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Craig Skinner was visiting with his assistants earlier this week about Kentucky's run of practices leading up to the 2014 season.

There have been up and downs, to be sure, but the coaching staff could find little to complain about in the effort department.

"The coaches kind of said that we really haven't had a day where the concentration and intent to perform wasn't there, and that's fairly unusual because you go so hard for so long and a short period of time that you're bound to have some days where it's not really focused and energetic," Skinner said. "But that hasn't been the case."

If you ask Skinner or the Wildcats themselves, that has a lot to do with a cultural exchange trip to China the team took in May. For two weeks, UK toured the Far East on a journey that combined high-level volleyball, education about the nation they visited and plenty of team bonding.

"It went really well. We played professional teams over there which was even more experience," senior outside hitter Lauren O'Conner said. "It's great that we were able to get experience with the team that we had without the seniors (from the 2013 season) to get even more practice with us and to build the chemistry on the court playing together with a new lineup. So I think it helped out a lot both physically and mentally."

That's especially true on defense.

Given the experience and talent of the opponents they faced in China, the Wildcats learned quickly no points would be given to them. That resulted in some losses, including a 3-0 defeat in their final match with each set being decided after a deuce point, but also a new mentality in practice this August.

"We've talked about how this could be the best defensive team we've had here at Kentucky," Skinner said. "I think part of it is talent, but I think also that it is because all but three of the girls (true freshmen Kaz Brown, Ashley Dusek and Darian Mack) saw firsthand how hard it was to win a rally over there and that you have to work for it."

The Cats won't go up against any teams as veteran as the ones they saw in China, but UK won't get much of a reprieve to start the season or really at any point during the 2014 season. In hosting two tournaments in Memorial Coliseum to start the season, the Cats will go up against three teams that reached last year's NCAA Tournament, including Wichita State in Friday's 6:30 p.m. ET season opener and Elite Eight participant USC next week.

UK will have to do it without Whitney Billings and Alexandra Morgan, two players honored as All-Americans last season who have since graduated.

"We've had to adapt a little bit, to change our style a little bit and I think our players understand and appreciate that challenge and are certainly embracing it and we're finding new ways," Skinner said. "Now it's just putting all of it to the test when we finally play against outside competition to see if those things have worked."

Even without Billings and Morgan, it's not as if UK is devoid of experience.

The Cats return five of seven starters from last year's team, which reached the tournament for a record ninth season in a row. Leading the way will be O'Conner, senior libero Jackie Napper and setter Morgan Bergren.

"We have a core group of people on the court that are working together," Napper said. "Morgan's a junior, but she's really stepped up to be a leader, as well as other underclassmen and upperclassmen. So together, we all try to figure out what works best with this team, ways to lead others, and ways to bring others on board."

UK's roster features a mix of veterans and players who will look to contribute for the first time, with seven seniors or juniors and five freshmen. Skinner doesn't downplay the importance of experience, but he also doesn't believe it's the most important thing once the ball is served.

"I think in our case, probably the most important thing in all of our athletes is that they're talented and motivated," Skinner said. "So whether they've been here for four years or just beginning, we feel very good about the group of people that we have and now it's about getting on the court Friday and seeing what it's all about for us this year."

Video: UK Volleyball Goes To China Feature Film

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One last day in China for UK volleyball

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The Kentucky volleyball team's time in China is running short, so the Wildcats navigated a packed schedule on Tuesday.

The morning began with breakfast before UK's final match in China. Facing a Beijing team that featured former AVCA Player of the Year and Oregon outside hitter Alaina Bergsma, the Cats dropped a tough one.


Following the match and a stop for lunch, the team visited the Temple of Heaven, a complex of religious buildings originally constructed in the 15th century. From there, it was time for one last shopping trip at the Silk Market in downtown Beijing.


In the evening, the Cats gathered for a closing dinner at an Italian restaurant to recap the trip and say thank you to the hosts and guides who made it all possible. On Wednesday, it's back to America. UK's flight will leave in the afternoon and, oddly, land in Chicago around the same time.

We should have more on the trip in the coming days and weeks, but this will be the last official entry from an incredible experience for the UK volleyball team. Thank you for following along!

Before we let you go, check out this video from a couple days ago of UK's karaoke night.


Busy first day in Beijing for UK volleyball

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The Kentucky volleyball finally made its way to China's capital city on Sunday and didn't waste any time seeing the sights in Beijing.

The Wildcats toured Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City and shopped at the Silk Market in an informative day for the team. Taking advantage of the more the 1,700 retail vendors, the Cats bought plenty of keepsakes from the trip and gifts for friends and family.

Afterward, it was time for some rest because UK has a big day ahead on Monday. The Cats will tour the Great Wall and visit the Olympic Village from the 2008 games.





UK opened play in the CCLSKI Cup International Women's Volleyball tournament with a pair of defeats. Playing against professional opponents, the Wildcats would have to adjust.

Adjust they did.

It started against Hebei, the same team that downed the Cats on Tuesday, 3-1. On Friday, UK reversed that tally with a 3-1 victory. Sara Schwarzwalder and Shelby Workman led the way, with Workman tallying a team high in kills and hitting over .300.

UK sustained the momentum on Saturday. In spite of falling behind two sets to one, the Cats rallied to victory. Their coach was pleased with the way his team battled in Zhangjiakou, while the players couldn't help but notice a group of fans in attendance.







The Cats managed to sneak in some sightseeing around their matches, going for an evening hike.


UK's cultural exchange trip to China is now about to enter its final leg. The Cats will travel to Beijing for a three-day stop before they head home on June 4.



For the first week of its cultural exchange trip to China, the Kentucky volleyball team bounced between bustling big cities. Thursday was different.

The Wildcats traveled six hours through the Yin Mountains to Zhangjiakou. The city is still home to nearly a million people, but Zhangjiakou is much more remote. Once the Cats arrived and got settled, they went for a hike on which they saw parts of the Great Wall and a garden with statues of all the Chinese zodiac signs.

For dinner, the Cats spent time with the three teams they'll be competing with in Zhangjiakou. It was a chilly night, so all four squads joined together for a post-dinner bonfire that featured dancing and karaoke.






On Friday, the Cats will rematch with Hebei in front of what is expected to be a big crowd. Continue to check UKVBtoChina.com for updates.

UK volleyball spends final day in Baoding

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The Kentucky volleyball team got a firsthand look at history on Wednesday.

As the Wildcats continue their cultural exchange trip to China, they went to a small town outside of Baoding to visit a museum. The museum was entirely dedicated to the tunnel system the Chinese built to avoid Japan's invasion during the Second Sino-Japanese War, which took place before and eventually as part of World War II.

The museum even afforded the Cats the opportunity to walk through one of the tunnels for more than a half-mile. With the majority of players and coaches standing over six feet tall, they all learned the tunnel system was not built for a volleyball team.

Later on Wednesday evening, the Cats returned to more familiar surroundings for a match against Hebei, another team from the Chinese Volleyball League. In an environment similar to Tuesday's, UK fell, 3-1, in spite of playing well. Lauren O'Conner was the headliner, tallying 19 kills and 23 total points, but the experience of Hebei was too much to overcome even as Jackie Napper and Alyssa Gergins turned in solid matches.

On Thursday, more travel is in store for the team as the Cats will depart Baoding for Zhangjiakou. Continue to check in on UKVBtoChina.com for updates.




Cats drop hard-fought match on day 7 in China

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Henan2.jpg As Kentucky's cultural exchange trip to China wears on, the volleyball is getting more intense.

On Tuesday, the Wildcats took on the Henan team from the Chinese Volleyball League. The result -- a 3-1 loss -- didn't end up going their way, but the match was extremely competitive.

Lauren O'Conner and Morgan Bergren were standouts, thriving in a loud environment for the evening match. UK and Henan played on campus at a local university in Baoding in front of a loud, volleyball-savvy crowd comprised of nearly all students. Check out the two videos below to get a glimpse of the environment.





The rest of the day, the Cats took it easy, relaxing at their hotel and making a quick walk to a nearby mall in Baoding.



Cats play their best volleyball on long travel day

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IMG_2558.JPG Understandably, the Kentucky volleyball team hasn't been its sharpest on the court so far during a cultural exchange trip to China.

On Monday, the Wildcats took a big step in the right direction.

Before a lengthy afternoon of traveling, UK took on the Jiangsu Junior Team on Monday morning. Led by Kayla Tronick and Emily Franklin, the Cats found the form that has established them among the nation's elite in Craig Skinner's tenure as head coach.

"I thought my performance was good but not great," Emily Franklin wrote. "There are things I need to improve on and that will take time while adjusting to the different style of play. Overall, I felt like I did give it to my team!"

UK is adjusting to a new pregame ritual while in China that features meditation, as well as the lighter balls used there.

After the match and lunch, it was off to Baoding, a smaller city of about two million people, via bullet train and bus. In transit for the better part of the afternoon, the Cats didn't have time for much more than a short walk around a bright downtown area and dinner.

The team did, however, take time to write their thoughts about their time in China so far for a blog dedicated to their trip. Here are a few thoughts from the student-athletes themselves:

Shelby Workman

So far this China trip for me has been interesting in a good way. I have learned so much and a lot of the questions I had about China I have been able to answer myself just by observing the cities and the people around me. The sightseeing has been incredible. There is so much more in our world that we do not know about and I am enjoying the opportunity we have right now to experience it. Besides the food (which is not horrible, just different) my time in China has been a blast.

Jackie Napper

I have been surprised by the differences in our lifestyles compared to those living here. Not necessarily the lifestyles but the differences in the environment, the food, everything really. I was shocked by the way people drive idiotically through the streets and the food has been a huge challenge for me because I have not been able to eat much at all. I really enjoyed visiting the temple, but I would also like to visit other places that are interesting but not necessarily dealing with their religion.

Sara Schwarzwalder

China has been interesting so far.  I am really enjoying seeing the city and the culture.  I am disappointed in the food and wish that it were more appealing to me. However, I really am having a good time learning and observing the Chinese way of life and seeing the things that we were taught in class firsthand.  So far I have had a great time bargaining for souvenirs and trying the exotic foods! I would like to learn more about the history of the temples that we visit. I wish there was more English at the temple so that I could understand more of what I am seeing.

Team museum.jpg The itinerary for the Kentucky volleyball team's trip to China said "all day free" on Sunday, but the Wildcats hardly sat around.

It began with practice at a training center in Nanjing before a lunch the team very much enjoyed. After four days of trying authentic Chinese food, the Cats ate at a Western-style restaurant. Burgers, fries, pasta cheesecake and coffee never tasted so good.

Well fed, the team then went to a museum in Nanjing for an educational tour. In the first picture at the bottom of the post, you can see the jade suits put together gold thread in which some members of the upper class were buried.

For dinner, it was back to authentic Chinese cuisine. The Cats ate with the heads of the training center where they are staying in Nanjing and exchanged gifts. The final second photo below shows Craig Skinner giving a UK volleyball t-shirt to one of the Cats' hosts.

Monday is set to be another busy day for UK. The Cats will play a match in the morning before traveling by train from Nanjing to Beijing and then by bus to Baoding. Check back in on Monday for an update on UKVBtoChina.com.


jade.jpg Gifts.jpg

Volleyball travels inland to Nanjing

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The Kentucky volleyball team's cultural exchange trip to China continued on Saturday. The Wildcats traveled inland, making a trek of more than 180 miles by bullet train from Shanghai to Nanjing.



The team then checked into its new hotel. The Cats were impressed.
Along the way, the players got some attention from locals and met a volleyball great.
Internet issues persist, keeping the Cats from posting any thoughts of their own, but continue to check in on UKVBtoChina.com to stay updated. A big day of sightseeing is ahead of Sunday, so we hope to have plenty of good stuff to share.

Busy Friday in China for UK volleyball team

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It was another busy day in China for the Kentucky volleyball team, as the Wildcats moved to a hotel in downtown Shanghai during a packed day of activities.

Friday began with 90 minutes of study on campus at Shanghai University followed by lunch. It was then off to Shanghai Training Center to play with the Shanghai Juniors, the team the Cats beat in their first match on Thursday. Afterward, the Cats took a riverbank tour of Shanghai and saw the Chenghuang Temple, as well as the Oriental Pearl Tower.

Spotty Internet kept the Cats from posting any thoughts about the day, but they did manage to sneak a few posts out on Twitter and Instagram.





Volleyball wins match on first full day in China

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The Kentucky volleyball team spent its first full day in China on Thursday and the Wildcats have already been exposed to a brand-new world.

After a much-needed night of rest, the team met in the morning to ride a bus to a Buddhist temple in Shanghai. Touring the grounds for two-and-a-half hours, the Cats learned about the traditions of Buddhism and took plenty of pictures along the way.

Temple team.jpg

They then returned to their hotel near Shanghai University for lunch. The culinary adventures continued.
Continuing the educational portion of the trip, the team spent three hours studying at Shanghai University before dinner and the first volleyball match of the trip against Shangai Juniors. The Cats got the win in a performance that pleased head coach Craig Skinner.


First match.jpg China fans.jpg Make sure to continue checking UKVBtoChina.com for updates on the trip. On Friday, we hope to bring you some thoughts straight from one of the Wildcats.

Wheels down in China for UK volleyball

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After almost 18 hours of travel, the Kentucky volleyball team landed in China on Wednesday.

The Wildcats arrived in Shanghai around 2 p.m. local time (2 a.m. ET) and took a 90-minute bus ride to their hotel at Shanghai University. They then settled in their rooms, ate dinner at their hotel and took in some of the sights around the world's most populous city.

Still adjusting to the time change, the team was surely in need of some sleep before a busy Thursday when the Cats will study at Shanghai University and train at the school's gym. But before bedtime, they took to social media to update their followers on their first hours in China (and their culinary adventures).




Make sure to check UKVBtoChina.com regularly for updates on the trip.

A special two weeks are ahead for the Kentucky volleyball team.

Before sunrise on Monday morning, UK student-athletes and coaches began the first leg of a journey to China for a cultural exchange trip. After a long day of travel, the Wildcats will arrive in Shanghai around 2 p.m. local time on Tuesday.

From there, the team has a packed schedule, combining learning, competition and sightseeing.

The Cats will study at Shanghai University, learning about Chinese culture and sharing some of their own as well. They will also play six matches over the course of two weeks against some of the top volleyball teams in the world. And when they aren't in the classroom or on the court, the Cats will be taking in some of China's most famous landmarks, from the Great Wall to Tiananmen Square.

Traveling with the team is UK's Andrew Maske,  an art history professor who specializes in the arts of Asia. Professor Maske spent time with the team for the week leading up to the trip, teaching the team some basics about Chinese philosophy. The team also practiced tai chi and brush calligraphy to prepare to head to the Far East.

Throughout the trip, the Cats will be chronicling their experience through a series of blogs. We will be sharing them here -- as well as other social-media, photo and video content -- on Cat Scratches. We've also created a special URL -- UKVBtoChina.com -- so you can find all of the entries in one place.

To get it started, here are some tweets from right before the team departed and the week of preparation for the trip.




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  • joel alberto luna colon: I agree with you, UK has not only the talent, but some experience. They could go undefeated if they want read more
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