7 in the preseason, UK opens the season Aug. 30 in Utah.

3. Kentucky doesn’t want a repeat of last year’s slow start.

Just like last year, the Cats are ranked preseason Top 10. But the Cats don’t want to start the season like last year when they dropped three straight matches at the USC Tournament in Los Angeles.

“Hopefully we can start a little better than we did last year,” said Skinner after his team won 25-14, 25-21, 18-25, 25-21 Wednesday night. “That will be the first goal.”

The Cats open their 2019 schedule Aug. 30 against Cal Poly in the Utah Tournament in Salt Lake City.

Coach Craig Skinner discusses UK volleyball's exhibition with Western Kentucky at Dunbar High School, UK senior Leah Edmond’s alma mater. Donations benefited the Bone Marrow and Cancer Foundation. Ex-WKU star Alyssa Cavanaugh is battling cancer.

“I think we’re very talented. We have a lot of people who can play a lot of different positions,” Skinner said. “If we can continue the theme of kids getting individually better, then we can focus on the right things. Results don’t really matter at this point and time, it’s how we play the game because we did not play the game really well the first part of the season last year.”

Skinner’s club recovered, of course, finishing 26-5, including a perfect 18-0 mark in the SEC. Still, what are the keys to avoid stumbling out of the gate this season?

“Good leadership, good chemistry,” said Curry. “And I think we have both of those things this year.”

Kentucky volleyball’s Gabby Curry talks about playing on the USA Pan Am team along with UK teammate Madison Lilley this summer. Ranked No. 7 in preseason, the Wildcats open the season Aug. 30 in Utah.

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John Clay is a sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A native of Central Kentucky, he covered UK football from 1987 until being named sports columnist in 2000. He has covered 20 Final Fours and 37 consecutive Kentucky Derbys.
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