Football - UK put together arguably the best half of football of its season against USC, blocking a Gamecock punt, recovering a fumble and stopping the South Carolina offense at the goal line. UK limited USC to 26 rushing yards in the first half and only allowed two third-down conversions. - True freshman Jalen Whitlow came off the bench to fill in nicely for UK, leading the Wildcats to 17 first-half points, including his first career touchdown. Whitlow finished the game 12-of-23 for 114 yards. - UK held South Carolina - who entered the game averaging 424.2 yards of offense per game - to 348 yards of total offense, the second-lowest offensive output for the Gamecocks this year, behind a 272-yard offensive game in a USC win at Vanderbilt during the opening weekend of action. Volleyball - Junior Whitney Billings led the charge with a pair of double-double efforts including a career-high 19 kills in a four-set match vs. Auburn. Her 10-kill performance vs. Tennessee marked the first double-figure kill effort without committing an error in her career. She has logged three-consecutive double-doubles which has coincided with UK's winning streak. In addition to her point scoring, she was masterful defensively as well pacing UK in digs (4.43) and blocks (1.14). - Senior setter Christine Hartmann led the offense to 14.5 kills per set on an impressive .239 hitting clip in the two wins. Hartmann had a double-double effort vs. Auburn with 45 assists and 12 digs. She also led the team with six blocks in the contest as she nearly came away with a triple-double.
Women's soccer - Kentucky took on No. 6 Texas A&M Friday night, playing the highest-ranked team ever to play in Lexington to a 2-2 draw, earning its 10th SEC point of the season. - All three goals for UK on the weekend were off the boot of a freshman as Kelli Hubly scored both goals in Friday's tie and fellow newcomer Cara Ledman struck for UK on Sunday afternoon against Alabama. - Courtney Raetzman continues to play well as the Elk Grove, Ill., native has tallied at least a point in every SEC game of the season, striking for two assists this weekend. - The Wildcats have now played in three consecutive overtime games dating back to Sept. 23 at LSU where the Cats picked up a 2-1 win. It is the first time since the 1999 season that UK has played three-straight OT games.
Men's soccer - Kentucky posted a 7-3 goal margin in its two games during the week, as the Wildcats got the first career multi-goal game from veteran Gabriel Conelian against IPFW, as well as multi-goal game from Tyler Riggs. A pair of three-point performances were registered in the game against the Memphis Tigers, with Charley Pettys and Tyler Riggs both accounting for a goal and an assist on the day. - UK is currently riding a stellar five-match unbeaten streak (4-0-1), its longest since the 2009 season. UK owns a 13-4 total goal differential in the five-game span, which started with a thrilling 1-0 win at No. 18 Louisville on Sept. 14.
Cross country - The Kentucky women's cross country teams earned an eighth-place finish overall, and the men's team posted a 12th-place performance at the Greater Louisville Cross Country Classic on Saturday. - The women's team placed two runners inside the top 10. - Cally Macumber was the second runner to cross the finish line in 16:55.14 to back up her individual win a week ago. - Macumber has now finished inside the top two at all three meets the Wildcats have competed in this season. - Chelsea Oswald was the seventh runner to complete the 5,000 meter race with a time of 16:59.32. - Luis Orta led the way for the Wildcat men with a 12th-place time of 24:06.96 over 8K.
Men's golf - The UK men's golf team placed second at the Saint Mary's Invitational last week with a team score of 3-over-par 867. - After sitting in 10th following the opening session, the squad responded by carding the lowest scores of the tournament in the final two rounds. - Stephen Powers led the Wildcats and was tied for sixth individually with a 1-under-par invitational. - Sophomore David Snyder also placed in the top-10, finishing with a score of even par for the tournament.
Monday, Oct. 1 Men's tennis at ITA All-American Championships (Tulsa, Okla.) Tuesday, Oct. 2 Men's tennis at ITA All-American Championships (Tulsa, Okla.)
Wednesday, Oct. 3 Men's tennis at ITA All-American Championships (Tulsa, Okla.) Men's soccer hosts Indiana - 7:00 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4 Men's tennis at ITA All-American Championships (Tulsa, Okla.)
Friday, Oct. 5 Women's soccer at Missouri - 7:30 p.m. Men's tennis at ITA All-American Championships (Tulsa, Okla.) Volleyball at Ole Miss - 8:00 p.m. Women's tennis at Roberta Allison (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
Saturday, Oct. 6 Football hosts Mississippi State - 12:21 p.m. Men's soccer at SMU - 8:00 p.m. Men's tennis at ITA All-American Championships (Tulsa, Okla.) Women's tennis at Roberta Allison (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
Sunday, Oct. 7 Women's soccer at Ole Miss - 2:00 p.m. Volleyball at Florida - 3:00 p.m. Men's tennis at ITA All-American Championships (Tulsa, Okla.) Women's tennis at Roberta Allison (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
Luis Orta started his senior season with a first-place finish in the Belmont Opener this weekend. (UK Athletics)
There is a bit of a buzz around the University of Kentucky's track and field/cross country program. Those around the athletic department see the sport as ready to take off under newly appointed head coach Edrick Floreal, but it won't happen overnight. Floreal and his staff have brought along a system from Stanford that many of his athletes are new to.
The athletes' bodies are taking a toll from the jumping and hurdle training Floreal and the staff are presenting to them but, overall, the athletes have responded positively to the adjustments.
In Floreal's first meet as the head coach, he saw his Wildcats take home second place in both the men's and women's races at the Belmont Opener in Nashville, Tenn.
Senior men's runner Luis Orta claimed first in the season opener for the third consecutive season. Although Orta's finish followed suit with his previous seasons, not everything went as planned.
"We didn't race with spikes," Orta said. "For me winning the race and for my teammates finishing so close to me without spikes was huge."
Wearing spikes is a different type of running for distance athletes and can cause their calves and legs to become sore if they have not trained long enough with them.
The decision to not wear spikes was surprising amongst the team but that did not hold them back from competing. Instead, they put all of their trust in the coaching staff.
"Yeah I kind of opposed it at first because when I race I want to win and I don't want to give my opponents an advantage," Orta said. "Coach told me everything will be all right and there will be a time for that. I said, 'Okay coach I'll do whatever you tell me to do.'
"The first two miles I thought about it and didn't feel that fast but then in the last mile it didn't matter and I think I can race like that any day. I felt super strong in the end."
Compared to what the team has gone through in the offseason, the spikes were a minor change in the system the coaching staff has presented.
Perhaps the biggest change the cross country team has experienced is the amount of miles run in training. The team has upped their total miles from 50 to over 80 a week. Another addition to the coaching transition has been the exercises aimed to strengthen each runner's body. The team has worked a lot on their core, upper body and legs, including push-ups and abs workouts.
The reactions to the adjustments are seemingly unanimous. The players and coaching staff agree it will take time before they see great results but sense positive signs they are headed in the right direction.
"I think for them it's just getting used to the way I do things," Floreal said. "I think everything has been positive so far. We are excited about the way things are going with the changes and I think the team is excited about doing more together as a team.
"I think there is a good foundation that Don Weber put together and now we are taking the baton and building the rest of the house. We've got a basement and now we've got to build a first, second, and third floor and sometimes it's a little more difficult but nonetheless it's the challenge we have at hand."
The squad is not set to race again until Sept. 22, when they travel to Charlottesville, Va., for the Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational. Assistant coach Jason Dunn works with the male distance runners, while assistant Hakon DeVries is in charge of the females.
Dunn and DeVries came to UK with Floreal and experienced their first meet this past weekend in Nashville. With the race being the first of the year, Dunn knew the team wouldn't be flawless, but he did like what he saw.
"It was exciting to have the first meet for me in Kentucky blue," Dunn said. "We know we've got a lot of work and training to do so we didn't expect to be at the top of our game by any stretch, but it was encouraging to see where some of the guys are at. It was nice to see Luis win the race and it was a good start to the season."
Orta won the heat with a time of 15:16.70. The Caracas, Venezuela native was a first team All-Southeastern Conference selection and garnered three SEC Runner of the Week accolades in 2011.
Orta has been a committed runner for UK since his freshman season and continues to show leadership and determination even through the transitions over the summer. He constantly wants to get better and will do whatever it takes to help himself and the team improve.
"He's going to have to be a guy for the entire team that people can look at and say that's the model that is needed to be successful at UK," Floreal said. "He's a unique and special kid that accepts the demands from the coaching staff and understands the expectations and leadership that is going to be put on him. He's willing to do whatever it takes to become the best athlete he can possibly be and set an example for the rest of the team."
The season is young, and a second place finish at the Belmont Opener is a teaser for what this program could offer to UK Athletics this year and in years to come. The coaches are sticking with the same philosophy they have always believed in and have the players buying in on the process.
One of the biggest hiccups is trying to change the habits that have been instilled in the athletes. Weber was a very successful coach and accomplished many great things at UK, producing numerous NCAA and SEC champions. That time is over and Floreal is bringing a new era to the program.
"It's going to take time because you cannot make a change so drastic that quickly," Orta said. "Everyone is happy with the new coaches because we know they are great coaches and it reflects from the training. I've worked harder than I've ever worked in my four years at Kentucky and the team is excited about the change."
Football - The UK football team began the season with a 32-14 loss on the road to in-state foe Louisville on Sunday. - UK moved the ball well offensively, totaling 373 yards of total offense. Sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith-led Kentucky's offensive attack by completing 35-of-50 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns. Senior La'Rod King led the team in receiving with a career-best eight catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns, while tight end Tyler Robinson caught the other touchdown pass. - Senior tailback CoShik Williams also had a solid outing, posting more all-purpose yards than any other player in the game with 168 yards. Williams also led UK in rushing with 10 rushes for 62 yards. - Kentucky was 7-of-13 on third downs for the game, which was its best performance since going 9-of-15 versus Georgia on Oct. 23, 2010. UK's 24 first downs were the most since 26 at Tennessee on Nov. 27, 2010. Volleyball - The 10th-ranked Kentucky volleyball team endured its toughest stretch of matches to date with hostile road environments at Louisville and Ohio, as well as taking on No. 17 Oregon. UK responded with a 2-2 week which included an impressive victory over Ohio. - Junior Whitney Billings shined in all phases of the game with team-leading stats in kills, hitting percentage and aces. She was also a contributor on the defensive side of things earning impressive performances at the net as well as the back line defensive effort. She had a career-high .545 hitting percentage on a flawless performance from the floor in a win against Western Carolina. - Things do not get any easier for the Blue and White as UK ventures to the Ameritas Players Challenge on the campus of No. 1 Nebraska this week.
Women's soccer - The Kentucky soccer team hosted the Tropical Smoothie Invitational, coming away with a 2-0-0 weekend tallying wins over UNC Greensboro and Southeast Missouri. - Senior Natalie Horner tallied a goal in both games, netting the fourth and fifth goals of her career. The Upper Arlington, Ohio native played the full 90 minutes in both games. Horner's goal on Sunday was a game-winner for the Wildcats in a 1-0 win. - The Wildcats back line kept a clean sheet for the second and third time in four matches, and continue to stand alone in the Southeastern Conference as the only team to not allow the opposition to score on them all season. - Natalie Horner, Arin Gilliland and Olivia Jester were named to the Tropical Smoothie Invitational All-Tournament team.
Men's soccer - The men's soccer team has continued a stout schedule to open the 2012 season, as the Wildcats traveled to the talent-laden Gamecock Classic over the weekend, suffering a pair of one-goal losses to No. 25 Northwestern and defending Big East Champion, No. 15 St. John's. - The Wildcats have scored a total of five goals in their first three games, including a pair of goals from Matt Lodge and Tyler Riggs. Charley Pettys has also notched a goal, while freshman Norwegian Kristoffer Tollefsen leads the club with two assists. - In goal, UK freshman Callum Irving made the start in the season lidlifter with junior Jack Van Arsdale starting the two games at the Gamecock Classic.
Cross country - The men's and women's cross country teams both finished second at the Belmont Opener, the men finishing with 74 points while the women finished one point off the lead with 34 points. - Senior Luis Orta led the men's team, finishing first overall for a second consecutive year at the event. Orta finished the 5K event in 15:16.70 and has now won the first event of the season three consecutive years. Matt Hillenbrand finished sixth for the men, crossing the finish line in 15:37.30. - Cally Macumber finished the women's 4K event in second, just two seconds off the lead while Chelsea Oswald finished just behind her in third. Allison Peare and Hiruni Wijayaratne also earned top-10 finishes for the women.
Mitch Barnhart is in his 11th year as Athletics Director at the University of Kentucky. (UK Athletics)
Cat Scratches sat down with Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart this week for a question-and-answer session. With another year in UK Athletics in full swing, Barnhart discussed the state of the athletic department, the upcoming football season and facilities, among other topics. Here is a complete transcript of the conversation.
Cat Scratches: UK Athletics had one of the best seasons in its history in 2011-12 and fall sports are already in action. How important do you believe it is for the fall sports to continue the momentum and set the tone for 2012-13? Mitch Barnhart: I think it certainly creates momentum when you get off to a good start. We just completed our first weekend of play and we were 5-1 coming out of the weekend in a variety of sports between women's soccer, volleyball and men's soccer. Last year, we really only had two of our fall sports that had NCAA appearances - one of them was women's soccer, the other one was volleyball - so trying to recover from a slow start was difficult. We did make a good run in the winter in the spring and that was very helpful to us. To get off to a better start this year in terms of all of our sports is very important to us.
We've made some additions to our fall sports coaches roster, if you will, in Johan Cedergren (men's soccer head coach) and Edrick Floreal in our track and field and our cross country. That will take a little time to develop, but I think it is important that you get off to a good start. Clearly, we don't want to miss opportunities for our program to be in postseason play. I think winning and creating that atmosphere and the old theory of the rising tide raises all boats is very, very true. We certainly want to start out that way. CS: Being around the program and interacting with coaches, it's impossible not to notice a community across the different teams at UK. How much of that culture did you envision when you arrived and how much is simply an outgrowth of bringing in good, like-minded people? MB: We've tried to create a group of coaches, as well as administrators, that get along and that everybody is sort of rowing in the same direction. It starts with your two revenue-producing coaches and that is with (men's basketball head coach John Calipari) and (football head coach) Joker (Philips). They truly want Kentucky Athletics in total to be great. The things that they do and the things that they put in place help us to get to those spots. They produce and provide opportunities for everybody else, but they take great pride in that and I think they enjoy other people succeeding.
What we do is try to create an atmosphere where coaches enjoy feeding off one another's successes and I think that's sort of what we got. I've joked around and said I've got a group of very normal people. I say that in the nicest of ways in that they have real balance in their lives. The way that they treat people is with respect and they're honorable folks in the way they do their business. But most of all, they understand student-athletes and how to treat them and grow them into the young people we want them to be.
When you put all those pieces of the puzzle together, we've got a group that really, really gets along well. You'll go to matches or games and you'll see all the coaches from other sports hanging out on the sidelines or in the end zones or in the corners watching. And I think they learn from one another. I think everybody's learned a little bit how you manage superstar athletes like Cal has gotten. You've seen some people that have been what I call grinders in grinding away with a group of athletes and how they've won with that and how we've won with some overachieving athletes. They've all taken bits and pieces from one another and I think they're not territorial in any way, shape or form. They get along extremely well.
CS: Moving on to football specifically, expectations on the part of fans and experts are relatively low for this season, while many around the program seem to have a quiet confidence that the team is better and more talented than outsiders think. For the sake of ticket sales, you would obviously prefer that fans would agree, but are there also positives associated with being under the radar? MB: I think, sometimes, you need to be able to play with a chip on your shoulder a little bit. I think that's what we're going to have to do this year. We're going to have to play with a chip on our shoulder. People aren't giving us much of an opportunity to compete and I think you're going to have use that as a rallying cry around your program. You're going to have to believe in one another. We're going to have to have some things go our way. We've got to stay a little bit injury-free and we've got to stay clear of that. And we've got to be able to go out and perform.
We've got some young people certainly capable of that and I think we've got a really good group of coaches. They believe in one another and they believe in our kids. That's the first step. I'd agree with you. I think there is a gentle confidence about them, but we've got to go out and prove that. CS: Another much-discussed topic is the Alumni Charity Game at Rupp Arena at 2 p.m. on Sept. 15. What kind of thought went into planning that and why do you believe it can be a successful doubleheader with football's home game at 7 p.m. against Western Kentucky that same day? MB: You've got some restrictions about when you can play the game and do those kinds of games by NBA rules. We've got a unique set of alumni - probably a different alumni base than most programs have - an alumni base of over 20 NBA guys, and it's growing rapidly. To have a unique group of folks that want to come back and be a part of something like that at Kentucky is very different from a lot of places.
I've always been a believer in creating multiple things for your fans to be a part of on a weekend and let them enjoy a lot of things. It goes back to what we talked about with the culture here. Just being able to share assets and share ideas and share fan bases and share things that promote Kentucky in total rather than one thing individually I think is really, really important. If we can use the incredible traditions we have in basketball to help augment people wanting to come be a part of an incredible weekend with Hall of Fame Weekend and Alumni Weekend and Western Kentucky, what an opportunity for us to do that.
CS: The Alumni Game is just the latest example of the department reaching out to former student-athletes. Across sports, former Wildcats are joining coaching staffs and being invited to be more involved with the program. Why do you believe that to be so important? MB: I think that Joker has done a great job of bring guys back in the program and allowing them to work and begin their careers. That fosters that sense of family that we are trying to create. We want people in our program that love Kentucky and understand Kentucky and take great pride in what we do. To have Jeremy Jarmon, Andre' Woodson, Glenn Holt, Sam Simpson, Braxton Kelley and Tyler Sargent back on your staff in football (as director of player personnel) or to have a Marquis Estill who comes back to get his degree and works on (the basketball) staff and (former student assistant) Wayne Turner now out there in the working world out there representing Kentucky is really good. You've got Tony Delk and Scott Padgett out there in basketball (now assistant coaches at New Mexico State and Samford, respectively, after a stint on Calipari's UK staff).
Most of our coaches are beginning to reach out and pull those folks back. There was a time when there weren't a whole lot of folks interested in coming back to be a part of this, but that has become more the norm. Our athletes are now wanting to be a part of us differently than they have in the past. I think that's very helpful to us.
CS: It doesn't take long for anyone who regularly attends UK sporting events to notice that you attend pretty much every game or match that you can. Why do you make such an effort to do that? MB: I think it's a couple things. One, the young people, our kids, put in an incredible amount of time. For us to be able to come and make sure they know that we care and that and we know who they are, I think that's important for them to know that you care.
Two, if you're going to evaluate your program properly, you've got to understand what the climate is in your program and what's going on. You've got to have an ability to see firsthand how your players, your athletes are reacting to the things that your coaches are teaching.
Three, I think we've got to know that the environment we're providing is organizationally sound and that it is run efficiently and safely for everybody that's coming, whether it's to play in it or to participate in it or to watch. We've got to make sure those things are sound.
I don't think you can do those things if you're not there and you're not around it. Come about mid- to late-June, I'm about done and I need to get away a little bit. So July I try to get away and go do stuff and get my head clear before we crank back up again. CS: We have discussed the challenges UK Athletics faces in maintaining and building new facilities in similar settings before, but can you provide an update on how you believe the department is coping with those challenges and what your priorities are going forward? MB: We came here and I would say - out of the 12 teams at the time that were in the SEC, now it's 14 - I'd say we were bottom three in the league in terms of actual facilities. The way that financing is done on campus and in our state, it is very difficult for us to secure financing. We don't have a private foundation. The way that funding in our state is done is very different from everybody else in our league, and that's another conversation completely.
We have basically piecemealed together everything that we've done. We've saved money, we've raised money, we've put pockets of money together systematically, piece by piece by piece taking care of facilities. We're in the process of finishing up the last two pieces of the soccer/softball complex down there on Alumni Drive. That would be a very important piece. That would leave us three or four projects away. Two of them are really, really big ones - one of them is a new baseball stadium and the other one is obviously the renovation of Commonwealth Stadium - that we're going to have find ways to get help on, whether that's through bonds or through additional fundraising. And then our indoor tennis center, which really desperately needs help. Those three facilities are still on the docket for us of things we really need help with.
How we get all that done and work on that is important because athletes today pick schools for a variety of reasons. We just did a study and they come for that relationship with that head coach, generally, and then secondarily with the players involved and the folks on the team. Can they make those relationships work? Beyond that, we have heard them say over and over again as they have left our program, 'It isn't about facilities, but we just don't want to have horrible facilities.' We've felt like we've always had decent playing facilities, but the amenities around them that make it really warm and accommodating have just not been where they need to be.
We've done the math. In the last 10 years, we've done about $115 to $120 million of cash, capital construction, but we close to no debt. That's a really good thing. The downside is that we haven't been able to move as fast as we've wanted to move. Hopefully, with getting some changes in the way we look at bonding, we'll be able to do that.
CS: The 15 by 15 by 15 plan to win 15 conference and national championships and finish in the top 15 of the Director's Cup standings by 2015 is the centerpiece of your goals for this department. Having won 10 titles already, that benchmark looks to be clearly within reach. But in 2011-12 - one of the best seasons in UK history - the department finished 29th. How difficult will it be to reach the top 15 and how important will the new direction of the track and field and cross country be to that? MB: Our goal is to obviously get the championships, and that's one piece. You could legitimately capture three championships a year for five years, meet that goal and still not be closer to a top-15 program. Our goal is to be a top-15 program and that hasn't changed. We got to 29th last year and it's the second time we've done that in the 10 years we've been here.
The big piece in that is you've got to be able to have success in your track and field program consistently. It counts six times for you when you take cross country, both men and women; indoor track and field championships, both men and women; and outdoor track and field championships, both men and women. That is six opportunities with essentially the same athletes and same coaching staff. We've been relatively inconsistent. We've had some championship performances in those sports. We've had some people do, individually, very well, but not collectively as a team getting us to a spot where we could say we're finishing top 20 in cross country, top 20 in indoor track and outdoor. We've got to get to that spot.
When you get a guy like Edrick to come on board who has got a great ability to move your program forward coupled with the investment we've made in a 13 million dollar outdoor track plus the indoor track, the resurfacing of that, new locker rooms and a new lounge, it's about as good a scenario as you could possibly have for track and field. It gives us all the resources necessary to go compete to get us to that top 15. I'm not saying in year one we make this dramatic move from 29 to 15. It's going to take him a year or two to get all his folks in place.
In time, that has a major impact on our ability to be a top-15 program. If we had everything else in place like we've had the last few years, just the moderate successes we've had and some of the championships we've won, and you added four finishes out of six in track and field, we would have been a top-15 program in I think three of the last six years. That significantly changes the way you do your business. We've got to pay attention to that and we've got to work really, really hard to give that the attention it needs.
I think we've done that and I think we have a legitimate chance to be a top-15 program or we wouldn't have done some of the things we've done. I think we have a tremendous pool of head coaches. Now we have to find a way to keep them in place and grow them the right way for the long-term stability of our program so we're not a transition place where they come here to go to another place. We want to give them the resources necessary to say this is a destination spot at Kentucky and we build toward being a top-15 program and stay there.
Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart introduced Edrick Floreal as the head coach of UK track and field and cross country on Thursday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Edrick Floreal thought he was heading to a two-week "vacation" before he really got down to business at his new job. Kentucky's recently named head track and field and cross country coach would serve as Team USA's coach for jumps and combined events, where he assumed he would rub shoulders with some of the world's best athletes in a relaxed environment.
He turned out to be half-right.
Six of his athletes won medals at the Olympics - including Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee, who took gold and silver in the decathlon - but Floreal had to do a lot more than just hold a stopwatch. Floreal was a two-time Olympian himself in 1988 and 1992, so his athletes trusted him. And relied on him. A lot.
"The guys really wanted me to be involved and they wanted to have no responsibility," Floreal said. "That's what they told me: 'We want you to do everything. You've been there, you've been to the Olympics, you've competed so we trust. We want you to tell us what time to be at the track. We want you to meet us at the bus.' "
After two weeks of 15-hour days on his supposed vacation, Floreal was likely ready for a break, but he's getting no such thing. Eighteen days before the Opening Ceremonies in London, Floreal was named the coach at UK. Four days after the Closing Ceremonies, he was at a press conference being introduced to the media and fans by his new boss.
"I'm not sure he knows what time zone he's in right now," Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart said. "But we're glad he's in ours."
He had a chance to begin to cobble together a staff and get to know his new athletes, but the real work begins now, along with the process of moving his family into a new home, though he admits his wife - LaVonna Martin-Floreal - will lead that charge.
With the success Floreal was having in his old job, not many would have figured he, his wife and his four children would be moving anytime soon. In 2011, Floreal led both the Cardinal men and women to top-15 national outdoor finishes. His six-year head-coaching tenure saw more than 50 athletes earn 142 All-American honors. Floreal was also a four-time Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Coach of the Year, the 2009 West Regional Indoor Coach of the Year and the 2006 West Regional Outdoor Coach of the Year.
He had built a consistent winner, a program that succeeded both on the track and off, but a three-year stretch as an assistant had always stuck with him. From 1996-98, Floreal served under his predecessor, Don Weber, at UK. More than a decade later, the lure of coaching in Lexington had always remained in the back of his mind, and his wife - the 1992 silver medalist in the 100-meter hurdles - sensed it too.
"A long, long time ago, my wife asked me, we were sitting having dinner and she said, 'You know what? Would you go back to UK?' " Floreal said. "And I said, 'Oh, in a heartbeat.' "
Earlier this summer, Barnhart put Floreal's off-handed answer to the test, initiating a conversation about succeeding Don Weber at UK at the Olympic Trials in Portland, Ore.
"When I came back from the Olympic Trials, I said, 'Remember that heartbeat thing we talked about a long time ago?' " Floreal said. "She was like, 'Yeah.' 'We'll that's going to happen.' We sort of chuckled and she knew right away. She said, 'I've already found a house.' "
However, the ultimate decision was not so easy. Floreal had built relationships with administrators, in the community and, most importantly, with his pupils, so telling them of his plans was difficult.
"If it wasn't tough, I wouldn't be able to coach," Floreal said. "It's tough to look at an 18-year old in the face and say your coach, your mentor, your friend and the person that's been sort of leading your way has to go somewhere else and be someone else's mentor."
It was what he saw in Kentucky, what he thought the track program could become that made him willing to turn to the next page in his career.
"Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder...In my eyes, what I see here, what I see that this place has to offer, I'm not going to try to explain it to anybody else because nobody else can understand," Floreal said. "That's for me. It's what I'm into. It's what I'm after and this place has what I look for. That's all I care about."
Not everyone may share his opinion, but he doesn't care. He knows his new assistants - Hakon DeVries, Jason Dunn and Andrew Ninow, all of whom come from Stanford - do, he knows Barnhart does and he knows his Wildcats eventually will. He wants to help the young people he works with grow in every facet of life. He wants to make lasting impacts on their future.
"I want to mentor young people enough to make an impact that when they grow older and they've got kids, hopefully their middle name can be Edrick," said Floreal.
If Floreal's charismatic performance on Thursday is any indication, getting current athletes and future recruits to buy in will be no issue. Media in attendance commented that Floreal's question-and-answer session was the early favorite for UK press conference of the year, saying even John Calipari would have a tough task in outdoing Floreal's combination of thoughtful answers and amusing one-liners.
He was at once self-deprecating in pointing out his wife's superior athletic accomplishments and supremely confident in speaking about the future, and engaging from start to finish.
"I typically shoot from the hip so what you hear is what you get," Floreal said. "Maybe I need to filter a little bit more."
That honesty was on display as Floreal offered his appraisal of where the program is now and where he wants it to go. He is adamant in his belief that UK track and field is a sleeping giant, that Lexington is "a logical place for great athletes to come," but he also knows there will be growing pains. The discipline and training habits he will demand of his athletes may come as a shock in the short term and the results may not come overnight, but he has a vision.
"Those who hear not the music think the dancer is mad," Floreal said, quoting a saying on his office door. "A lot of people are going to think I'm mad, but I have a tune in my head and I can hear it. By the time I'm done, people here will hear that too."
Floreal expects to compete at a high level and he's not talking in terms of rebuilding. He plans to hit the ground running and not stop anytime soon. He wouldn't be here if he didn't think Kentucky couldn't compete at the highest level.
"I'm not interested in participating if I don't have a chance to win," Floreal said. "That's not a game I want to play. I truly believe I have a chance to win here and we're going to find a way to do it. I can't say when, but I can tell you it's going to be as soon as possible."
With plenty of work ahead and barely two weeks before the start of the cross country season, it might be a while before Floreal gets that vacation.
Thursday is going to be a busy one here at the Joe Craft Center.
Beginning at noon, UK Athletics will host a press conference quadruple header ahead of the fall sports season. It will start with Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart introducing new track and field and cross country coach. Next, women's soccer coach Jon Lipsitz and midfielder Alyssa Telang will take their turn previewing the season. Volleyball's Craig Skinner and Stephanie Klefot will follow and Johan Cedergren and Cameron Wilder from men's soccer will close it out.
Each of the press conferences is expected to last 15 minutes and you can watch them all live on UKathletics.com. Throughout Thursday and Friday, Ryan Suckow and I will have stories from the event in addition to our regular football coverage.
There's no getting around it now. The season is upon us.
It's a story I'm sure you've heard before, but also one you won't mind hearing again. Josh Nadzam and Luis Orta from the Kentucky track and field and cross country teams have led shoe collections for Soles4Souls each of the past two springs. Kyle Scott from WLEX had a segment on Sunday's news about it.