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Cats learn lessons on, off court against Western Kentucky

Kentucky and Western Kentucky players posed together before Wednesday’s match. (UK Athletics Photo)

By TIM LETCHER, UK Athletics

 As the head volleyball coach at Kentucky, Craig Skinner is a teacher. Every day, he teaches his players how to be better at the game that brought them to Lexington.

But there’s another part of teaching that Skinner also does. That’s teaching his young women to be better people and contributors to their community.

Skinner had another opportunity to teach such a life lesson on Wednesday, when his Cats scrimmaged Western Kentucky at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington. The match not only served as a chance for the Wildcats to face outside competition. It also raised money for a cause that’s especially close to the WKU program.

Shortly after her playing days ended, former WKU standout Alyssa Cavanaugh was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) and continues to battle the condition today. Wednesday’s match was played with Cavanaugh in mind and the money raised via donations at the match will be donated to the Bone Marrow and Cancer Foundation. Early reports were that more than $3,000 was raised at Wednesday’s match, which Cavanaugh was able to attend.

Skinner saw Wednesday’s match as a perfect opportunity to teach a life lesson to his team, while doing some good in the process.

“Being able to do something like this for someone like Alyssa, that stuff is way bigger than what we do as coaches and players,” Skinner said. “I was glad we could be a small part of it.”

Several Cats who were members of the 2017 UK team remember Cavanaugh very well. As a senior, Cavanaugh led the 31-3 Hilltoppers into Memorial Coliseum for a second-round NCAA Tournament match against the fourth-seeded Wildcats. Cavanaugh dominated the first two sets of the intrastate showdown, notching 14 of her match-high 23 kills within the first two sets as WKU raced to a 2-0 lead. Kentucky would eventually win the match in five sets, but the UK players definitely remember how dominant Cavanaugh was in the first two sets on that Saturday night.

“She was incredible, we could not stop her,” said UK senior Leah Edmond. “She was doing everything. It was incredible to watch her play.”

Now, they know that Cavanaugh is in another battle, and the Cats are supporting her as she fights.

“We’re really proud of her and we know she’s going to keep fighting,” said UK setter Madison Lilley. “We’re really happy that we could do an event tonight to do what we could for her.”

As for Wednesday’s exhibition, the Cats won 3-1, but this night was more about the cause than the match.

“Alyssa is such an elite competitor and person,” Skinner said. “As hard as she’s fighting, this is just a small thing we can do to maybe help her along the way and maybe give back to someone else who is fighting these battles. Our players learn that it’s way more than a game. Hopefully, we can send a small help of motivation to people who are struggling, like Alyssa, she’s one heck of a fighter, it was great to see her tonight.”

Wednesday night served that dual purpose for the Cats, teaching lessons both on and off the court and supporting a great cause.

 

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