Colleges started recruiting her to play soccer when she was only a high school freshman before a couple of years later she started to get offers in track because her times were so fast.
“I was basically picking colleges that were going to let me do both sports,” said Kentucky junior Abby Steiner. “A lot of schools did not have an issue with me doing both.
“I played soccer for 15 years and the one I have done the longest but my senior year of track I was running really well,” Steiner said. “After my senior year, it built my confidence with track and I saw my potential with that. I knew I would regret not doing track in college.”
She was right. Steiner committed to UK in 2015, the fall of her sophomore year, as a dual-sport athlete and set two Ohio championship meet records her senior year. She did both sports at the University of Kentucky her freshman season and did reasonably well in soccer. She started every game and played almost every minute. However, playing soccer and going straight to track was a “lot for a body to take.”
The move paid off with All-American honors during the indoor season as a freshman and sophomore with some special times. She set a UK record in the 200-meter dash of 22.57 seconds at the SEC Indoors Championship — the world’s fastest time her sophomore year.
However, this year she’s been on fire. She won the 200-meter dash in a collegiate record time of 22.38 seconds at the NCAA Indoor Championships. It was the second fastest indoors time in U.S. history being only a 22.33 by Olympian Gwen Torrence and tied for fifth fastest in world history. She had turned in a 22.52 earlier this season and also seen a new personal best in the 60-meter dash of 7.21 seconds, the nation’s sixth best time this year.
Steiner had set goals for herself in September and posted them on a board in her room.
“I do visualize that, so when it happens it is not as much of a shock that you can do it. You have to believe you can do something before you can do it,” the Kentucky junior said.
She started her outdoor season April 16 at Florida by winning the 200 in 22.79 seconds, her sixth straight win in the 200 and 12th overall in that event as she aims for the SEC Outdoor Championships May 13-15.
“I am just taking things week by week. The conference championships and the NCAA will be coming up. Once the NCAA is over, I will stay in Eugene (Ore.) for the Olympic Trials,” Steiner said. “I am just excited to see how my indoor times translate outdoors.”
Steiner admits she had not really thought about the possibility of making an Olympic team until recently.
“Mainly because I didn’t start track and field until eighth grade and was not really serious about it until college. The Olympics are a more recent goal of mine,” she said.
She only started running in the eighth grade in Dublin, Ohio, because her friends were on the track team.
“All my friends were hanging out with each other. They were having fun running track and talked me into it just to come hang out and have fun,” Steiner, who didn’t lose any speed despite tearing her ACL before her junior year of high school, said. “I thought I would give track a shot. Why not? I was one of the fastest players on the soccer field and I could see how that could translate over to track, so that was another factor in me joining the track team.”
Never then did she think eventually she would give up soccer, her life-long sport, to concentrate on track like she did after her freshman year at Kentucky. She said one of the main reasons was because of the time commitment it took to do both sports.
“I struggled my freshman year devoting my entire year to being in season and traveling for both sports. It took away from my academics. My plan is to eventually be in physical therapy school,” Steiner said. “Normally I take harder classes in the off season but I did not have time to do that because there was no off season for me. I also honestly fell in love with track and field. I loved the coaches and my teammates.
“My freshman year I missed all the fall training for track and that is such an important piece to set up the season. I felt like I was playing catch up. I knew the times I ran in high school and my freshman year (at UK), so I thought if I was ever able to devote an entire year to track I was confident I could have more success.”
Winning a national championship was something coach Craig Skinner thought he could do at Kentucky but also knew it was easier said than done. However, Kentucky went through five NCAA Tournament wins dropping only two sets and was superb in the national championship match against Texas.
“Just amazingly proud to live a dream right now,” Skinner said after the win. “Validation of our talk is huge. I am just so thrilled for our current players who believed so much in us.”
One of those players who believed was All-American setter Madison Lilley, the national player of the year. She came to Kentucky talking about winning a national title her freshman year.
“Welcome to the bandwagon everyone,” Lilley said after the championship win. “We have been on it. Volleyball school.”
Lilley knows not everyone took her seriously when she talked about a national championship as soon as she got to Kentucky.
“It might have been cute as a freshman (to say it) but we knew it was going to happen and that’s what makes this all the better,” Lilley said.
She carried the national championship trophy into the welcome home celebration at Memorial Coliseum and that seemed only fair since she had 53 assists and a career-high 19 digs in the national title match.
She averaged 13.8 assists per set in five NCA wins and had six service aces. The senior also averaged 3.35 digs per set and hit above .300 in all five tourney matches.
Lilley was named the Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four and joined Anthony Davis as the only UK athletes to be named SEC Player of the Year, national player of the year, NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player and win the NCAA championship in the same year.
Lilley was almost giddy addressing fans in Memorial Coliseum at the celebration. She talked about how proud she was of the team and staff but also appreciative of the fans.
“We got to play for BBN in Omaha and felt the love,” Lilley said. “It was the coolest thing to see Memorial Coliseum packed last night (for the NCAA title game watch party). That means a lot.”
Lilley also predicted this won’t be the end of UK volleyball success.
“It (a national title) has been a long time coming. We are here and we are not stopping. I am so proud of this program,” she said.
Landon Young is not sure when he may hear his name called during the NFL draft this week but he’s confident after his Pro Day workout that he’s going to get drafted.
The University of Kentucky offensive lineman has his weight at 315 pounds like NFL teams wanted and has indicated he’s able and willing to play either tackle or guard position.
“This is all business now. You are going to compete for a job where you play against the best in the world,” Young said. “How many people get to say they go to a job every day and absolutely love that job.
‘But at the end of the day you are competing against a guy trying to feed his family. You have got to say I want your incoming, I am taking your job and this job is mine now.”
Young said he’s been told about the “rookie wall” that first-year players hit after being used to a 12-game college season with maybe a bowl game compared to a 17-game NFL schedule plus exhibition games and playoff games along with offseason camps.
“It’s easy to hit that rookie wall mentally,” he said. “You have got to be mentally right to go through a whole season going against the best players the world. You are not going where the game is not going to be challenging.”
It was just over three years ago that Kenneth Horsey Jr. felt a pain in his side and had to be rushed to an emergency room where it was discovered he had a growth on one of his heart valves. He had open heart surgery April 8, 2018 — just a few weeks before he was scheduled to report to UK on a football scholarship.
Horsey persevered and was named one of the three 2020 Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year Award winners by The College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA). He’s become a regular in the offensive line at guard and now has his goal set to become an all-SEC performer during the 2021 season.
Horsey, a Florida native, said he’s still not at a point where his mother does not worry daily about him.
“I think they would agree that they would not have let me come up here if they did not trust the coaches and staff and trainers with my health and well being, and I feel the same way,” Horsey said. “We all completely trust the University of Kentucky to do what is best for me and that’s what they have always done.
“It just about us having that faith in them and them having that respect for that. But they have all been great for me since day one and now I want to get bigger, stronger and faster so I can have an even better year coming up.”
One plus for Horsey has always been his faith. But he says that did not just start with his heart problem.
“This has brought me closer to God and definitely increased my faith and also opened my eyes to some things,” the junior lineman said. “It has helped me mentally to mature and see more things.
“When you can’t do things physically, it gives you time to think about your goals, where you want to be, how you are going to get there. I know what I want and trust God to get me there. But my faith in God has always been there. I just think that faith has grown stronger the last three years.”
Kentucky volleyball coach Craig Skinner prides himself on recruiting not only talented players but also players who care about others.
“You can’t recruit chemistry but you can recruit people who understand the bigger picture and will be happy for other people. If you recruit selfish people, you’ve got a problem,” Skinner said before UK’s national championship match with Texas.
Certainly juniors Alli Stumler and Lauren Tharp qualify on all counts. The two helped UK win the national title last week but also have plans to become teachers.
Stumler averaged 4.82 kills and 2.35 digs per set and had the championship-clinching kill to earn all NCAA All-Tournament Team honors.
“When I came to college I really had no idea what I wanted to do,” Stumler said. “I loved kids and giving back to people. I was thinking maybe teaching or social work. I took classes in both but I loved teaching and the more I got into classes, the cooler I thought it would be to have a role in so many lives.”
She’s now an elementary education major and believes she can be the same positive role model in a classroom she is on the court.
“As a teacher you spend more time in a day with a kid than the parents do,” Stumler said. “I am going to take great pride in having students of my own and raising them.
“I have had teachers shape what I think, how I think. It’s similar to what a coach does for you. I love giving back to people any way I can. I can always be a positive person just like I try to be on the court.”
Tharp, Stumler’s roommate, has the same passion with kids and is a special education major.
“In high school I got randomly placed for a service project helping students with special needs,” Tharp, a key defensive specialist and server for UK, said. “Getting involved then made me realize I wanted to impact their lives any way I can.
“I have learned through observations I have been doing and classes that kids need somebody to give them advice on how to help their lives. I know I can make a difference. That’s what I try to do on the court but I also know I can make a difference teaching for a lot more years than I can playing volleyball.”