Riah Walker said she does not feel extra pressure from the rankings.
Even with indoor sports sidelined for a while longer, Sarasota athlete Riah Walker managed to make history.
Walker, who played volleyball for Riverview High the last four years, is headed to University of Kentucky, a program which has seen an explosion in results since coach Craig Skinner took over in 2004.
The program has reached 15 straight NCAA tournaments, reaching the Elite Eight in 2017, and has won the Southeastern Conference three consecutive years. Now, Walker has helped Kentucky achieve something it never has in its history: a No. 1 recruiting class.
Walker's class was named tops in the country by PrepVolleyball — which is considered the arbiter on these types of things — on May 8. The libero is one of five players in the class, alongside outside hitter Sophie Fischer (Fort Mill, S.C.), middle blocker Elise Goetzinger (Blue Mounds, Wis.), opposite hitter/setter Reagan Rutherford (Missouri City, Texas) and outside hitter Madi Skinner (Katy, Texas).
"It's cool knowing we are considered the best in the country," Walker said. "All the coaches texted us when they found out. It's special. When I committed to Kentucky, I honestly was not expecting this to happen, but it is proof of all the hard work I and the program have been doing. I have been thinking about it a lot. Not many people can say they were part of something like this."
Walker said she chose Kentucky because she believed in the coaching staff and was impressed with the school's facilities. There's a gigantic video screen in Memorial Coliseum, her future home, that displays each match's score and stats. Playing in front of 8,500 fans will be a different experience for her, she said, one that she gets equal amounts chills and butterflies thinking about.
Walker said she has been in contact with the rest of her class, and the group is ready to make good on the ranking. Walker said she met the members of her class in person for the first time on a visit to Kentucky in January, though they had been texting and sending Snapchats to each other for longer than that. They all felt connected to each other right away. It's been fun to get to know them deeper, she said.
Walker is the first to be part of a class with this many expectations thrown at it. Riverview coach Nickie Halbert said Walker had a reputation of playing hard to the end, even in losses. Her determination inspired her Rams teammates and let to some unforgettable moments, like the 2019 Rams beating rival Venice High for the first time in three years.
Kentucky volleyball has done a lot over the past 15 years, establishing itself as a national power, but it has yet to win a national title. If anyone can help the Wildcats reach that level, it's Walker and her fellow incoming freshman. She's got the heart and the talent.