By TIM LETCHER, UK Athletics
LEXINGTON — For the first time since 2014, the Kentucky volleyball team is preparing to take an international trip during the summer. The Wildcats will depart Lexington on May 24, embarking on a two-week trip to Brazil, where the team will be able to not only play against international competition, but will also be able to experience many of the sights and much of the culture that Brazil has to offer.
Kentucky head coach Craig Skinner, who took his team to China during the summer of 2014 and Europe in 2009, is looking forward to being with his entire team in an international setting.
“This year is pretty unique because our whole 2019 team will be able to make the trip with us, incoming freshmen and Leah Meyer coming in (as a graduate transfer) from Duke,” Skinner said. “The fact that we get two extra weeks together as a group helps us to learn about each other and it creates an opportunity for us to play more volleyball, but more importantly, helps us become a team and not just a group of people.”
The team will make stops in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Saquerema and Arrial do Cabo during the 10-day trip, playing five matches along the way. The matches are scheduled for May 26, May 27, May 29, May 30 and either May 31 or June 1. Those dates are subject to change, which is something that does not bother Skinner.
“I think when you do something like this, you want some unpredictability,” Skinner said. “You want to find out how people handle situations that aren’t necessarily in their daily lives and get them out of their comfort zones, and China did that, without really trying too hard. Brazil will somewhat do that as well because it’s so unique to what we know here. If you try too hard to plan every detail out, you’re going to miss some of the value of a trip like this.”
Defending SEC Player of the Year Leah Edmond thinks the trip to Brazil will give the Cats an advantage in the fall.
“I think it’s just a really good opportunity because the whole team gets to be together,” Edmond said. “And so we’re already ahead going into the preseason, we’ve already played together. It makes preseason that much easier for us.”
Edmond, who is likely to break a number of UK records during her upcoming senior season, is also looking forward to the historical sites that Brazil has to offer.
“I’m so excited to see (Brazil’s famous statue of) Christ the Redeemer,” Edmond said. “I’m a big history person, so seeing different historical sites and knowing the history of cities and towns is really exciting to me.”
Setter Madison Lilley, who has been named a second-team All-American in each of her first two seasons in Lexington, hopes that she and her teammates can learn from how international teams play.
“As far as volleyball goes, the offenses overseas are so fast and the defense is really scrappy,” Lilley said. “Being able to bring that back will make us fun to watch.”
Lilley also echoes the sentiments of Edmond, knowing that the Cats are getting a head start on the competition for the 2019 season.
“We kind of have a jump start three months ahead of preseason, and it’s something a lot of teams don’t get to do,” Lilley said. “We’re definitely taking advantage of it.”
Meyer joined the Wildcats earlier this week, and after spending just a few days in Lexington, is now preparing to travel internationally.
“I don’t think it’s hit me yet that we’re going to be out of the country in a couple of days,” Meyer said. “It’s a great experience and I’m super grateful that I was able to come in an be able to experience it with everybody.”
Meyer knows that this trip will be especially important for her as she gets to know her new teammates.
“Coming in, not knowing anyone is kind of nerve-wracking,” Meyer said. “But I think being able to travel somewhere as a group and experience something new together is an area of growth that a lot of other teams might not be able to experience. I think that’s something we can take and use to our advantage.”
The Cats are looking forward to seeing the sights and learning the culture of Brazil. And the fact that this trip will give the team a leg up on the competition in the fall is an added bonus.