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Floreal, Cats ready to begin year two with cross country season

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Cally Macumber won the 2012 SEC Cross Country Championship. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Cally Macumber won the 2012 SEC Cross Country Championship. (Michael Rivera, UK Athletics)
It's a journey that began on July 9, 2012 when Edrick Floreal was named the University of Kentucky's track and field head coach. With the first year behind them, the beginning of the cross country season signals the beginning of year two of Floreal's bid to shape UK into a national power.

As Floreal and the UK cross country program begin their second season together, they do so with greater familiarity, but also with plenty of additional pieces.

A cast of 19 new student-athletes joins the program this year, in addition to first-year men's cross country coach Sean Graham. The foundation that returns from last season, which includes Floreal, several additional assistant coaches and 13 returning student-athletes, will be the base as the Wildcats continue to build.

"Pretty simply, this is year two of the little journey we began last year," Floreal said. "We're looking forward to moving forward to cross country, getting our team to do better than last year, which is our goal from year to year, just keep improving from year to year and putting a product out there that's worthy of what the University of Kentucky deserves."

The cross country season acts as the perfect springboard into track and field in the winter and spring for the Wildcats.

In year two, despite the arrival of numerous newcomers, the learning curve won't be as big for the coaching staff and the student-athletes. As Floreal works to mold the team in the way he sees best, his idea becomes clearer.

The goal, simply, is to have people take notice of Kentucky. Competing in one of the nation's toughest conferences, that is no easy task.

"We want to be relevant, which is my goal," Floreal said. "People say competitive, but that can kind of be a fluffy word, with whatever that means. To me, I want to be relevant.

"Relevant is, if we go into a cross country championship at the SEC, if we don't show up, I want to make sure that our presence is felt. Sometimes you don't come and nobody will know if you were there or not. But for me, relevant is that people see us walking in, and they know, 'OK, these guys are here to do business, they're going to give it their best shot.' "

Last season was a step in the right direction. Cally Macumber helped make Kentucky relevant when she won the SEC Cross Country Championship. It was the first individual conference title for any UK woman since 1989 and the second championship in team history.

As a team, the Wildcat women finished fifth, while the men placed sixth in 2012. This year, the expectations are to do better.

"Summer training went really well," said Macumber. "I know the other girls' summer training went really well and we're just excited to be back, ready to train and ready to start the year out fresh."

Macumber finished sixth at the 2012 NCAA Cross Country Championships.

On the men's team, Graham's hiring as assistant coach and cross country coach on Aug. 19 is the newest piece to the puzzle.

Graham, who spent last year as an assistant coach at American University, was an Olympic Trials finalist in the 5,000 meter in 2004. He has trained with both the Nike Farm team and the Oregon Track Club Elite after competing collegiately for the College of William and Mary.

"We feel that Coach Graham has all the necessary abilities and qualities that we look for in a coach, and he's absolutely in love with the idea of coaching here at UK," Floreal said. "That was very important to me, I wanted somebody that saw this as an opportunity of a lifetime, that just adores the chance to work with our kids and to service them and be a mentor to them."

Graham's attitude and enthusiasm is sure to rub off on the UK runners. While it will be a new philosophy and set of ideas from their coach, the Wildcats should have no problem finding the energy.

When year two begins in Nashville at the Belmont Opener on Aug. 30, it will start another leg of Floreal's journey at Kentucky.

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