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5 things you need to know about UK track and field

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OK, I get it. It's the summer, there is plenty to do outside and by and large it's the offseason. Almost. Before you officially check out for the summer, I wanted to shed some light on a team that deserves your attention before the athletics season officially comes to a close.

Who, you might ask - the track and field team. Beginning Wednesday in Eugene, Ore., and lasting until Sunday, 11 athletes will represent UK in the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, joining 150 other athletes from the Southeastern Conference in annually the nation's top college track meet of the year.

In a sport with so many individual athletes, the storylines can sometimes be numerous and hard to keep up with. To give you more knowledge into the sport and the significance of this weekend, I thought I'd run through the top five storylines heading into the week.

1.) The World's other Fastest Man - Surely you know who Usain Bolt is. Long known as the World's Fastest Man, the three-time Olympic gold medalist holds the world record in the 100- and 200-meter dashes.

Here's the catch: UK's features an athlete that has actually beaten him. In fact, it came at the 2008 Beijing Olympics just a few days prior to Bolt's breaking of a world record that some thought might never be broken.

That man is junior sprinter Rondel Sorrillo, who will head west to compete in the 100m and 200m dashes as well serve as one of the legs in the 4x100m relay team. Sorrillo, owner of the school records in the both the 100m (10.05 seconds) and 200m dashes (20.29), posted the world's 12th-fastest time in the 200m dash this year. 

Head coach Don Weber thinks Sorrillo has a legitimate chance to capture the national title in one or both of his individual events.

"I don't want to minimize the possibilities or overstate the possibilities, but he is one of the very best in the country," Weber said. "The thing that Rondel has going for him is he is an extremely good competitor. It seems like the bigger the stakes, the higher level of competition, the better he is. You get into a meet like this, not only do you need to be talented and gifted, but your competitiveness and ability to rise to the occasion is huge."

People are quick to point out that Bolt wasn't running full speed in that heat in Beijing and they're right, but that's not the point. Beating the World's Fastest Man in direct competition is a confidence booster that few athletes can possess. The self-esteem could be the difference between the hundredths of a second that Weber so often stresses can separate first place from sixth.

"Rondel has a great head on him when it comes to competing in athletics," Weber said. "His experience at the Olympics - that's obviously the highest level of competition in the world - that allows him to keep the NCAA Championships in a lot better perspective compared to some kids who come to the NCAA Championships. That is their Olympics. His experience, his exposure to other great athletes certainly plays a big part in helping him do what he's capable of doing in big competitions."

TF 09_10 KY Invt Saturday Web 30.jpg2.) Muffet's been there, done that - If Sorrillo is favorite No. 1 to win an individual title, consider senior thrower Ashley Muffet favorite No. 1A.

There's something to be said about talent - which Muffet has -but Weber believes experience can pay huge dividends. As the only current Cat to participate in every NCAA Championship in their respective careers (in either the shot put or the discus), Muffet brings the irreplaceable quality of having been there before.

"She's had huge success and she's had extremely disappointing failures, just personally and competitively," Weber said. "I think both of those have kind of helped her put this in better perspective where ultimately it is just another track meet."

Muffet made the NCAA Championships with a throw of 54.55 meters (178 feet, 11 inches) in the women's discus, but it's what she's done in the past that has Weber so confident. She's struggled with consistency this season, and yet still placed second at the 2010 NCAA Indoor Championships in the shot put as well earned last year's Southeastern Conference Co-Field Athlete of the Year.

Thanks to her past successes and failures, Weber said Muffet, who ranks in the top three in school annals in the shot put (current record holder), discus throw and hammer throw,  understands she has the ability to win gold in Eugene.

"When you step into the ring or you step onto the runway, what you need to be concerned about is your performance," Weber said. "If you're able to bring out your kind of performance your capable of, based on your past performances, you're going to be very competitive in this thing. I think she sometimes let that get away from her where she started to worry about how good the other people were."

3.) Deep team presents opportunities - Weber wouldn't go as far as to say this is one of his strongest teams in recent years, partly because the athletes lack experience outside of Sorrillo and Muffet, but taking 11 athletes to nationals is one of the deeper fields UK has had in the last decade.

Four of the last five years, Weber and his coaching staff have sent 11 or more athletes to the NCAA Championships, a success rate the program didn't experience in the early 2000s.

Weber credited the big numbers to his team performing under the pressure at the NCAA preliminaries a couple of weeks ago after an up-and-down season.

"Our people that qualified competed exceptionally well," Weber said. "Obviously they're talented. They've worked for years to develop their talent. In that very competitive situation they certainly rose to the occasion and competed very well."

4.) A long wait for the women - It's been a long time since a women's relay team of any kind has made the final meet of the season. Like 1996 long.

For the first time in nearly a decade and a half, Kentucky will send a women's relay team to nationals. Jenna Martin, Brittany Cabbler, Precious Nwokey and Jazmyn Shorter qualified for nationals in the 4x400 relay with a third-place finish at preliminaries.

The team's time of 3:35.14 set a new school record.

The men's 4x100 relay team of Sean Lange, Kwasi Obeng, Rondel Sorillo and Alex Williams qualified for the NCAA Championships as well with a fourth-place time of 39.63 at preliminaries.

5.) A pattern of success - This might be Colin Boevers' first time at the NCAA Championships, but it isn't exactly his first rodeo either.

As an understudy of the departed Rashaud Scott and Chase Madison, two of the most accomplished throwers in program history, Weber said Boevers, a junior, watched and learned all he needed to know for a significant splash at this year's nationals.

It showed when Boevers qualified for this week's competition with a fifth-place throw of 55.04m (180 feet, 7 inches) in the men's discus throw. His throw of 192 feet, 1 inch in San Diego earlier this year is tied for fifth all-time in program annals.

"He's seen those guys - two of the best guys in the country when they were competing - he's seen them in practice," Weber said. "He knows they're just regular guys competing. He knows their strengths and weaknesses, so in terms of his understanding of all the good throwers in the country, he's got a pretty good idea that they're just regular people; they put their pants on one leg at a time. I don't think he's in awe or intimidated of some of these people that have very good marks."

Boevers embodies Kentucky's entrants this season. Weber hinted that his team's confidence in its own ability will be the biggest factor in overcoming inexperience and a deep and talented field.

"You just don't give people any more credit than they deserve," Weber said. "You certainly respect what they've done, but you understand they're just like you."

For complete coverage of the track and field team from the NCAA Championships in Eugene, check the track and field home page. A complete list of Kentucky's participants can be found here.

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