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The future is bright

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SB_UK_vs_Ohio St_NCAA_181.JPGWith four mammoth Ohio State swats, UK's softball season effectively came to an end.

For a storybook season, it seemed like it was lacking a fairytale ending. But don't let the loss to the Buckeyes fool you - this season was without question the most special in the program's 13-year history.

"It doesn't feel like it right now, but it's been a good season for us," head coach Rachel Lawson said. "We've had a lot of firsts. I'm very proud of the team and I'm very proud of their postseason run."

Ending the season on a loss is never easy, but there was reason to smile after Saturday's loss in Columbus, Ohio. Sure, there were a few tears among the players and their families as they closed out the historic season, but they weren't tears of disappointment.

Looking back at all the things they had accomplished, most notably, taking a 17-win team from a year ago and transforming it into the program's first NCAA Tournament team, it was hard not to cry. After all, it took hard work, sweat and tears to make such a giant turnaround.

"Obviously it's disappointing losing, but I think we made it a lot farther than a lot of people were probably expecting considering it was our first postseason," junior shortstop Molly Johnson said. "I think next year people should watch out."

Is it too early to already look ahead to next year? Maybe not.

If there was a silver lining to this weekend's games in the Columbus Regional, it's that the Cats have the talent to make it to a Super Regional and beyond. Experience is often times overrated, but in UK's case this weekend, it was a huge hurdle to overcome.

Carrying the pressure of playing in the NCAA Tournament for the very first time, there was little doubt that the Cats had some jitters and nerves on the big stage. They weren't satisfied with being there, but they were a little wide-eyed at the thought of competing for a national championship.

That wasn't the sole reason the Cats lost in the opening game to Brigham Young, but it was certainly a factor. UK regrouped in the two games Friday and looked like the strongest team in the tournament.

While they couldn't pull out the regional championship, they gained some invaluable experience for a team that will return virtually every player next year, minus senior Katie McCarty.

"You learn that once you play your game and you come out like you have all season and you relax, you belong here with everybody," Lawson said. "Every team that makes it this far is obviously a very good team or they wouldn't be here."

Next year's team will be loaded. Veterans Molly Johnson and Natalie Smith will return as the senior leaders of the team, a role they've essentially had since their sophomore years. And once you factor the fact that the talented sophomore and freshman classes will be one year older and one year stronger, it's hard not to raise the bar and get excited for next year.

Sure, the Cats lost Saturday afternoon, but they've tasted what it takes to be championship caliber team now. Next year they'll want more, and now they have the experience and blueprint to do it.

"We didn't really ever realize how good we are," junior Annie Rowland said. "Now that we know and we've seen it, we can definitely comeback next year and have higher expectations and exceed them."

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