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UK takes over draft night, again

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Karl-Anthony Towns poses with fellow draft picks before going No. 1 in Thursday's NBA Draft. (Barry Williams, UK Athletics) Karl-Anthony Towns poses with fellow draft picks before going No. 1 in Thursday's NBA Draft. (Barry Williams, UK Athletics)
The NBA Draft is known for its twists and turns.

There are more mock drafts than can be counted beforehand, mock drafts that are immediately busted by surprise picks and trades.

Really, there's only one given on draft night these days, other than unpredictability.


At Thursday night's NBA Draft, UK once again took center stage. Six Wildcats heard their names called, tying a common draft-era record most recently achieved by Kentucky in 2012. UK has now had 25 draft picks in the last six years.

"Six guys get drafted and tie a record, four lottery picks and another No. 1 pick -- it's been another unbelievable night," Calipari said. "I'm proud of the guys. Our job as coaches is to help these kids realize their dreams. I'm so happy that a lot of lives were changed tonight."

As expected, Karl-Anthony Towns was taken by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the No. 1 overall pick. Towns is the third UK player taken with the top pick in John Calipari's six seasons and Coach Cal's fourth top pick overall, joining Anthony Davis (2012), John Wall (2010) and Derrick Rose (2008). Both are also common draft-era records.

"This is awesome, to have this moment be cherished where I'm from," said Towns, who took the stage not far from his home in Piscataway, N.J. "It's been a long road to get to this spot today, but with a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication, a lot of hours in the gym, a great support system that I've been fortunate and blessed to have, this moment has finally arrived."

Many experts forecasted Towns' teammate, Willie Cauley-Stein, would have to wait a while longer for his own moment. Mock drafts pegged the 7-footer's stock as slipping entering draft night, but Cauley-Stein paid the talk little mind.

"I wasn't nervous at all," Cauley-Stein said. "I'm a strong believer in whatever happens, happens. I was just riding the wave. Wherever I got picked up, that's the place I was supposed to be at."

He was rewarded for his approach.

Cauley-Stein was the second Wildcat off the board, heading to Sacramento to join fellow former UK big man DeMarcus Cousins as the No. 6 pick.

"To learn under Boogie and being in an organization that's up and coming, a lot of young guys, it's just cool," Cauley-Stein said.

Trey Lyles will join Cauley-Stein in heading west, becoming the No. 12 overall pick when he was chosen by the Utah Jazz. The 6-foot-10 forward, termed by Coach Cal as UK's "X-factor" throughout a 38-1 season, believes he will surprise his new fans with a diverse game of which he only showed glimpses in a single season at Kentucky when he reaches the next level.

"My playmaking ability offensively," Lyles said. "I didn't need to do a lot of it at (Kentucky) because we had it at other positions, but now I'm on another level and I'll be able to do more."

Devin Booker, on other hand, won't sneak up on anyone with his offensive ability. The shooting guard was taken just a pick after his UK classmate by the Phoenix Suns on the strength of his pure shooting stroke, but he looks forward to showing off a multi-faceted game.

"At Kentucky, we had a really talented team," Booker said. "I fit in really well with the team and found my niche. I'll have to create more for myself. I think I'm surprising people with my athleticism. Just stay tuned."

Though he's leaving his 2014-15 teammates, his new running mates have a distinct Kentucky feel of their own. The Suns' backcourt features former Wildcats Brandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe and Archie Goodwin.

"I'm loving it," Booker said. "Big Blue Nation everywhere. I wouldn't want it any other way."

After Booker's selection -- which gave UK a record-tying four lottery picks -- there would be a bit of a wait. When it was over, it looked like another Kentucky guard was headed to the desert. The Suns took Andrew Harrison with the No. 44 pick, but news quickly leaked that he would head to Memphis in exchange for Jon Leuer.

Four picks later, UK tied that 2012 record when Dakari Johnson was taken by the Oklahoma City Thunder.

That left only Aaron Harrison as undrafted among the seven Wildcats eligible, but Coach Cal is confident the clutch shooting guard will get his chance and capitalize.

"I'm disappointed that Aaron didn't get drafted, but he will be fine," Calipari said. "I will tell you that he will be on a summer league team and fighting for a position on an NBA team. My guess is he will be on an opening-season roster even though he wasn't drafted."

Calipari, there in Brooklyn to support his former pupils, watched as Kentucky made history once again. Though the competitive portion of UK's 2014-15 season ended in a fourth Final Four trip in five years less than three months ago, Thursday marked its true conclusion.

"We want to win, but not at the expense of these kids," Calipari said. "I want them to benefit more than the program. That's what I want this to be. When the seasons over, you want to say, 'They got more out of this than we did, I did, or the program did.' If anyone wants to question me with results, please say it publicly. Final Fours, wins, and all of this stuff that we do, but it's not about that. It's about these kids."

The whole process begins again soon.

Draft night social media round-up

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It's NBA Draft night, which means it's one of the busiest days of the year for Kentucky basketball. Add in the fact that seven Wildcats could hear their names called and it's almost impossible to keep up. That's why we're compiling the best tweets and more from throughout the night right here.

Wrapping it up

Johnson picked by Thunder, UK ties record

Andrew Harrison selected in the second round

Booker makes it four lottery picks

Lyles picked by the Utah Jazz

Willie joins Boogie in Sacramento

Towns goes No. 1


@ukcoachcalipari and @karlito_towns Selfie game too strong!

A photo posted by Karl Towns (@karltowns) on

Kendra Harrison (Chet White, UK Athletics) Kendra Harrison (Chet White, UK Athletics)

Update - June 14, 2015: Harrison won the NCAA 100m hurdles and claimed Silver in the 400m hurdles on Saturday.

Kendra Harrison isn't just a world-class hurdler. She's a "hurdles nerd."

Those are the words of her coach, Edrick Floreal, who uses the term affectionately.

After all, he coached her to the NCAA 60-meter hurdles Championship indoors in March, the 100m hurdles title this weekend and the two now have their sights trained on historic goals in the coming weeks and months.

For his part, Floreal is a world-class hurdles coach. He guided Amaechi Morton to the 2012 NCAA 400m hurdles Title, he recruited and worked with Kori Carter --!the 2013 NCAA Champion and now one of the world's top 400m hurdlers -- and he once coached LaVonna Martin: the 1992 Olympic Silver Medalist. Now his wife.

Said accomplishments barely scratch the surface of Floreal's achievements. And while his credentials when it comes to coaching hurdles are tough to match, Harrison could become his greatest pupil yet.

She added some evidence to support the argument this past weekend as she led UK to a school-record NCAA Runner-up team finish on Saturday. Harrison won the short hurdles -- completing an undefeated NCAA season indoors and out in short hurdles race -- and claimed the Silver Medal in the 400m hurdles with a historically fast time.

Floreal describes her as a nerd for the hurdles because her hunger to better understand her craft is unmatched in his experience.

"Keni (Harrison's nickname) is sort of a 'nerd' in the hurdles," Floreal  said. "Most athletes just want to hurdle and get it over with, but she's interested in the science of it. Learning and asking a lot of questions.

"Sometimes as a coach you find athletes who are like-minded. Keni wants to get into the science of hurdling. She's constantly asking me to teach her not just how to hurdle, but how to maneuver the hurdles. How to deal with all the variables that come up in an already complicated endeavor.

"I get a lot of texts late at night from her asking about things like the position of her trail leg. That's not the typical behavior of a 18-to-22-year-old, even among athletes, but it speaks to Keni's commitment to her craft."

The duo has been working together for two seasons, after Harrison spent the first two years of her college career at Clemson. There, she trained with reigning 100-meter hurdles World Champion and collegiate-record holder Brianna Rollins.

Harrison was plenty decorated as a Tiger, but she's reached stratospheric heights since becoming a Wildcat.

"Coach Flo and I just have a special connection," Harrison said. "We have a similar demeanor. He's a quiet man and I'm sort of the same. We view the sport through a similar lens.

"He knows what I'm thinking and we work well together. We spend a lot of time watching film and talking about hurdling as well as actual training on the track."

A multi-time All-American at Clemson, since arriving in Lexington before the 2013-14 season she's won an NCAA title, five Southeastern Conference Championships and become the third-fastest hurdler in NCAA history in both the 60-meter hurdles and 100-meter hurdles.

Floreal and Harrison worked on a change in attitude at the start of this season, which along with her unique family background was expertly chronicled by the Herald-Leader's Mark Story earlier this spring.

But a similarly important, albeit unexpected, milestone in Harrison's development was a preseason injury last winter. She did not compete in 2015 until the SEC Championships, where she opened with the collegiate-leading time en route to repeating as the Conference 60-meter hurdles champion.

"She couldn't train for almost two months while her hamstring healed and she improved her flexibility," Floreal said. "We decided 'if you can't run over hurdles, you're going to watch a ton of film so you can understand the event better.'

 "When she did come back it was like a light had gone off. She had to break down everything she knew to uncover a level she never thought she could reach."

The results indicate that the break from training was important. Her immersion in studying hurdling -- while not actually practicing -- allowed her to exploit what Floreal might lovingly call her "nerd tendencies."

But the way Harrison has hurdled in 2015, she might better be referred to as amazing or something similar.

Harrison is the world's second-fastest woman (the top-ranked amateur) in the 100-meter hurdles this season, ahead of decorated professionals like her former training partner Rollins. Those two will likely compete against one another -- and a loaded field of world-class American hurdlers -- for a place on the World Championships team later in June, but for now Harrison in focused on an attempt at NCAA history.

But off a second straight NCAA Silver in the 400m hurdles, Harrison isn't lacking for motivation as she now sets her sights on the United States Championships and World Championships Trials later this month.

With a new NCAA Championships schedule aimed at enhancing excitement for the television audience, Harrison proved she's a gamer. With just 35 minutes to rest between her win in the 100-meter hurdles and the start of the 400-meter hurdles, she ran a PR in the long hurdles -- considered by many to be track and field's most excruciating event.

Only Virginia Tech's Queen Harrison has won the 100m hurdles and 400m hurdles at the same NCAA Championships (2010).

"I don't think people realize how tough that is," Floreal said. "In the history of track one woman has one woman has won both and she had four days to do it. Kendra came within a couple tenths of a second of winning both with 35 minutes rest."

Harrison has indicated she will pick one event to run at the USA Championships, although she's open to running both in the future.

"When I'm fresh who knows what will happen?," she said. "Going into USAs I'm going to pick one event so my focus is going to be sharp."

For the first time this summer, Kentucky football head coach Mark Stoops talked about Kentucky's upcoming season. The head coach touched on a number of topics Wednesday at the annual Governor's Cup Luncheon, which was held at Frankfort Country Club in Frankfort.

Stoops, who was joined at the luncheon by honorees from both U of L and UK as well as Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino, answered questions from reporters as part of the luncheon. In his 10-minute appearance at the podium, the head coach answered the obvious question that the staff is still evaluating the starting quarterback position daily, but believes returning starter Patrick Towles does have a "leg up."

"We're constantly evaluating that. We went back and watched a lot of tape, a lot of cut-ups, and trying to be very critical. Yeah, I'd say Patrick probably has the leg up," Stoops said. "He did some good things in the spring, but Drew (Barker) is young and playing better and better every time he steps on the field. He's still going to have an opportunity throughout the summer and throughout camp to win that job, but Patrick's probably got a leg up at this point."

Stoops said quarterback Reese Phillips is still recovering from an Achilles tendon injury he sustained this offseason, but is expected to return mid-August.

The head coach said the staff gave the players some time off after finals to go home and decompress before returning this week for workouts. However, Stoops said several players decided to stay and start workouts early, something he was happy to see.

"I feel like our guys clearly understand what's expected of them," Stoops said. "Are we as disciplined as we need to be all the time? Probably not. And that's the next phase. I feel like they have the experience now at certain positions. We have a good blend of even some younger guys that have some experience but some great talent. And some older guys that played some football, been in our system now going into their third year, and that's certainly going to help. So I'm pleased with them. It's never going to be perfect, but we need to be more consistent and more disciplined in all the things we're doing."

While Stoops was in Frankfort previewing the upcoming season, the players - which Stoops said have nearly all returned to campus for workouts - were busy trying on different uniform combinations during photo day. A video of photo day, is a blog post below.

Austin MacGinnis. (Nikki McLaughlin, UK Athletics) Austin MacGinnis. (Nikki McLaughlin, UK Athletics)
This week, Alex Montgomery, Austin MacGinnis and Marcus McWilson are on UK football's annual service trip to Ethiopia. Over the coming days, they will take turns sharing their experiences in a series of Cat Scratches blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics. Today, MacGinnis looks back on the Wednesday the group spent last week visiting a local jail and a handful of Ethiopian villages.

Our African hump day sure did start out with a the form of about 50 camels crossing the street on our way to a children's sponsorship house. When we walked into the children's building, 100 kids were waiting on us with songs, chants and clapping. It was a jaw-dropping entrance to say the least. The smiles on the kids' faces reached from ear to ear. They did not want anything from us, but just to be in our presence and feel loved. We played soccer, jumped rope, danced and sang with the kids. After playing and spending time with the children we were able to give them snacks of avocado juice and morinda leaves. Along with some candy.

After we left the children's sponsorship house, we visited a local jail. The jails in Ethiopia are much, much different than those in the U.S. Instead of big cement walls topped with razor sharp barbed wire, the Ethiopian prisoners were only held captive by a wood fence and three lines of farming barbed wire. The offenses of the prisoners in the jail ranged from petty crimes to murder. They did not wear the typical orange jump suits like in the U.S. either. They were dressed in normal street clothes and could easily be mistaken for innocent pedestrians to the untrained eye.

After the jail visit is when the day really became special for me. We delivered bags of flour, macaroni, rice, spices and kits to allow a group of women to start their own coffee business. We delivered these goods to six different families in various villages. The women who received these gifts have basically nothing to their name but a very small square hut. These women have not received any support from the fathers and must provide for their children by themselves.  

One experience, in particular, from today really stuck out to me. We were invited into one woman's very small hut after giving her the supplies. While in the hut we prayed with the woman and were able to communicate through a translator. The woman explained to us that she has never met her mother OR father. She was abandoned as an infant and is now raising two kids with no father figure. She told Mark (who is basically our tour guide for the trip), "I see you as a father figure now, I would not have been able to provide for my kids without the help of your supplies." These words were spoken with such deep passion and honesty that it touched me deeply. Being able to help someone that is so grateful and deserving made my heart feel full. The joy and happiness we were able to bring these women is unmatched by anything I have previously experienced in my life.

I've come to realize on this trip that there is so much more to life than material goods. Ethiopia has taught me not to form opinions about a person by the clothes they wear, but by the fullness and love in their heart. It is very hard to put into words how little these people really have, yet they do not let their situation in life get them down. The smiles on their faces give me hope. I really just feel blessed to be invited on this trip. The opportunity to serve others instead of being served has opened my eyes in a way they've never been open before. I am really looking forward to these next few days here in Africa.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Coming off a disappointing Saturday defeat at the hands of Florida, Kentucky found itself facing elimination.

The Wildcats would have to win twice on Sunday to keep their season alive, but Rachel Lawson wasn't thinking in those terms. All she wanted was for her team to fight and let the chips fall where they may.

That's exactly what she got. It just wasn't quite enough.

"I thought our team played hard today," Lawson said. "I thought we did a good job putting people on base. We just didn't get that timely hit when we needed to get that timely hit. So overall we played a lot better today, but when you're playing a team as good as Florida it always comes down to the little things."

UK's bid for a second consecutive trip to the Women's College World Series came up short, as the Cats were clipped by the top-seeded Gators, 1-0. The Cats advanced runners into scoring position in the first two innings and had at least one runner on base in the first four, but couldn't scratch a run across against Lauren Haeger.

The Cats were aggressive on the base paths all afternoon, starting runners in both the third and fourth innings on plays that led to double plays.

"The bigger the game, the bigger the risk when you're the underdog," Lawson said. "So we decided it was in our best interest--we weren't doing a good job putting people on base yesterday. We weren't pushing Florida's defense. So we made it a conscious effort to try to put base runners on, to try to move them, to try to be more aggressive to put their defense in motion because they're such an outstanding defense.

"So overall I think that was a good decision. We just didn't come up with the timely hit that we needed when we were putting people in motion."

Kentucky ace Kelsey Nunley nearly went pitch for pitch with the national player of the year finalist, holding the Gators to one run on five hits.

"I thought Kelsey was great on the mound," Lawson said. "Florida's an outstanding hitting team and to be able to shut them down to just one run is a big deal, especially this time of year. They're a very good team and they know how to get to the World Series. To be able to do that says a lot about Kelsey."

Florida plated its lone run in the fourth inning with three singles, the last of the infield variety with two outs by Justine McLean. After the first inning of game one when the Gators scored four times, Nunley tossed 10.2 innings and allowed only that run.

"Just tried to keep them off balance," Nunley said. "They're a really good hitting team so that's what you try to do. I tried to move with the batter instead of just pitching with the plate. That's what I focused on today."

Only a junior, many more such performances figure to be in story for Nunley, already the winningest pitcher in program history. She will lead a seven-member senior class when UK takes the field in 2016,

"I'd like to think we're built for every year, but yes," Lawson said. "We have great pitching. We only graduated two players."

However, the two graduates -- Griffin Joiner and Kara Lawson -- will be big losses. That's especially true of Joiner, a four-year starter at catcher and the heart and soul of this Kentucky team. Talking about the two caused Lawson to have to fight back tears in her postgame press conference, but she was also quick to point out the Cats will have to move on.

"With that said, we are going to be very good," Lawson said. "We are smart. We know how to play the game. We have a lot of people returning, we have outstanding recruits coming in and we will be back."

Considering this trip to Super Regionals was the fourth in five years for Kentucky, it's no stretch of the imagination to say the Cats will be back. Next time, however, Lawson wants it to be as the hosts.

"I hope what my team takes from this is we've got to do all the little things right in the offseason, during the season so we can also be a national seed," Lawson said. "Not just a national seed one time. That we can be a national seed every single time we come out to play."

Kelsey Nunley retired 10 straight batters after allowing four first-inning runs against Florida. (Doug Finger, UK Athletics) Kelsey Nunley retired 10 straight batters after allowing four first-inning runs against Florida. (Doug Finger, UK Athletics)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Rachel Lawson had nearly a week to think about how she wanted game one of Kentucky's Super Regional against top-seeded Florida to go.

It only took a few minutes for that to all go out the window.

In the top of the first, the Wildcats were mowed down in order by Lauren Haeger. In the bottom half, the Gators plated four runs, all coming with two outs, against Kelsey Nunley.

"It was a tough first inning," Lawson said. "Things didn't exactly go our way and it kind of put us in a hole. When you do that to Haeger -- who's outstanding, arguably the best player in college softball -- it's going to be a tough day."

A tough day is exactly what it ended up being, as UK (32-25) fell behind 1-0 in a best-of-three series against Florida (54-6) after a 7-0 defeat at a loud and hot Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium on Saturday. Haeger took a perfect game into the sixth inning, rendering meaningless the fact that Nunley found a rhythm and retired 10 straight batters after a three-run double by Kayli Kvistad in the first.

"I thought Nunley did a great job shutting them down after the first inning," Lawson said. "I thought we stayed in the game tight and then we just let it get out of hand later in the game."

The outcome was decided once and for all when Florida plated three runs in the sixth inning against Erin Rethlake. Rethlake and Meagan Prince came on in relief of Nunley to rest the star junior for Sunday and get the two youngsters some valuable experience in an environment the likes of which neither has ever seen.

"I think it was important for Meagan Prince to get in," Lawson said. "We weren't really hitting the ball very well. I thought Haeger was doing an outstanding job. She was commanding her pitches; her off-speed looked good. I think it was getting harder and harder for us to barrel up on the ball so I thought was important that Meagan get in the game and I thought she did an outstanding job.

"Correspondingly, I thought it was important that Rethlake get in, because this is an outstanding crowd."

With the way Prince performed -- retiring the 9, 1 and 2 hitters for Florida in order -- she's likely to play a role come Sunday, when UK will look to sweep a doubleheader and punch a Women's College World Series ticket for the second season in a row.

"What will happen is we'll go back to the film," Lawson said. "You can expect Nunley, you can expect Meagan Prince tomorrow. It's going to be a long day. The nice thing is neither one of them is fatigued. Both of them work extremely hard in the offseason; they work extremely hard during the year. We haven't over-pitched anybody. So they can throw the innings they need to throw. The key for us is going to be if we can hit Florida's pitching."

As Saturday proved, that's a tall order.

The Cats, however, have room for improvement. The key to having more success at the plate against Haeger and the Florida staff, Lawson says, is to attack earlier in the count.

"I think we over-swang," Lawson said. "I think we got in there, we took pitches that we should be swinging at and I think they were expecting to see a ball over the white even though she never pitches it there. And then they were swinging at pitcher's pitches late in the count and they were popping up."

On Sunday at noon, the Cats will try to turn that around.

"From this point we just gotta try to recover, get our minds right and get some rest for tomorrow and hopefully we'll be able to fight through and just try to force the if-necessary game," said Griffin Joiner, who had one of Kentucky's two hits on Saturday.

The good news for UK is sweeping a doubleheader against a heavily favored opponent on the road with a WCWS trip on the line has been done before. In fact, the Cats did it exactly one year ago against UCLA.

"That's what we're going to talk about," Joiner said. "We've been in this position before, whether it's been throughout the season with a doubleheader or last season in the postseason."

Marcus McWilson, Austin MacGinnis and Alex Montgomery. (Nikki McLaughlin, UK Athletics) Marcus McWilson, Austin MacGinnis and Alex Montgomery. (Nikki McLaughlin, UK Athletics)
This week, Alex Montgomery, Austin MacGinnis and Marcus McWilson are on UK football's annual service trip to Ethiopia. Over the coming days, they will take turns sharing their experiences in a series of Cat Scratches blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics. Today, Nikki McLaughlin -- the photographer accompanying the group on the trip -- shares her thoughts.

Each time I visit Ethiopia, I return home having made some amazing new friends. Included on the new friend list this go-round: three incredible football players from Kentucky.

I've been in awe this week as I have watched these three young men bless the people here and be blessed by them in return. Whether they were doing construction projects on the home of an AIDS-affflicted widow, delivering a mattress to an elderly woman who had never before slept on one, providing food to families who might otherwise have nothing at all to eat or showering love upon impoverished children, these three have impressed me so much.

I will never forget watching Marcus McWilson tirelessly pound nail after nail into mud homes so that several widows would be ready for rainy season. I will always remember watching Alex Montgomery quietly offer a big smile to each child who ran up for a chance to compare their (tiny) hand against his.  And Austin MacGinnis, he must have dedicated an entire suitcase to candy, toys and soccer cleats. I loved watching him put his heart into sharing each of these things with the sweet babies here. Although on the opposite side of the globe from home, all three of these guys seemed to be "right at home" as they took time to play football and soccer with countless little ones.

These guys have worked hard and loved big. And today, the group relaxed a bit, took a break from work and went on a field trip! We drove several hours south of Addis to Debre Libanos to check out an ancient 13th-century monastery and the Blue Nile Gorge. I was super impressed by the story of a monk who meditated in a cave near the monastery for just over 29 years. We saw monkeys too! AWESOME. Before heading back we had an impromptu portrait shoot at the gorge lookout which included karate-kid kicks and handstands of course.

Whether serving widows and orphans or throwing a football to an aspiring athlete or chasing after monkeys, these guys have totally rocked it. I am so honored to be here with this amazing UK team as we adventure through Ethiopia making friends and memories along the way, so lucky to be behind my lens capturing this story. Ethiopia now has a piece of my heart and I dare to bet the same is true for my new friends from Kentucky.

"It's not how much we give but how much LOVE we put into giving." -- Mother Teresa

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Four trips in five seasons later, Super Regionals feel different for Kentucky softball.

Unprecedented success has led to unprecedented expectations for the Wildcats. What once was a destination has become something of a birthright.

"If you took this team and it was five years ago everybody would think we were great," UK head coach Rachel Lawson said.

With her team set to take on top-seeded Florida (53-6) in a best-of-three series beginning at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Gainesville, Fla., Lawson thinks of another team back home on UK's campus in the way success is now defined for her program.

"It is kind of like Kentucky basketball," Lawson said. "If Kentucky basketball just gets to the Sweet 16, it is just an OK season. Kentucky basketball is expected to be in the Final Four and win the national championship."

Lawson knows her team has a long way to go to match its counterpart on the hardwood - eight national titles, for starters - but the comparison holds water nonetheless.

"We are not Kentucky basketball, but we are definitely in the realm where we are only one of nine teams that have been to three straight Super Regionals," Lawson said. "So it is one of those things where now when you are as good as you are everybody expects you to go the World Series all the time."

Kentucky (32-24) made its first Women's College World Series trip a season ago, but a second straight trip seemed unlikely as recently as a week ago. The Cats limped into the NCAA Tournament on a seven-game losing streak, but swept through the South Bend Regional, knocking off overall No. 16 seed Notre Dame in the process.

"It was fun," third baseman Nikki Sagermann said. "It was great to get back on the field and get the team back on track and win some ballgames. It is always good when you are winning."

That's especially true with frequent losing still so fresh in your mind. But rather than letting that derail their confidence, the Cats got to work in a crucial week of practice following a loss in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

"We weren't making good pitches or if we did make a good pitch we wouldn't make a good stop," Lawson said. "We just weren't very good at that time. I think now with some work I think they feel confident that they are back to doing what they do well."

UK will need every ounce of that confidence come this weekend against the defending national champion Gators. Florida will have a home crowd on its side, not to mention an offense led by SEC Player of the Year Kelsey Stewart and a pitching staff anchored by SEC Pitcher of the Year Lauren Haeger. The Gators are hitting .312 as a team and boast an earned-run average of 1.73.

"We have already faced them this year so we know that environment with the fans and we have a lot of experience with that," said Sagermann, who hit two home runs last weekend and is on a career-best 10-game hitting streak. "They are a very good team and we are going to have to be on our A game to get out of there with two wins."

The Gators swept a competitive three-game set against UK in April, winning games by one, two and three runs. Outside of a six-run inning against sophomore Meagan Prince in game two, the Cats allowed just three runs all weekend.

"Well, I thought that we played pretty well that weekend," said Kelsey Nunley, who pitched all but two innings of UK's three regional wins. "We didn't get the results that we wanted, but we fought pretty hard and played good defense and made some good contact at the plate. I hope we can carry what we learned from those loses into this weekend."

Though Florida is the top seed, UK has experience taking down a favorite in Supers. The Cats won at No. 3 seed UCLA last season.

"This is our seventh straight postseason and every year we seem to be the underdog so that is a role that we are used to," Lawson said. "Florida is a very good team. It is different in the standpoint that we are both very familiar with each other because playing an SEC team is a lot different than going out of conference. So it is a similar scenario in that we are the underdog and are going to have to do something pretty exceptional in order to win."

Exceptional, sure, but not impossible.

"They are a higher seed than us and we are obviously pretty low seeded," Sagermann said. "We are just going to go out there and play our game and put no pressure on us. We are out there just to have fun and get two wins."

UK Athletics administrator Rachel Baker is accompanying three UK football players on a service trip to Ethiopia this week. (Nicolette McLaughlin, UK Athletics) UK Athletics administrator Rachel Baker is accompanying three UK football players on a service trip to Ethiopia this week. (Nicolette McLaughlin, UK Athletics)
This week, Alex Montgomery, Austin MacGinnis and Marcus McWilson are on UK football's annual service trip to Ethiopia. Over the coming days, they will take turns sharing their experiences in a series of Cat Scratches blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics. Today, Rachel Baker -- the senior associate athletics director accompanying the students on the trip -- shares her thoughts.

As I reflect on the work of the three student-athletes today in Korah, I have found difficulty in finding the words to do it justice. For me, today has been one of the toughest yet. Korah, Ethiopia is one of the poorest areas in the country. Thousands of people live there, and many of them live at the dump in order to have a potential source of food and supplies.

The morning started at a local church where we distributed food supplies to 30 widowed mothers and children. Each family received a month's supply of oil, matches, rice, macaroni, spaghetti noodles, toilet paper, soap and detergent. The women began lining up as we were preparing the bags for distribution and you could see and feel their excitement. These women do not have traditional "sponsors," so many times do not know where or how they or their children will survive from week to week.

Following this, we traveled to the city dump to observe the living conditions. While we all come from different backgrounds and have experienced different things in our life, I can honestly say that I have never experienced anything like today. To witness hundreds of human beings living in a garbage dump in order to have a potential source of food and supplies was almost too much. The smell was unimaginable, and I am ashamed to admit that there were several times when I didn't think that I could continue on through it. However, I would occasionally look up and see Alex, Austin and Marcus reaching out to shake hands, say hello, or pass out candy and toys to the people living there and found motivation through them and their work. These people have so very little, if anything, but have smiles on their faces and are so appreciative that people care enough to come visit.

Following the trip to the dump, we traveled to an office to listen to a man (who was around my same age) talk about his life growing up at the dump. Wow. The stories of survival that he shared with us were beyond what any of us could ever comprehend. As I think about the differences between what I was doing around that same time in my life compared to his daily struggles, it provides a whole different perspective.  

At the end of his story, he gave us a call to action: help one person. We all have an obligation, a responsibility, a duty to make a difference in the life of at least one. When I step back and look at this man and think about his life growing up, I am amazed. He was able to persevere in dire circumstances, ultimately get an education and obtain two college degrees. He could probably have created a whole different life for himself and his family in another place far away but chose to return home to Korah in order to make a difference in his community. He truly defines what it means to be a servant leader, and I hope that we will all be able to take his advice to heart.

As I watch these three young men take in this extraordinary experience, I feel an overwhelming sense of pride in them, their team, and our institution. They have opened their hearts and visited with so many people and children, put so many smiles on young faces, and truly been outstanding representatives of UK.

Recent Comments

  • BBN#1Fan: Was the first time I EVER watched the draft! It was great to see BBN doing great on this nite! read more
  • Berdj J. Rassam: Another great night for UK in the NBA draft. read more
  • Brooklin Lee: One loss does not mean you lose anything. Just try again in the next matches. I know the Wild Cats read more
  • Floyd Ballard: CONGRATULATIONS!! I watched the run Saturday on TV, and you looked fantastic. read more
  • Walter Leonard: President? Why would Cal want to take such a drastic pay cut? As long as he can still coach here, read more
  • BJ Rassam: Many of us are looking forward to the team Coach Cal will be putting out this upcoming season. read more
  • Tom Minney: Nice story about 3 outstanding young guys and the power of love. Debre Libanos is an outstanding place to visit, read more
  • Tsehai Alemayehu: It was great to meet you and the rest of your group yesterday in that funky restaurant in Fiche. As read more
  • Carla Blair: God is good! Be grateful for this experience. And this opportunity. read more
  • Bobby Dick: Always remember young man its not what you take its what you leave behind i pray to God you guys read more