BY LARRY VAUGHT
Just when coach Craig Skinner thought the Kentucky volleyball team couldn’t do anything else to surprise him, it did. The team finished the first semester with a 3.62 grade-point average, the highest of any of the 20 athletic teams at Kentucky.
High grade-point averages are not new for the volleyball team. Skinner says his team typically has between a 3.3 and 3.4 GPA and once got to 3.6.
“I was really excited to be the best in the (athletics) department. That was the first time that has happened,” Skinner said. “It’s not something you sit down and shoot for, but it’s a huge honor. You certainly don’t recruit kids based on GPA. You recruit based on character, work ethic. You do want to see that they care what their career will be about after volleyball.”
The team had terrific competition for playing time this season because of the depth of talent Skinner amassed. He doesn’t think that competition carries over to academics.
“I don’t think they know what each other gets grade-wise,” Skinner said. “We don’t encourage them to compete against each other in the classroom. We just encourage them about how to be better each semester.”
Skinner knows he’s a bit spoiled by having four or five athletes per semester have perfect 4.0 grade-point averages. He does use that as a recruiting advantage. He makes sure that academic advisor Amy Craiglow meets recruits and their families on campus visits. The team GPA is an “important” piece of the recruiting process.
“I am just so proud of what our team did academically,” Skinner said. “It says so much about our program and the way we try to do things. Sure, we want to win and win a national championship. But we also want to prepare our players for careers after they leave us and this shows we are doing that.”
Skinner was not surprised Nebraska, the team that beat UK in the Eight Eight, won the national title over Florida, the team UK shared the SEC championship with this year.
“I felt Nebraska was the best in the regionals and they really took Florida out of what they wanted to do,” Skinner said. “I felt we could compete with any team in the country, and we showed that.”
His team starts offseason workouts next week and returns a solid nucleus for next year.
“We got a lot of talent and competitive kids back and great pieces coming in,” Skinner said. “Getting the pieces to match up and what type system want to run so you start playing your best at the end of November is what we have to figure out.”