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Softball positioned for bright future with Grand Opening of new stadium

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Head coach Rachel Lawson recorded her school-record 182nd career victory in the Wildcats' 6-2 win over Eastern Kentucky on Wednesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Head coach Rachel Lawson recorded her school-record 182nd career victory in the Wildcats' 6-2 win over Eastern Kentucky on Wednesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
This weekend will mark a monumental moment for the Kentucky softball program. Not only do the Wildcats welcome the third-ranked Florida Gators, but the Grand Opening Ceremony of the newly renovated UK Softball Complex is set to precede Saturday's 1 p.m. ET game.

Gates will open at 11:30 a.m. with pregame festivities slated to begin at 11:45. Athletic's Director Mitch Barnhart, head coach Rachel Lawson and select others will be speaking to officially open the new stadium.

Six years ago Barnhart hired Lawson as UK's new softball coach. Since Lawson's arrival, the program has made major strides and now the athletic department is rewarding the hard work of the coaches and players by providing them a brand-new playing atmosphere.

This is a big moment in UK softball history and Lawson is the first to recognize who is responsible for it all and give thanks.

"First you have to thank the Big Blue Nation," Lawson said. "If we didn't have the fan support and the financial support you would never see an amazing stadium like this going up. You have to thank everybody who works so hard in the athletic department to make these things possible."  

Of course Lawson wouldn't be a part of this weekend's celebration had she not been hired back in July 2007. It was Barnhart's decision, but there was another member of the athletic department who played a key role in the process.

"You have to thank Mitch but you have to thank (associate athletic's director) John Cropp for hiring me," Lawson said. "Mitch ultimately made the decision but Coach Cropp was the one that went out and believed in me."

On Wednesday, the Wildcats traveled to Frankfort, Ky., to compete in a doubleheader against Eastern Kentucky. UK took the opener 6-2, giving Lawson her school-record 182nd career victory.

Lawson, who is humbled by the whole experience, is always striving for more and is looking for ways she can improve the program.

However, she did take a moment after to sit back and take it all in.

"It's really cool," Lawson said. "You never stop and think about what you accomplish you only keep moving forward. It was a brief moment in time where I got to stop and I got to think about all the people that helped me get here."

Associate head coach Kristine Himes has been with Lawson since day one at UK and Lawson says she wouldn't be where she is today without her. Lawson also took time to thank the athletic department and all the players that helped rack up the record amount of victories.

A few minutes was enough time for Lawson to think about breaking the record as she quickly turned her focus back to the future goals of the program.

"That's a cool moment, with that said I know we all want a national championship," Lawson said. "While the wins are incredible and it's good to get to that point, it will be even better when we move forward. Every team at Kentucky, our goal should be to win the SEC and to win national championships, that's what we all do. Once you get there and you have one, you're going to want another and another."

Fans should be in for a treat this weekend with the Gators coming into town. Florida is an impressive 39-4 on the season and 12-3 in conference play, but the Cats are having a tremendous season themselves and have no reason to back down.

With the 18th-ranked Wildcats sitting at 8-4 in SEC play, a series win over the Gators would give them loads of confidence heading forward. Lawson knows her Wildcats have a huge challenge in front of them but also realizes it's a great opportunity for them to make a statement.

"It's going to be quite a challenge," Lawson said. "With that said, us and Florida are usually good games. They are usually played hard and played clean and usually they are good television games. Hopefully that will continue this weekend and we can get some wins."

When Lawson was brought in to lead the Wildcats back in '07, one of the things on the top of the athletic department's list was to build the softball team a new facility. The opening of the stadium hasn't been a major shock for Lawson, however the dedication and pace that everything has come together has really taken the sixth-year head coach by surprise.

"I knew it would be coming but for it to be coming so soon and in such a huge fashion has been such a huge surprise for me," Lawson said. "Everything that we have asked for is actually happening. They have gone top rate with everything in here. It's going to one of the best if not the best facility in the country."

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