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Talented freshman class making impact for UK volleyball; Cats defeat Tennessee twice in SEC play

By Tim Letcher
University of Kentucky

The University of Kentucky volleyball freshman class came to Lexington with a lot of hype. Listed as the number one recruiting class in the country by PrepVolleyball, the group is hoping to live up to those high expectations right away.

The group is led by Madi Skinner, a 6-foot-2 outside hitter from Katy, Texas, who was the number two-ranked player in the country. Skinner, the sister of UK senior Avery Skinner, has enjoyed being on the same team with her big sister again.

UK freshman Madi Skinner (2) attempts an attack against Tennessee in the season opener. (UK photo)

“It has been great, both on and off the court,” Madi Skinner said. “It’s nice to know that, as a freshman, you’re going to have your ups and downs in practice, it’s nice to have her there as a support system. That’s been great.”

As for her game, the younger Skinner can do a lot of things on the court.

“I think the biggest thing would be versatility,” Skinner said. “I started my volleyball career as a middle blocker. About two seasons later, they switched me to the outside and I’ve also spent some time playing opposite. It’s nice to know that if I’m needed to step in and fill a role, I’ll be prepared have a background in those areas.”

She played in one set against Tennessee in the season opener, registering three kills in her first UK game action.

Among the other freshmen, versatile Reagan Rutherford from Missouri City, Texas, has already made an impact. Rutherford, who can play setter but has been a hitter so far for UK this season, is still working on the pace of the collegiate game.

“College is must faster paced than high school,” Rutherford said. “The seniors are really helping us freshmen out. The difference between high school and college would be the faster pace of game, faster offense, defending the offense.”

Rutherford, who was the No. 10 recruit in the country last season, hopes to set for the Cats one day, and she really looks up to UK senior setter Madison Lilley.

“I have learned a lot from her, she’s been my idol for a while now,” Rutherford said. “Seeing her in practice and getting the first-hand experience. One of the things I’ve learned from her is that you have to be aggressive and all out for every ball.”

Rutherford had 16 kills for the Cats in two matches against Tennessee opening weekend. And while she has plenty of game, Rutherford thinks that UK fans will enjoy watching another freshman on the team.

“I feel like the fans will enjoy watching Madi Skinner,” Rutherford said. “She’s a big player, has a big offense, big range, all out defense, fun to watch.”

UK freshman Reagan Rutherford can play setter, but she has been used as a hitter this season. (UK photo)

Another freshman who has already made an impact is Elise Goetzinger, who had 14 kills in the two matches against Tennessee. Goetzinger, a 6-4 middle blocker from Blue Mounds, Wisconsin, was the No. 27 recruit in the country last year.

Goetzinger played so well in the Friday opener that she earned the start in Saturday’s second match against the Lady Vols. Goetzinger was active and had six block assists to her credit against Tennessee in that match.

Riah Walker, a defensive specialist from Sarasota, Florida, also saw action in both matches against Tennessee. She made the most of her time, coming up with a key dig late in the second match against the Lady Vols.

Walker already has the attention of Madi Skinner, who wasn’t sure what the Florida native would bring to the UK team.

“I didn’t watch her a lot in club (volleyball) so I didn’t know what to expect,” Madi Skinner said of Walker. “She’s played a huge role in defense and serve receive, stepping in and filling those positions and she’s made a lot of great plays.”

Sophie Fischer, a 6-5 outside hitter from Fort Mill, South Carolina, was the 15th-best player in the country in her senior class. She did not see any action against Tennessee, but figures to make an impact for the Cats at some point.

Although not a part of this recruiting class, redshirt freshman Bella Bell is another player who could make an impact. The Blythewood, South Carolina, native saw action in the second match against Tennessee, registering a block assist in her one set of action.

This talented group is already making its presence felt in Lexington and in the Southeastern Conference. There’s sure to be much more of that to come in the future for this class.

UK’s Elise Goetzinger recorded 14 kills in two matches against Tennessee. (UK photo)

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