By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Craig Skinner is in his eighth season as the head coach of the Kentucky volleyball program and has directed the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament each year of his tenure. The 2012 edition of Skinner’s Wildcats are ranked 19th nationally and travel to the Ameritas Players Challenge in Lincoln, Neb., this weekend.
Skinner sat down with the SEC Digital Network on Wednesday to offer his thoughts on his 2012 team and a variety of other topics in this SEC Q&A.
SEC Digital Network: You’ve now seen your team compete for two weeks – what have you learned about your squad over its opening two tournaments?
Craig Skinner: “I’ve learned that we have a lot of potential and can play at a very high level, but I’ve also learned that we have to continue to work hard to get better. When you play good teams, they expose what you need to work on. That helps us put ourselves in a position to be at our best at the end of the year, which is ultimately what we want to be doing.”
SEC Digital Network: Your team has a highly competitive non-conference schedule this season. Why did you set up your schedule the way that you did and how do you think it will benefit you down the road?
Craig Skinner: “I like the returning group. I like our seniors; they are very committed and are great leaders. We want to test this team early because you don’t want to find out what you need to be focusing on in training and in practice. I felt like it was a great opportunity to have a good pre-conference schedule that would also help provide us a good RPI for the season.”
SEC Digital Network: How do you compensate for the loss of last year’s senior class, which goes down in history as one of the best classes in Kentucky history?
Craig Skinner: “That group won over 100 matches during their careers. It’s hard to fill that. For our seniors, that role is new, they’re looking at their last season and don’t want to leave anything on the court. My hope is that those juniors who are now seniors have seen what it takes to be leaders. They’ve been through ups and downs, big wins and tough losses. I hope the program is engrained enough in them that they understand how hard they have to work to be successful at the highest level.”
SEC Digital Network: What are your thoughts on the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC and how do you think that will impact SEC volleyball?
Craig Skinner: “I’m really excited. They are two great programs that I got to know well when I was in the Big 12 at Nebraska. They work really hard at what they do and, ultimately, they are two very respected programs. This will just make all of us work harder to try to continue to be successful and take the conference another step further on the national scene.”
SEC Digital Network: You ended your season last year with a hard-fought loss to top-seeded Texas in a match that could have gone either way. Does that loss motivate your team this season, or do you look at each season independent of past seasons?
Craig Skinner: “You definitely can’t teach those experiences in practice and it gave our team an idea of what it is like to compete in regionals. But you can’t rely on what happened in the past. Every team is a new group that has new pieces and new motivations. You have to fall back on what has built the program – the fundamentals and hard work – and never be satisfied. I think we were a little bit satisfied during the preseason, but we’re refocused now.”
SEC Digital Network: You face a tough test this weekend when you travel to Lincoln, Neb., to face Duquesne, Nebraska and Oklahoma. What are your expectations for this weekend’s matches?
Craig Skinner: “I expect us to compete to win every match. We scheduled who we did because we felt like we had a chance to beat those teams. We want to be competing at the end of the season for an SEC Championship and to go deep in the NCAA Tournament. This weekend will help prepare us for that.”