By LARRY VAUGHT
It’s been remarkable the way that coach Craig Skinner has elevated Kentucky volleyball into a national program that has won three straight Southeastern Conference titles and is a regular NCAA Tournament participant now. The Cats even have the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class joining the program this fall.
Skinner has led UK to 15 consecutive NCAA Tournaments — a feat only nine other schools in the nation can match. Kentucky has won 17 or more matches in all 15 seasons under Skinner, including 20 or more wins in 11 of the last 13 seasons. He is UK’s all-time winningest coach with a 353-125 overall record. Not bad for a guy who was working at a country club in Myrtle Beach in 1994 when he got offered his first volleyball coaching job.
But what kind of athletic background does Skinner have that make him such a successful coach/recruiter?
During a Zoom call with media members, Skinner noted that growing up his favorite sport was whichever one he was playing at the time. He said he played baseball, football, basketball, flag football and soccer.
“I would run around the neighborhood, riding bikes, playing kick the can, shooting basketball on a backyard court. We moved (from Muncie, Ind.) to Wales as a kid, so I played rugby and cricket,” Skinner said. “Whatever it was at the time, I just loved playing and being around people. I loved going to the playground and picking teams and playing until my mom yelled down the street it was time to come home. I just wanted to play and didn’t care what sport it was.”
He was 14 years old and back in Muncie when the Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis.
“I could also tell you all the basketball players there at Ball State,” Skinner said. “I was a huge Michigan fan. It was fun going to see the Harlem Globetrotters.”
Skinner “loved” football and got to take a recruiting visit to Michigan when the Wolverines were hosting Ohio State.
“I was a punter and Tom Tupa of Ohio State was launching balls. I knew then he was on a different level than I was, so that ended that dream,” Skinner said.
Instead, he stayed home and played volleyball at Ball State and now is one of the nation’s best volleyball coaches — something he never really imagined would happen.
“Outside of kickball and recess, my favorite class in school was maybe math,” Skinner said. “So I never really was counting on anything like the career I’ve had.”