‘It’s just numbing’: UK women volleyball team makes history with first-ever national championship

The Wildcats beat Texas in four sets to capture the crown.

OMAHA, Neb. — Kentucky outside hitter Alli Stumler knew it when she woke up on Saturday morning. She walked down the hallway and saw her head coach in Craig Skinner.

“Craig, are you ready to win a natty,” Stumler said she asked her head coach. “And he’s like, ‘Oh yeah.’ The moment we woke up, it was, “We’re going to win this thing.”

The Wildcats delivered, beating Texas in four sets on Saturday night to capture their first national championship in volleyball. UK won three straight sets after dropping the first one. It was just the second set Kentucky lost during a dominant tournament run. 

“People are right: You can’t put it into words,” UK head coach Craig Skinner told ESPN in a post-match interview. “Our team was so freaking confident all day long.”

“We didn’t need inspiration tonight,” Madison Lilley, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, told ESPN. “We didn’t need motivation. We knew what we were here to do. We were on a mission. Kentucky volleyball is all about dreaming big. We woke up this morning and we were playing like national champions.”

Stumler gave her team and Wildcat fans a performance to remember. The Floyds Knobs, Ind. native led all players with 26 kills. The junior made the NCAA All-Tournament Team with Lilley and Avery Skinner. 

“The moment we stepped in Omaha off of the plane, it was, ‘We’re going to win this thing,'” Stumler said. “And there was never a doubt that any team was better than us, that could play harder than us, have more grit and determination. We just knew that we had it and if we could play like Kentucky volleyball, then we were going to win it all.”

“If you want to call it manifestation, you can call it that,” Lilley said of her team’s confidence to go win it all. “If you want to call it drive and not taking no for an answer, that’s what I like to call it. But just the grind, hours, work ethic, vision and motivation to get where we are right now is something that should not be overlooked.”

UK finished off a memorable season at 24-1. Skinner has led the Wildcats to the Southeastern Conference’s first volleyball national title after guiding his program to 16 straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

“It’s going to take me a few days to debrief on this,” Skinner said. “It’s just numbing. It’s just so hard to do this. I don’t know if this was the hardest, but it’s got to be in the top couple in a time like this. I’m just amazingly proud to live a dream right now.”

The team will be returning to Lexington on Sunday around 2:15 p.m. It’s then going to Memorial Coliseum for a welcome home party at 2:30 p.m. The doors will open at 2 p.m. and admission is free. 

►Make it easy to keep up-to-date with more stories like this. Download the WHAS11 News app now. For Apple or Android users.