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UK on pace to meet 15 by 15 by 15 plan

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Barnhart.JPGIt isn't 2015 yet, but Kentucky will already be halfway to achieving the 15 by 15 by 15 plan at the end of this athletics season if it can finish the 2009-10 year strong.

The plan, which was set into motion by Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart two years ago, is a department-wide mandate to win at least 15 conference, tournament or national championships and rank among the NCAA's top 15 athletic programs by 2015.

According to the Learfield Sports Directors' Cup rankings, which were developed as a joint effort between the National Association of College Director of Athletics and USA Today to rate the top athletic departments in the country, the University of Kentucky athletics department sits in 13th place in the April 6 standings, second best in the Southeastern Conference. UK finished in 34th last year.

Coupled with Kentucky's four championships in the last two years (two rifle championships in 2009 and two men's basketball championships in 2010), Kentucky is well on its way to accomplishing the 15 by 15 by 15 mission.

"We had set our sights on being top 15 in all sports by the year 2015," Barnhart said Friday. "This would obviously accelerate that pace, which pleases me greatly in that it means our teams, specifically our coaches and athletes, have really done some special things so far this year."

UK has tallied 487.50 total points in the Directors' Cup race with the winter and spring seasons still to be completed. The department scored 89.0 points in the fall before amassing 398.50 points to date in the winter, fourth highest among all schools in Division I. Only Stanford, Ohio State and Texas A&M, who currently rank first, second and 10th in the overall standings, respectively, have scored higher in the winter.

"There have been some great athletes that have been at Kentucky over the years in many sports," Barnhart said. "They seem to come in bits and pieces, but never as a collective departmental unit. I can't speak to the historical piece of it as much as others might be able to, but in recent times, this is the first time that we have had a collective movement of all sports to that upper echelon nationally. It is our goal and our commitment to do things necessary to keep quality student-athletes coming to Kentucky in all sports and to keep quality coaches at Kentucky that we have brought in."

Kentucky is on pace to shatter last year's 34th-place Directors' Cup finish of 607.80 points. The school would need just 120.3 points in the spring and the remainder of the winter to top the 2008-09 total. More importantly, if the race were to end today, Kentucky's 13th-place standing would be the best in school history. UK's current Directors' Cup high is 26th place, set during the 1996-97 athletics season. 

Barnhart put the 15 by 15 by 15 plan in motion in pursuit of excellence across the entire athletics department. Kentucky is currently in its highest Directors' Cup standing because of the department-wide success.

Among the best finishers in the 2009-10 athletics season have been the men's and women's basketball teams, the rifle team, and the volleyball team.

Under the guidance of first-year head coach John Calipari, the men's basketball team made it to the regional finals for the first time since 2005. Calipari's Cats finished in fifth place among all basketball schools this year with 73 points.

The women's basketball team went into uncharted territory this season when it set a school-record 28 wins. By advancing the NCAA Tournament regional finals, UK picked up 73 points, fifth among all women's basketball programs.

But as the nation is quickly learning, Kentucky is more than just basketball.

The rifle team has picked up the most points among all UK teams with 80 points after its national championship appearance. The volleyball team totaled 64 points following its fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

The men's and women's swimming and diving teams and the men's and women's track and field teams have accumulated the final 172.5 of UK's 487.50 total points.

"I think the focus tends to be on football and basketball, but what it says to me is that the breadth of our program is getting deeper and our athletes are beginning to perform at a higher level," Barnhart said.

The final 2009-10 Directors' Cup rankings will be released July 1. UK can still pick up points in gymnastics, men's and women's golf, men's and women's tennis, men's and women's track and field, softball, and baseball.

For UK to meet the 15 by 15 by 15 plan, it would have to hit or exceed the 15 championship benchmark and rank in the top 15 by the Directors' Cup in the 2014-15 athletics season.

"We need to make sure that we find a way to stay in the top 15 at the end of the year," Barnhart said. "That's the goal. As we talked about a year ago, it is important to finish the deal."

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