UK’s Tealer returning to chase another title

Published 2:03 pm Thursday, May 4, 2023


Contributing writer

In 2020, the Kentucky women’s volleyball team won its first national championship. Among those players was sophomore middle blocker Azhani Tealer. From Grand Prairie, Texas, Tealer was rated the No. 21 player in the nation coming out of high school. Tealer is entering her fifth and final year at the University of Kentucky.

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Five years of being a college athlete comes with highs and lows. Tealer, who has been searching for her second national championship, has had her own lows. Last season, she was injured during a practice in September.

“I woke up in the morning, and I couldn’t move my arm, just trying to relax my arm hurt,” Tealer said. “I went to Doctor Scott Mair, and he told me I had a trapped nerve in the back of my shoulder.”

Tealer would go on to miss the next four games, the first of which being the Southeastern Conference opener against LSU. The Cats would go on to lose that match 3-2.

“It really sucked having to sit on the bench and watch us lose to a team we shouldn’t have lost to,” Tealer said. “This was my first injury that sidelined me during my college career, and I just felt helpless.”

On Oct. 2, Fayetteville, Arkansas, Tealer returned to action.

“My first game back was pretty scary,” said Tealer. “I didn’t feel like I was at full strength and was nervous to go up and rip a ball and re-aggravate something and be sidelined again.”

She finished the game with nine kills in four sets.

Many college athletes who go through an injury and the rehab it brings, tend to have their eyes opened to the reality of what could happen. Tealer said she was reminded that although athletes are there to win and work on their individual game, they are also there to have fun and build relationships.

“Having to watch the game from the sideline gave me a different point of view on the game,” Tealer said. “I was able to help my teammates by telling them what I saw and how to adjust to some things.”

Tealer finished her senior season with the Cats with a record of 22-8, finishing the season with a 3-0 loss to San Diego 3 in the regional semifinal round of the NCAA tournament. Tealer looks to get back to the national championship next season to prove her previous championship wasn’t a fluke. That kind of goal won’t come easily, especially with Tealer being a previous champion. There is a lot of pressure that accompanies those achievements and goals.

“When you win something of that magnitude, it puts a distinct taste in your mouth and makes you want more,” Tealer said. “It was a lot of pressure to get back to that stage, but the pressure was good to feel. That’s why you come to Kentucky.”

Tealer decided to come back for her final season because she felt like she had more to give to the program and to the city of Lexington.

“I want those who haven’t been able to experience anything like that yet to have a chance to experience it,” she said. “It was the greatest day of my life, and I think I can say for most of our lives.”

Not only does Tealer want another national title, she also wants to continue the dominant reign over the SEC. Kentucky has been the SEC conference champions or co-champions for the past six seasons.

“I would love to win the SEC one more time, which would be our 7th year, which is crazy to think about.” said Tealer.

Tealer is very grateful for her time at Kentucky and all of the accomplishments that she has earned in her four years there. She is looking forward to her fifth season as her, and her teammates look to achieve the goal of being crowned national champions one more time.

“I want to prove that our previous championship and all of the SEC titles weren’t just flukes,” said Tealer.

The 2023 season begins vs. Colorado State on Aug. 25.