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Orta ready to add final chapter to UK legacy at nationals

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Senior Luis Orta will compete in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at nationals in Eugene, Ore., beginning Wednesday. Senior Luis Orta will compete in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at nationals in Eugene, Ore., beginning Wednesday. (UK Athletics)
Over the last five years, distance runner Luis Orta has been a mainstay for the Kentucky track and field team. Orta, a senior, will compete in his final event this week for the Wildcats with a chance to leave one final mark.

Orta is going to do everything in his power to advance to the finals and go out with a bang this week. No matter what, he knows he has laid everything on the line every day and has given his best effort day in and day out. He couldn't ask for anything more.

"Whatever happens if I make it to the final or break the school record again or not I will be very pleased with my college career," Orta said. "It's been five beautiful years. I've met awesome people and have had incredible experiences here. I wouldn't choose another school if I could go back, UK has been awesome to me and I'm happy with whatever happens this weekend."

Kentucky travels to Eugene, Ore., this week to compete in the NCAA Outdoor Championships. UK, which had just three athletes compete in last season's nationals, will send 10 this year, including Orta.

The Caracas, Venezuela native will race in a 3,000-meter steeplechase semifinal on Wednesday at 9:45 p.m. ET. The semifinals consist of two 12-person races with the top-five finishers from each advancing to the final, along with the next four fastest times. The 14-athlete final will take place on Friday at 8:40 p.m.

Orta qualified for nationals by breaking the school record in the steeplechase at the NCAA East Preliminary Championship. He crossed the finish line with a time of 8:42.22, good enough for seventh place in the event and an automatic bid to Eugene.

With the days dwindling in his illustrious UK career, Orta is after that record once more.

"I want to try to break the record again and try to run under 8:40 and make it to the final," Orta said. "If I am able to do that then hopefully I can run in the low 8:30s in the final."

In his first season at UK, Orta broke the freshman school record in the steeplechase at the Southeastern Conference Championships with a time of 8:52.39. After finally reaching his goal at regionals by surpassing the overall school record, he had assistant coach Hakon DeVries go over and double-check the final result following the race to ensure the time was correct. From there, Orta has turned to Jason Dunn - the coach with whom he's primarily worked all season - to help him make a run at breaking the record again.

Orta has been a strong distance runner for UK in several events, but the steeplechase is his best. He finished second at SECs as a freshman, sophomore and junior and has qualified for nationals for the second consecutive year.

He finished 22nd at nationals last year, falling short of the finals. Orta will be the first to say he didn't have a good race last season. He was nervous and just wasn't comfortable during the event - something any coach will tell you is very common amongst first-time competitors at nationals. This week could prove to be different as the new coaches have implemented different training methods and, having already competed in one national competition, he thinks he will be more at ease when he steps up to the starting line.

"The training has been so much different," Orta said. "We are actually training for the steeplechase whereas last year was more of a middle-distance type of training. I've been hurdling a lot and working on my mobility and doing a lot of workouts in hurdles and over the water jumps which is important. I think I'm more comfortable when I'm racing which helps a lot."

With 10 athletes making the trip northwest, Kentucky has improved immensely from last season. With so many teammates with him on the trip, Orta hopes to draw inspiration from his fellow Wildcats.

"If they do good I feel like I have to do something good," Orta said. "I don't want to go home and feel like I didn't do as good as them. It definitely helps to see my teammates do well because it helps me get focused for the race."

In just one year, head coach Edrick Floreal has helped UK's track and field program make remarkable strides. Not only are the Cats sending additional athletes to nationals this year, but the team showed progress with its finish at the SEC meet. The men and women each finished seventh at the conference championships, jumping several spots from last season's performance.

There is no doubt in Orta's mind that Floreal is taking the program in the right direction and UK will be among the elite in the coming years. Even though he will no longer be competing as a collegian as the program develops, Orta has played a role in building a foundation that will allow that to happen.

"With Coach Floreal, it's different. He wants to move this program forward and he's working for it right now," Orta said. "I'm sure it's going to get better and better and in four years from now or even less than that. We are definitely going to be a top-five program in the nation. No doubt in my mind it's going to improve a lot."

Orta is currently working on a master's degree in sports leadership. After one more year of school, he would like to stay involved in sports once he's done running for UK and wants to work in the administrative side of sports.

However, he will not give up on his true love of running. Orta will continue training and hopes to try to make it to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the 2016 Olympics, while also competing in marathons along the way.

He attributes much of his success to his time at UK and says he would not be the man he is today had he not attended school at Kentucky.

"I think this has prepared me for life because it shows you that if you work hard for something then you are eventually going to get it if you really want something and you work really hard for it," Orta said. "It teaches you that life is not easy and there are going to be people that are faster than you and there is nothing you can do about it, but keep trying and keep going. It's going to be hard to train, going to school and working but life is hard you have to man up and do it."

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