The Kentucky football team got together on Wednesday, donning the dozens of different uniform combinations the Wildcats can wear for a preseason photo shoot. Here's a look behind the scenes.
The Kentucky football team got together on Wednesday, donning the dozens of different uniform combinations the Wildcats can wear for a preseason photo shoot. Here's a look behind the scenes.
Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart has the following comment on the passing of
Hall of Famer Russell Rice. Rice's bio is listed below.
"I speak on behalf of the entire UK family when I say how saddened I am to hear of the passing of Hall of Famer Russell Rice. No one knew more about our history than Russell and his legacy lives on. We offer our sincerest condolences to his family."
Russell Rice (1967-87) is a former UK Athletics administrator who was associated with UK Athletics for more than a half-century. Rice spent 20 years on the UK staff from 1967 to 1987, including 18 as a sports information director. He wrote several books chronicling the history of Wildcat men's basketball and football programs and served as media coordinator for several NCAA men's basketball tournaments hosted by UK. Rice was also a president of the SEC Sports Information Directors Association. For more than 20 years since his retirement from UK, Rice has written a weekly column for The Cats' Pause magazine and has been a historical resource for UK Athletics. A World War II veteran (U.S. Marines) and a UK graduate, Rice spent 16 years in the media after graduation, including five years as sports editor of the Lexington Leader, before joining the UK staff.
Our African hump day sure did start out with a hump...in the form of about 50 camels crossing the street on our way to a children's sponsorship house. When we walked into the children's building, 100 kids were waiting on us with songs, chants and clapping. It was a jaw-dropping entrance to say the least. The smiles on the kids' faces reached from ear to ear. They did not want anything from us, but just to be in our presence and feel loved. We played soccer, jumped rope, danced and sang with the kids. After playing and spending time with the children we were able to give them snacks of avocado juice and morinda leaves. Along with some candy.
After we left the children's sponsorship house, we visited a local jail. The jails in Ethiopia are much, much different than those in the U.S. Instead of big cement walls topped with razor sharp barbed wire, the Ethiopian prisoners were only held captive by a wood fence and three lines of farming barbed wire. The offenses of the prisoners in the jail ranged from petty crimes to murder. They did not wear the typical orange jump suits like in the U.S. either. They were dressed in normal street clothes and could easily be mistaken for innocent pedestrians to the untrained eye.
After the jail visit is when the day really became special for me. We delivered bags of flour, macaroni, rice, spices and kits to allow a group of women to start their own coffee business. We delivered these goods to six different families in various villages. The women who received these gifts have basically nothing to their name but a very small square hut. These women have not received any support from the fathers and must provide for their children by themselves.
One experience, in particular, from today really stuck out to me. We were invited into one woman's very small hut after giving her the supplies. While in the hut we prayed with the woman and were able to communicate through a translator. The woman explained to us that she has never met her mother OR father. She was abandoned as an infant and is now raising two kids with no father figure. She told Mark (who is basically our tour guide for the trip), "I see you as a father figure now, I would not have been able to provide for my kids without the help of your supplies." These words were spoken with such deep passion and honesty that it touched me deeply. Being able to help someone that is so grateful and deserving made my heart feel full. The joy and happiness we were able to bring these women is unmatched by anything I have previously experienced in my life.
I've come to realize on this trip that there is so much more to life than material goods. Ethiopia has taught me not to form opinions about a person by the clothes they wear, but by the fullness and love in their heart. It is very hard to put into words how little these people really have, yet they do not let their situation in life get them down. The smiles on their faces give me hope. I really just feel blessed to be invited on this trip. The opportunity to serve others instead of being served has opened my eyes in a way they've never been open before. I am really looking forward to these next few days here in Africa.
The Wildcats would have to win twice on Sunday to keep their season alive, but Rachel Lawson wasn't thinking in those terms. All she wanted was for her team to fight and let the chips fall where they may.
That's exactly what she got. It just wasn't quite enough.
"I thought our team played hard today," Lawson said. "I thought we did a good job putting people on base. We just didn't get that timely hit when we needed to get that timely hit. So overall we played a lot better today, but when you're playing a team as good as Florida it always comes down to the little things."
UK's bid for a second consecutive trip to the Women's College World Series came up short, as the Cats were clipped by the top-seeded Gators, 1-0. The Cats advanced runners into scoring position in the first two innings and had at least one runner on base in the first four, but couldn't scratch a run across against Lauren Haeger.
The Cats were aggressive on the base paths all afternoon, starting runners in both the third and fourth innings on plays that led to double plays.
"The bigger the game, the bigger the risk when you're the underdog," Lawson said. "So we decided it was in our best interest--we weren't doing a good job putting people on base yesterday. We weren't pushing Florida's defense. So we made it a conscious effort to try to put base runners on, to try to move them, to try to be more aggressive to put their defense in motion because they're such an outstanding defense.
"So overall I think that was a good decision. We just didn't come up with the timely hit that we needed when we were putting people in motion."
Kentucky ace Kelsey Nunley nearly went pitch for pitch with the national player of the year finalist, holding the Gators to one run on five hits.
"I thought Kelsey was great on the mound," Lawson said. "Florida's an outstanding hitting team and to be able to shut them down to just one run is a big deal, especially this time of year. They're a very good team and they know how to get to the World Series. To be able to do that says a lot about Kelsey."
Florida plated its lone run in the fourth inning with three singles, the last of the infield variety with two outs by Justine McLean. After the first inning of game one when the Gators scored four times, Nunley tossed 10.2 innings and allowed only that run.
"Just tried to keep them off balance," Nunley said. "They're a really good hitting team so that's what you try to do. I tried to move with the batter instead of just pitching with the plate. That's what I focused on today."
Only a junior, many more such performances figure to be in story for Nunley, already the winningest pitcher in program history. She will lead a seven-member senior class when UK takes the field in 2016,
"I'd like to think we're built for every year, but yes," Lawson said. "We have great pitching. We only graduated two players."
However, the two graduates -- Griffin Joiner and Kara Lawson -- will be big losses. That's especially true of Joiner, a four-year starter at catcher and the heart and soul of this Kentucky team. Talking about the two caused Lawson to have to fight back tears in her postgame press conference, but she was also quick to point out the Cats will have to move on.
"With that said, we are going to be very good," Lawson said. "We are smart. We know how to play the game. We have a lot of people returning, we have outstanding recruits coming in and we will be back."
Considering this trip to Super Regionals was the fourth in five years for Kentucky, it's no stretch of the imagination to say the Cats will be back. Next time, however, Lawson wants it to be as the hosts.
"I hope what my team takes from this is we've got to do all the little things right in the offseason, during the season so we can also be a national seed," Lawson said. "Not just a national seed one time. That we can be a national seed every single time we come out to play."
It only took a few minutes for that to all go out the window.
In the top of the first, the Wildcats were mowed down in order by Lauren Haeger. In the bottom half, the Gators plated four runs, all coming with two outs, against Kelsey Nunley.
"It was a tough first inning," Lawson said. "Things didn't exactly go our way and it kind of put us in a hole. When you do that to Haeger -- who's outstanding, arguably the best player in college softball -- it's going to be a tough day."
A tough day is exactly what it ended up being, as UK (32-25) fell behind 1-0 in a best-of-three series against Florida (54-6) after a 7-0 defeat at a loud and hot Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium on Saturday. Haeger took a perfect game into the sixth inning, rendering meaningless the fact that Nunley found a rhythm and retired 10 straight batters after a three-run double by Kayli Kvistad in the first.
"I thought Nunley did a great job shutting them down after the first inning," Lawson said. "I thought we stayed in the game tight and then we just let it get out of hand later in the game."
The outcome was decided once and for all when Florida plated three runs in the sixth inning against Erin Rethlake. Rethlake and Meagan Prince came on in relief of Nunley to rest the star junior for Sunday and get the two youngsters some valuable experience in an environment the likes of which neither has ever seen.
"I think it was important for Meagan Prince to get in," Lawson said. "We weren't really hitting the ball very well. I thought Haeger was doing an outstanding job. She was commanding her pitches; her off-speed looked good. I think it was getting harder and harder for us to barrel up on the ball so I thought was important that Meagan get in the game and I thought she did an outstanding job.
"Correspondingly, I thought it was important that Rethlake get in, because this is an outstanding crowd."
With the way Prince performed -- retiring the 9, 1 and 2 hitters for Florida in order -- she's likely to play a role come Sunday, when UK will look to sweep a doubleheader and punch a Women's College World Series ticket for the second season in a row.
"What will happen is we'll go back to the film," Lawson said. "You can expect Nunley, you can expect Meagan Prince tomorrow. It's going to be a long day. The nice thing is neither one of them is fatigued. Both of them work extremely hard in the offseason; they work extremely hard during the year. We haven't over-pitched anybody. So they can throw the innings they need to throw. The key for us is going to be if we can hit Florida's pitching."
As Saturday proved, that's a tall order.
The Cats, however, have room for improvement. The key to having more success at the plate against Haeger and the Florida staff, Lawson says, is to attack earlier in the count.
"I think we over-swang," Lawson said. "I think we got in there, we took pitches that we should be swinging at and I think they were expecting to see a ball over the white even though she never pitches it there. And then they were swinging at pitcher's pitches late in the count and they were popping up."
On Sunday at noon, the Cats will try to turn that around.
"From this point we just gotta try to recover, get our minds right and get some rest for tomorrow and hopefully we'll be able to fight through and just try to force the if-necessary game," said Griffin Joiner, who had one of Kentucky's two hits on Saturday.
The good news for UK is sweeping a doubleheader against a heavily favored opponent on the road with a WCWS trip on the line has been done before. In fact, the Cats did it exactly one year ago against UCLA.
"That's what we're going to talk about," Joiner said. "We've been in this position before, whether it's been throughout the season with a doubleheader or last season in the postseason."
Each time I visit Ethiopia, I return home having made some amazing new friends. Included on the new friend list this go-round: three incredible football players from Kentucky.
I've been in awe this week as I have watched these three young men bless the people here and be blessed by them in return. Whether they were doing construction projects on the home of an AIDS-affflicted widow, delivering a mattress to an elderly woman who had never before slept on one, providing food to families who might otherwise have nothing at all to eat or showering love upon impoverished children, these three have impressed me so much.
I will never forget watching Marcus McWilson tirelessly pound nail after nail into mud homes so that several widows would be ready for rainy season. I will always remember watching Alex Montgomery quietly offer a big smile to each child who ran up for a chance to compare their (tiny) hand against his. And Austin MacGinnis, he must have dedicated an entire suitcase to candy, toys and soccer cleats. I loved watching him put his heart into sharing each of these things with the sweet babies here. Although on the opposite side of the globe from home, all three of these guys seemed to be "right at home" as they took time to play football and soccer with countless little ones.
These guys have worked hard and loved big. And today, the group relaxed a bit, took a break from work and went on a field trip! We drove several hours south of Addis to Debre Libanos to check out an ancient 13th-century monastery and the Blue Nile Gorge. I was super impressed by the story of a monk who meditated in a cave near the monastery for just over 29 years. We saw monkeys too! AWESOME. Before heading back we had an impromptu portrait shoot at the gorge lookout which included karate-kid kicks and handstands of course.
Whether serving widows and orphans or throwing a football to an aspiring athlete or chasing after monkeys, these guys have totally rocked it. I am so honored to be here with this amazing UK team as we adventure through Ethiopia making friends and memories along the way, so lucky to be behind my lens capturing this story. Ethiopia now has a piece of my heart and I dare to bet the same is true for my new friends from Kentucky.
"It's not how much we give but how much LOVE we put into giving." -- Mother Teresa
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Four trips in five seasons later, Super Regionals feel different for Kentucky softball.
Unprecedented success has led to unprecedented expectations for the Wildcats. What once was a destination has become something of a birthright.
"If you took this team and it was five years ago everybody would think we were great," UK head coach Rachel Lawson said.
With her team set to take on top-seeded Florida (53-6) in a best-of-three series beginning at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Gainesville, Fla., Lawson thinks of another team back home on UK's campus in the way success is now defined for her program.
"It is kind of like Kentucky basketball," Lawson said. "If Kentucky basketball just gets to the Sweet 16, it is just an OK season. Kentucky basketball is expected to be in the Final Four and win the national championship."
Lawson knows her team has a long way to go to match its counterpart on the hardwood - eight national titles, for starters - but the comparison holds water nonetheless.
"We are not Kentucky basketball, but we are definitely in the realm where we are only one of nine teams that have been to three straight Super Regionals," Lawson said. "So it is one of those things where now when you are as good as you are everybody expects you to go the World Series all the time."
Kentucky (32-24) made its first Women's College World Series trip a season ago, but a second straight trip seemed unlikely as recently as a week ago. The Cats limped into the NCAA Tournament on a seven-game losing streak, but swept through the South Bend Regional, knocking off overall No. 16 seed Notre Dame in the process.
"It was fun," third baseman Nikki Sagermann said. "It was great to get back on the field and get the team back on track and win some ballgames. It is always good when you are winning."
That's especially true with frequent losing still so fresh in your mind. But rather than letting that derail their confidence, the Cats got to work in a crucial week of practice following a loss in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
"We weren't making good pitches or if we did make a good pitch we wouldn't make a good stop," Lawson said. "We just weren't very good at that time. I think now with some work I think they feel confident that they are back to doing what they do well."
UK will need every ounce of that confidence come this weekend against the defending national champion Gators. Florida will have a home crowd on its side, not to mention an offense led by SEC Player of the Year Kelsey Stewart and a pitching staff anchored by SEC Pitcher of the Year Lauren Haeger. The Gators are hitting .312 as a team and boast an earned-run average of 1.73.
"We have already faced them this year so we know that environment with the fans and we have a lot of experience with that," said Sagermann, who hit two home runs last weekend and is on a career-best 10-game hitting streak. "They are a very good team and we are going to have to be on our A game to get out of there with two wins."
The Gators swept a competitive three-game set against UK in April, winning games by one, two and three runs. Outside of a six-run inning against sophomore Meagan Prince in game two, the Cats allowed just three runs all weekend.
"Well, I thought that we played pretty well that weekend," said Kelsey Nunley, who pitched all but two innings of UK's three regional wins. "We didn't get the results that we wanted, but we fought pretty hard and played good defense and made some good contact at the plate. I hope we can carry what we learned from those loses into this weekend."
Though Florida is the top seed, UK has experience taking down a favorite in Supers. The Cats won at No. 3 seed UCLA last season.
"This is our seventh straight postseason and every year we seem to be the underdog so that is a role that we are used to," Lawson said. "Florida is a very good team. It is different in the standpoint that we are both very familiar with each other because playing an SEC team is a lot different than going out of conference. So it is a similar scenario in that we are the underdog and are going to have to do something pretty exceptional in order to win."
Exceptional, sure, but not impossible.
"They are a higher seed than us and we are obviously pretty low seeded," Sagermann said. "We are just going to go out there and play our game and put no pressure on us. We are out there just to have fun and get two wins."
As I reflect on the work of the three student-athletes today in Korah, I have found difficulty in finding the words to do it justice. For me, today has been one of the toughest yet. Korah, Ethiopia is one of the poorest areas in the country. Thousands of people live there, and many of them live at the dump in order to have a potential source of food and supplies.
The morning started at a local church where we distributed food supplies to 30 widowed mothers and children. Each family received a month's supply of oil, matches, rice, macaroni, spaghetti noodles, toilet paper, soap and detergent. The women began lining up as we were preparing the bags for distribution and you could see and feel their excitement. These women do not have traditional "sponsors," so many times do not know where or how they or their children will survive from week to week.
Following this, we traveled to the city dump to observe the living conditions. While we all come from different backgrounds and have experienced different things in our life, I can honestly say that I have never experienced anything like today. To witness hundreds of human beings living in a garbage dump in order to have a potential source of food and supplies was almost too much. The smell was unimaginable, and I am ashamed to admit that there were several times when I didn't think that I could continue on through it. However, I would occasionally look up and see Alex, Austin and Marcus reaching out to shake hands, say hello, or pass out candy and toys to the people living there and found motivation through them and their work. These people have so very little, if anything, but have smiles on their faces and are so appreciative that people care enough to come visit.
Following the trip to the dump, we traveled to an office to listen to a man (who was around my same age) talk about his life growing up at the dump. Wow. The stories of survival that he shared with us were beyond what any of us could ever comprehend. As I think about the differences between what I was doing around that same time in my life compared to his daily struggles, it provides a whole different perspective.
At the end of his story, he gave us a call to action: help one person. We all have an obligation, a responsibility, a duty to make a difference in the life of at least one. When I step back and look at this man and think about his life growing up, I am amazed. He was able to persevere in dire circumstances, ultimately get an education and obtain two college degrees. He could probably have created a whole different life for himself and his family in another place far away but chose to return home to Korah in order to make a difference in his community. He truly defines what it means to be a servant leader, and I hope that we will all be able to take his advice to heart.
As I watch these three young men take in this extraordinary experience, I feel an overwhelming sense of pride in them, their team, and our institution. They have opened their hearts and visited with so many people and children, put so many smiles on young faces, and truly been outstanding representatives of UK.