As we turn our attention to our VolleyballMag.com All-American teams and top honors, first a quick look back and some closing thoughts on a most interesting and different NCAA Division I volleyball season.
After Kentucky’s NCAA-championship victory Saturday night in a match with Texas that was as well played and high level as the college game can offer, I asked UK coach Craig Skinner what it might mean. Considering the stage and a national audience on ESPN 2, it seemed like it could have been truly showcase for the sport.
“I hope it blows the roof off,” Skinner said.
“This game is an unbelievable game. There are more girls playing high school volleyball than any other team sport in the country. There is more interest, it’s such a marketable sport.
“There is a market to take it to whole ‘nother level. (Kentucky athletic director) Mitch Barnhart thought I was crazy 10 years ago when I said I truly believe we can generate revenue. And I just hope our fans buy into this program, I hope fans buy into Texas’s program, I hope fans buy into every program that we play against, because this sport is about ready to combust into the stratosphere.”
Let’s hope he’s right.
There are many things that can be done in so many areas, but that’s another story for another day.
The night before the NCAA Tournament began I interviewed Paul Sunderland in this space.
Among the things he said that evening, including scolding me on how to say libero, was this about Kentucky, and in particular Alli Stumler:
“I had Kentucky earlier this year and I’ve liked them for a couple of years. They’ve had some disappointments when the expectations were pretty high. And I think the Skinners — their head coach included — are really good. Very talented and more athletic than they have been in the past, and Alli Stumler reminds me a lot of Jordan Larson. And I hesitate to make that kind of comparison, but I think she’s that good an all-around player.
“Does she have that kind of upside? Who knows? Jordan’s become one of the best players in the history of USA Volleyball. But Stumler is really, really good. Really good.”
Well, she’s not an Olympian yet, but the 6-foot-1 Kentucky junior outside from Floyds Knobs, Indiana, led the Wildcats with a tremendous peformance Saturday, finishing with 26 kills — including the match-winner — with just two errors in 51 attacks to hit .471. And she had two aces, a solo block, and five digs.
For that matter, here’s what Stumler did in the other matches Kentucky won in the tournament. In a sweep of UNLV she had 10 kills and hit .471. In a sweep of Western Kentucky, she led with 17 kills and hit .483. In a sweep of Purdue, Stumler had 16 kills and hit .300. And then in the four-set victory over Washington in the round of eight, she had 13 kills, hit .344, and had an assist, an solo block, and 13 digs.
Yes, Paul, evidently she’s that good.
As great as Stumler was against Texas, what Logan Eggleston did this season should not get lost in the shuffle.
Against Kentucky, she had 21 kills with one error in 50 swings to hit .400 and had two blocks and three digs. In 101 sets played this season, Eggleston, the 6-2 junior from Brentwood, Tennessse, had 468 kills, which put her third in the nation (4.63/set) and 48 aces, which led the nation.
By comparison, Stumler played in just 83 sets and had 364 kills (4.39/set) and had 20 aces.
Let’s hope they play against each other again next season and don’t be surprised to see them become teammates on the professional and national levels at some point.
Speaking of Eggleston, she was composed but focused in the postmatch Zoom.
And she said this:
“We’re winning next year. That’s how we’re all feeling,” Eggleston said.
“It leaves a bad taste in your mouth. You never want to end the season on a loss. We have a lot to be proud of but we’re coming back stronger next year. There’s a lot of blood boiling and we’re ready to go.”
This is for all of us who know that Kansas City barbecue is the best. Sorry Texas, sorry North Carolina, and anyone else.
KC BBQ rules.
And now KC-area volleyball does, too, because it has now been represented in four of the last five NCAA championships.
That’s because when Stanford won it all in 2016, 2018, and 2019, the Cardinal had Jenna Gray and Audrianna Fitzmorris, teammates at St. James Academy in suburban Lenexa, Kansas, and later Invasion.
Kentucky senior setter Madison Lilley went to Blue Valley West in another Kansas suburb, Overland Park, and played for KC Power. They didn’t play against each much in club, Lilley said, but a lot in high school.
“It’s really cool to follow their careers and they kind of put KC on the map,” Lilley said the day before the championship match.
Gray, also a setter, was a VolleyballMag.com first-teamer in 2019. It’s a pretty safe bet to say that Lilley will be one this year when our teams are announced Tuesday.
Finally, on a personal note, this has been one hell of a spring.
Normally, the fall is our busiest time of year with NCAA women’s volleyball. This year, it was in the spring, the same time as NCAA men and NCAA beach, and the start of pro beach volleyball.
But it’s been fun and what’s really cool is that we’ve had record page views on VolleyballMag.com in 2021, and so many of you have become Sustaining Members. So, on behalf of Ed Chan and our many talented freelancers, thank you.