By LARRY VAUGHT
As she watched the Kentucky volleyball team last year, Lauren Tharp just kept thinking about what it would be like when she was part of the team.
“Last season was really exciting, especially in the NCAA Tournament seeing how far they went (to the Elite Eight). I just loved the team’s dynamic. I couldn’t wait to be part of it,” said Tharp, a freshman defensive specialist from Louisville Mercy.
She’s part of another strong recruiting class for coach Craig Skinner. Kentucky was picked to win the Southeastern Conference and is ranked No. 5 nationally going into the season.
“They’re all very talented and ready to play,” Skinner said Wednesday during UK’s Media Day. “I think they’re probably even more athletic and more ready than we thought, as coaches. They are certainly going to be as impactful as a lot of (recruiting) classes we’ve had in the past.”
Joining Tharp are 6-1 outside hitter All Stumler of Floyd Knobs, Ind.; 6-3 middle blocker Gabby Goddard of Lexington, Mass.; and 5-9 setter Cameron Scheitzach of Orlando.
Skinner sees a huge upside in each freshman.
“Gabby is an extremely long, tall athlete who is still very green to the game,” Skinner said. “(She’s) one of the quickest learners that we’ve had in the program. She’s going to be an extremely dynamic blocker and physical presence in the middle for us.”
The Kentucky coach believes Tharp will be another one of the talented defensive specialists he’s coached at Kentucky.
“Lauren is from the long line of defensive specialists that we’ve had from Louisville that are just ready to play,” Skinner said. “She’s played for a long time, she’s played on a high school team that’s won a state championship, played on high level club teams. Very instinctual, athletic, gritty, tough libero from Louisville. She steps right in and feels very comfortable in this pace of game.”
Skinner met Scheitzach when she came to a UK volleyball camp. She figures to back up preseason all-SEC pick Madison Lilley.
“Cam is a very talented setter that really came to us at our camp and showed us what she’s capable of,” Skinner said. “She’s a great competitor and teammate and a really talented player. She’s athletic, selfless, hard-working and competitive.”
Stumler, a second-team high school All-American, could be a rare talent for Kentucky.
“Alli is one of the most polished players in the outside hitting position that we’ve recruited in a long time,” Skinner said. “She can execute all skills at her position at a high level. It’s rare to see someone as a freshman who can do that at such a high level.”