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UK making Heart of the Bluegrass Classic celebration of new track, seniors

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The UK track team will showcase their outdoor track at the Hear of Bluegrass Classic on Saturday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) UK will showcase its new outdoor track at the Heart of Bluegrass Classic on Saturday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
In what has been a year of milestones for the Kentucky track and field program, perhaps the biggest step forward will come Saturday when UK hosts its first outdoor meet in more than a decade: the Heart of the Bluegrass Classic.

Kentucky opened its state of the art Outdoor Track and Field Facility last fall, and Saturday's meet serves as a celebration befitting of such a spectacular venue.

The meet will also mark Senior Day, as UK's departing student-athletes will be honored on the new track as they compete in front a home crowd outdoors for the first time in their careers.

"I think this is more so for the fans and the university," Floreal said. "This is more for our kids and their parents to see them compete on the UK facility for the first time in a long time. Having a meet that's not as competitive will be even more fun because they can win more events. It's more so a feel-good type thing and less about trying to break records."

It will be a nice gesture for the seniors who have spent a lot of time at UK training and working hard every day for the program. There should be a good crowd at the UK Track Complex with family members making their way to Lexington to be a part of the event and support their favorite Wildcats.

The day is going to be focused on the seniors and Floreal is going to do the best he can to send them out in style and possibly let some anchor a relay or two.

"Our seniors haven't really been recognized," Floreal said. "If you don't play basketball at your university it's kind of hard to recognize your seniors. I think having a home meet gives us a chance to do that."

Along with the 10 universities participating in the track meet on Saturday, a total of 37 high schools will be attending for their own competition as well.

Floreal and the athletic department have worked hard over the last few months to make sure this weekend's meet is run as a world-class event.

Unlike a lot facilities around the state, Kentucky's track provides it all in one place for the fans. You don't have to leave the track area to go watch the field events and Floreal sees this as an opportunity to showcase every aspect of the sport. He wants Saturday to be a top-notch event, which will serve as a showcase which will hopefully lead to the state high school meet returning to Lexington.

"I think there is a responsibility in having the best looking track in the state that you put events on," Floreal said. "I want to host a state meet as soon as possible because I think it belongs here. I just think having a state meet is a big statement for us and I want to get that back here as soon as possible."

The Cats are coming off one of their best weekends of the season when they teamed up with Louisville at the "Kentuckiana" Border Battle. UK and U of L defeated Indiana and Notre Dame 101-99 in the women's competition and 103-97 in the men's.

Kentucky's effort was impressive, but the successful meet was perhaps more important because UK was able to turn the heads of rival competition for the first time in a long time.

The Wildcats seemed to jell and show the other schools that this was a different unit from the start of the meet all the way through the final races of the afternoon.

The hard work and new training methods implemented by the first-year head coach and his staff have been evident from the cross country season through indoor track and field in spurts. Even with the Wildcats' early success, the Border Battle Meet was the first total team performance turned in by the Wildcats since Floreal arrived in Lexington.

One change for Kentucky this season has been beginning every meet with a show of team unity. At the Border Battle the Wildcats took a team lap before the meet started, followed by a team cheer of "Go Cats."

More importantly, once the meet got underway, the Wildcats raised plenty of eyebrows.

"A couple coaches came by and said, 'I don't know what you are doing but oh my goodness these are not the same kids. They act like they belong and act like they should be beating us,' " Floreal said. "It was pleasant to see that people are noticing that we are different. Not that we are doing it for them but it's nice to see that this is working."

The track has served as an important new asset for Kentucky through training and competing in outdoor events. Floreal - in another basketball reference - compared preparing for an outdoor meet in an indoor facility to practicing free throws on a nine-foot rim instead of the regulation 10 feet.

The turns are a lot tighter inside as opposed to outside and athletes can get the feel of where the start and finish lines are. The UK track is going to match what the Cats will see at the SEC Championships at Missouri in a few weeks.

It gives the team a sense of calm heading into a major competition, instead of arriving at an outdoor event in disbelief as might have been the case in the past.

"I think the performances we've gotten so far outdoors have reflected on the fact that the kids go to an outdoor track meet and they don't have to be in shock," Floreal said. "It can be calmness like, 'This is normal. I have been doing this outdoors the last three weeks and here it is same outdoor track just different color.' "

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