LEXINGTON — Southeastern Conference volleyball has improved dramatically in the nine years Craig Skinner has been the head coach at the University of Kentucky.
But the parity in the league hasn’t slowed the progress of Skinner’s Wildcats, who are hosting NCAA First and Second Rounds in Memorial Coliseum Friday and Saturday.
The 17th-ranked Wildcats (21-8) take on the Duquesne Dukes (20-9) at 7:30 p.m. Friday, following a 5 o’clock match between 20th-ranked Michigan State (21-11) and Ohio (27-5).
Friday’s winners meet Saturday at 7 p.m., with the winner of that contest moving on to NCAA Regionals Dec. 13-14, also played at the Coliseum.
“This is a record year in the SEC, with eight teams making the NCAA Tournament,” said Skinner, whose Wildcats have made this tournament in each of his nine years at Kentucky. “This was a record year for volleyball. When I got here in 2005, this conference was a skeleton of what it is now in terms of our sport.”
Skinner’s teams have made the regional (third) round of the NCAA Tournament each of the past two seasons, losing to the overall No. 1 seed in each case.
Skinner said that experience will help.
“For some players, it’s exciting just to be there,” Skinner said. “Others understand what it’s like to compete at the highest level, and give yourselves a chance to be successful.
“So I think it’s definitely advantage for our players who have been in the tournament. Does that translate to wins? I’m not sure, but at least there’s a sense of comfort.”