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Cats playing for share of SEC volleyball title

Sometimes Kentucky's players are all business.

Sometimes they're light and airy jokesters.

Volleyball coach Craig Skinner is never sure which team he's going to get at which practice.

But there's one thing Skinner does know.

"They just always seem to know when it's time to go, when it's time to step in between the lines and make things happen," he said.

The Kentucky coach hopes that trend continues Wednesday when No. 16 UK goes to No. 15 Tennessee with a Southeastern Conference title on the line.

With a win at Tennessee (26-3, 18-1 SEC), UK can clinch a share of the Southeastern Conference championship.

For Kentucky (26-4, 17-2), it would be its first title since 1989.

The Cats also can earn the league's automatic NCAA Tournament bid, based on head-to-head tie-breakers.

Win or lose, both teams are most certainly guaranteed a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

For that reason, Skinner said the team feels little pressure.

"The pressure's over," he said. "Now it's about performing. They're in first place and we're trying to get to where they are."

If the match goes to five sets — as UK's win over the Vols did on Oct. 12 — Skinner has to like the Cats' chances. They are 6-0 in five-set matches.

Just because Kentucky's been so successful in those matches doesn't guarantee anything.

"It's stressful," he said. "You play to 15 points and it's over in 10 minutes. You prepare all season long and ... it comes down to 10 minutes of execution."

But no matter what personality his team shows up with, Skinner likes the multiple options the Cats have available.

"They kind of have a blue-collar, grind-it-out mentality and you really need that in a game five," he said. "The excitement, the pressure all adds up.

"This team seems to not get fazed by a whole lot of things."