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Video: UK announces partnership to strengthen CATS

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Winning is woven into the culture of the Kentucky cheerleading team. So when the Wildcats don't reach their goal - a national championship - disappointment is inevitable.

That was the case on Sunday evening, as UK fell short in its bid for an unprecedented 21st national championship.

"I know we're better than that, but today just wasn't our day," head coach Jomo Thompson said. "Hats off to the University of Alabama for taking that title."

Kentucky finished third at the UCA/UDA National Championships in Orlando, Fla., behind Alabama and second-place UCF. Thompson cited execution as the reason why the Cats couldn't bring home their 16th championship since 1995 and second in a row, but a difficult routine still kept UK in the top three.

"The competition's tough, but I always tell the kids we're our own competition," Thompson said. "We compete against the UK teams in the past before and we just didn't live up to that standard today."

UK will have to wait a year to reclaim its spot atop the world of college cheerleading, but the Cats have a history of responding when they don't win the title. Each of the four times the cheerleading team has been beaten out for the championship since 1995, UK has won the title the following year.

"We definitely have to come back stronger," Thompson said. "That starts with getting some good recruits in here and using this lesson that we learned today and kind of letting it burn in our bellies and just using it as fuel for next year, to re-motivate us."

The Kentucky dance team, which also competed at nationals this weekend, will have plenty of motivation heading into next year as well having turned in one of its best performances ever. The Cats came in third in the Hip Hop competition behind only Cincinnati and UNLV.

"I could not be more proud of these young ladies," head coach Dawn Walters said. "This is such a positive and hard-working group of girls. Even after one-third of the team got the flu two days before we left, they continued to support each other and stay focused on our goal. I'm so excited that their hard work was rewarded. It's been our goal to make top three and I am so proud."

The finish marks an improvement of two places from 2014.

UK Athletics congratulates both the cheer and dance teams for their achievements this weekend!

3rd in the Nation in HIP HOP!!! #YES #UKDT #UKDTproud #UDAnationals #PROUD

A photo posted by UK Dance Team (@ukdanceteam) on



Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics
Now that I've reflected briefly on 2014 in UK Athletics, it's time to look at what our future holds for us in 2015. We have a great deal to look forward to.

In competition, this spring can be one of our best ever if our student-athletes and coaches work as I know they will and you, our fans, give us the kind of support you always do. We enter the New Year 26th in the latest Directors' Cup standings, which puts ahead of last year's record-setting pace heading into the spring semester.

Our men's and women's basketball teams have already shown they are capable of competing for championships this season and the same goes for our rifle team. I'm also eager to see what Rachel Lawson and our softball team do for an encore after last year's Women's College World Series trip. That postseason run was one of the most special I've been a part of. Our track and field team had an outstanding 2014 as well, including the best outdoor finish ever for our women's team. I believe even better things are in store for Edrick Floreal's program in his third season.
 
We also have a number of ascendant programs ready to take next steps, including Tim Garrison's gymnastics team, Carlos Drada's women's tennis team, Lars Jorgensen's swimming and diving team and our golf teams led by Brian Craig and Golda Borst. Our baseball and men's tennis teams will both have to replace some of the best players in school history, but I know Gary Henderson and Cedric Kauffmann will help create some great moments once again.

This spring is also an important one for our football program. While Mark Stoops and his staff put the finishing touches on another strong recruiting class and get ready for spring practice, construction crews are working hard to prepare The New CWS for our season opener on Sept. 5. The stadium changes every week and I can't tell you how excited I am to show off our new home. With the renovation in progress and the plans we have for our new practice facility, we are taking great steps toward competing at the highest level in our conference as we all want to do.

With the new stadium opening and the momentum our staff and players have created, we know the next year is crucial. What we ask is that you keep an eye on your mail for information about season tickets if you've already ordered or reserve season tickets now if you haven't. We're going to need you on game day in the fall.

On top of the stadium construction, we are working as a department to take our game on game day to the next level. As part of our BBN First initiative, we continue to engage with the Disney Institute to take lessons from one of the world's leaders in customer service and apply them to what we do. Our first step has been to take a close look at our internal culture and we are already gaining valuable insight into what we can do better.

BBN First, in large part, came about as a result of us realizing as a department that the way fans enjoy sports is different than it ever has been before, but the landscape of college athletics is changing in more ways than just that. After more than 30 years in the field, I can tell you things have never been more competitive. Budgets continue to rise, and we have made strides toward positioning ourselves to remain self-sufficient with our new agreements with JMI Sports for multimedia rights and Fermata for licensing. The growth of the SEC Network - which you have helped make a great success in its first months - will also be important as we move forward, but we must continue to be innovative and stay ahead of the curve so that we can fulfill our primary mission.

That mission, of course, is to serve our student-athletes and help them to pursue their dreams.

It is with that mission in mind that I undertake my role on the NCAA Division I Council. It is an honor to serve and I will do so eagerly, but this is also a responsibility I do not take lightly. The world of college athletics is facing tremendous challenges. The changes we make in response to those challenges will drastically affect our student-athletes and the games they play for decades to come. Our work begins in earnest this month and we have a lot to do.

2015 will be full of opportunities. We know a lot must be done to capitalize on them, but with you behind us we know we can do it. There's never been a better time to be a Kentucky Wildcat.

'Til the Battle is Won,
Mitch Barnhart

Photo by Elliott Hess, UK Athletics Photo by Elliott Hess, UK Athletics
With things slowing down just a bit over the holidays, I've had some time for reflection. I've thought about where we are and where we're going. I've thought about what we have accomplished and what we are working to accomplish in the future. I've thought about all the people that make this place so special, from fans to student-athletes to coaches to staff.

As we close 2014 and move into 2015, I want to share a few of those thoughts with you, first by looking back.

We began this year by capping a record 11th-place Directors' Cup finish for the 2013-14 season. But as we did that, I challenged everyone involved with UK Athletics to seize that momentum and pursue even greater things. So far, that challenge has been accepted.

Thanks to the work of our student-athletes and coaches, our fall sports got us off to a good start. Led by Jon Lipsitz, our women's soccer team turned an incredible finish to the regular season into our first NCAA Tournament national seed and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time ever. Our volleyball team reached the NCAA Tournament yet again, making it 10 straight postseason berths with Craig Skinner as head coach. Our men's soccer team reached the NCAA Tournament as well in spite of relying almost exclusively on underclassmen in Johan Cedergren's third year. Football fell short of the bowl berth we all wanted, but the progress of our program under Mark Stoops is unmistakable.

Our winter sports have kept the ball rolling, led of course by our top-ranked men's basketball team. John Calipari's group has been truly a pleasure to watch so far this season with its unselfishness, talent and commitment to defense and I only expect to have more fun through conference and postseason play. Our women's basketball and rifle teams, as usual, have given us plenty to be excited about as well and I look forward to the schedule heating up for all our teams in 2015.

I also want to make sure I recognize some of the standout individual performances we've seen this year, because there have been plenty. Bud Dupree is the first player who comes to mind. Watching him develop into the player and leader he is today has been so special and we're thankful for everything he's done for our program. We wish him the best as he prepares for the NFL Draft and congratulate him on being named to the All-SEC First Team, where he was joined by Austin MacGinnis.

Arin Gilliland has made a similar impact on our women's soccer program. After she was honored with the Honda Inspiration Award this summer, she had the best season of her decorated Kentucky career, earning All-America and SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors in the process. I know she will continue to represent UK well as she moves on to a professional and international playing career.

Fortunately, we have a year left with Morgan Bergren and Callum Irving, who had great seasons for our volleyball and men's soccer teams. Morgan was named an All-American, while Callum nearly swept Conference USA postseason awards.

Our student-athletes continue to make us proud off the field as well, starting with our cumulative GPA of 3.112 for the fall semester, our fifth straight semester with a GPA of better than 3.0. We are lucky to have so many positive role models on our campus, like AFCA Good Works Team member Max Godby from our football team and Good Works Team nominee Bria Goss from our women's basketball team. Balancing practice and game schedules, class and life is a challenge, but our Wildcats do it well.

I'd like to close by expressing my heartfelt appreciation to our fans. Thanks to your feedback, your passion and the work of my staff, BBN First has helped make game day at Commonwealth Stadium and all of our events that much more special this season. We know we have work ahead of us - and I'll talk more about that next week when I look ahead to 2015 - but the atmosphere at games like our win over South Carolina tells me we are headed in the right direction.

Your support means so much to us, and it's about much more than what happens on game day. Take Alex Poythress as an example. After he suffered a season-ending injury earlier this month, the outpouring from the Big Blue Nation was incredible to watch and I know it uplifted him at a difficult time. I want to thank you for that and ask that you continue to show that kind of care for student-athletes from all 22 of our sports. It means more than you know.

I'll be back later this week to talk about what's on the horizon for UK Athletics in 2015. In the meantime, I hope you get to ring in the New Year with family and friends.

'Til the Battle is Won,
Mitch Barnhart

Wildcats earn 3.112 GPA for fall semester

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For the fifth semester in a row and sixth time in seven semesters, University of Kentucky student-athletes have combined to reach the athletics department's goal of a 3.0 grade-point average.

UK's scholarship student-athletes had a cumulative GPA of 3.112 for the fall semester of 2014, continuing to meet the challenge of matching athletic success with excellence in the classroom.

"Our student-athletes work hard to meet the high standards that come with being a part of this department and I want to congratulate them on the results showing in their grades once again," Barnhart said. "Academics are an important part of our mission and I'm thankful our student-athletes and coaches have embraced that."

**SEE BELOW FOR COMPLETE GRADES BY SPORT**

Eighteen of 20 teams posted GPAs of better than 3.0, led by women's swimming and diving (3.535), women's golf (3.484), women's soccer (3.462), softball (3.425) and baseball (3.417). The three UK teams that reached the NCAA Tournament this fall - women's soccer, volleyball and men's soccer - all had GPAs of 3.108 or better even though postseason play coincided with the end of the semester.

UK's top-15 basketball teams both excelled academically as well. The women's team combined for a GPA of 3.335, while the men had a 3.111 GPA.

"Our CATS (Center for Academic and Tutorial Services) counselors and tutors do an outstanding job providing our student-athletes with the tools and resources they need to succeed," Barnhart said. "I am grateful for the role they have played in building the academic culture of this department."

To go with the solid grades in the fall, 31 current and former Wildcats graduated at December commencement. Moreover, UK student-athletes set a school record for graduation rate in the annual report issued by the NCAA in October.

The success comes on the heels of one of the top competitive seasons in school history. UK finished 11th in the 2013-14 Directors' Cup standings, putting the department a year ahead of schedule in the goal to become one of the nation's top-15 departments as part of the 15 by 15 by 15 Plan. With continued academic success and the current tally of 13 conference or national championships, UK Athletics is positioned to meet all three goals set as part of the plan.

Fall14GPAs.jpg

Video: UK Athletics 2013-14 year in review

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In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of 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, Bria Goss writes about the group's final hours in Ethiopia and looks back how a memorable trip changed her forever.


Today is the last day in Ethiopia and I feel like I just got here. I feel like I need to stay longer because there was still more to be done. I knew I had to make the best of the last day!

After breakfast we went to visit kids while they were learning at school. There were so many kids learning their ABCs and learning to count. We completely distracted a class by our entrance. We were so energetic and ready to play with the kids. Some were shy, but most were pretty open. They were first and second graders and for their age, they spoke pretty clear English. I noticed how well they got along with each other. They were very polite and generous to each other and really tried to show the same generosity and politeness to me even though we just met.

They were so eager to show me what they know. I was blown away by their willingness to learn. This was considered to be optional and the kids did not have to be there, but the class was full. There were no seats left open. The kids told me it was because everyone there cherishes school and wants to have a good education. I was in shock. Kids see the school as a way out. They are passionate because it can provide for their families.

There was one little girl that really stuck out to me. Her sassy attitude and outgoing personality is going to lead her to a bright future. She stole the show by showing us her dance moves and spirit. She swung her hips and put her hands in the air as we sang our tune. The girl had skills! I could see her as the next winner on Got Talent!

After the fun time with the kids it was time to go. We went to a market to get some food supplies for the next city we were going to. The market was very busy and muddy. It smelled terrible and people were shoving things in your face to get you to buy their product. There were flies everywhere, which gave me goose bumps! After we got the food we left to the market to go to drop off the food to the widows. They were so thankful for the blessings we brought them. They repeatedly said "May God bless you" and "Thank you, God bless"! This put a smile on my face. I fell in love with serving others! I want to help people with nothing in return. I get the utmost joy when I put smiles on other people's faces.


After passing out the food it was time to pack up and leave. We had about an hour to shower and get our things together and get something to eat. We gathered downstairs to eat and after we all finished, we gave Girma money to get his driver's license. He was thrilled and surprised. We wanted to do this for him because to get his license was very expensive and he had just about given up on his dream of one day being able to drive. Now, he will be able to take his test and get his license. We were happy to help him and be a part of something so special.

We then left for the airport and said our final goodbyes! It was so hard saying goodbye to our new friends. They were a big help and made the trip so much easier. I love how well this team came together and became friends. We weren't ready to leave. We got to the airport around 7 and we board at 9:30. This plane ride was a little different than the first. We were all close now so this made the flight more enjoyable.

Eighteen hours later, we were back in the U.S. The trip was life-changing. I know more than I ever thought I would about Ethiopia and had the chance to experience it firsthand. This trip will stay with me forever. The thing that really sticks to me is that life is not about what you do or don't have. It's about the relationships you build. It's about the friendships you cherish. It's about the people you reach out to. I learned how to give willingly and what that feels like. I learned to put others before myself to lift them up. I am not perfect, but living for God you don't have to be.


Haley Mills with a new friend in Ethiopia. (UK Athletics) Haley Mills with a new friend in Ethiopia. (UK Athletics)
In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of 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, Haley Mills writes about some inspiring children the student-athletes met on their last full day in Ethiopia.

We started our day like every other morning on our trip which included an early awaking followed by a delicious breakfast. We loaded up in our Toyota Coaster and dodged through the crazy traffic of Addis Ababa.

We first arrived at a little shop to buy a few souvenirs for loved ones back home. We then ventured on to a boys' home called Hope. The owner used to live on the streets of Addis and he was in and out of jail 32 times. After he turned his life around, he started a home for street boys to try and make a difference and change their lives. We introduced ourselves to all the boys and we were overwhelmed the most with their kindness and love, amidst the adversity.

A few of the boys shared their story and I was inspired as I related it back to my life. They had lost their parents and were left with nothing. They were destined to live sad lives as street children, yet these boys did not give up. They were doing everything they could, going to school, making enough money to live, learning English, all the while wrapped in God's will.

One boy told me his dream was to attend the University of Virginia and study psychology. He then went on to explain that he realized it was an impossible goal to reach. This broke my heart because here I am living his dream at UK. We take so much for granted and the events from today will make me think twice when complaining about something in my life. After we played soccer and football with the kids, we had pizza brought to the home for all of us to share. I was shocked when I saw almost half of the boys raise their hands when asked if this was their first time to ever eat pizza. These children have nothing and the joy in their eyes from a simple slice of pizza is truly inspiring.

Later that day we went to dinner at a place called Cupcake Delight. At first everyone thought we were having cupcakes for dinner and there was confusion on all of their faces. I did not think twice about it but the others were thinking about their "performance athlete diet". The restaurant ended up having a full menu and we all enjoyed a fantastic meal together. This was our last full day in Ethiopia and all of us were getting a little sad. We did not want to leave, especially to get on a 17-hour flight. Altogether it was a great day in Addis Ababa and it is one that I will never forget. Today's events left a huge impact on each and every one of us. The boys from Hope were such an inspiration and made me rethink the way I live.

In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of 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, John Sutton writes about lessons learned on a Sunday in Ethiopia.

By John Sutton

The day started with another delicious breakfast meal from the Addis Guesthouse, a common theme throughout this trip. The hospitality from those around us has not only left us feeling comfortable but also has transformed this foreign land into another home. Being Sunday, some of us decided to head to a local church with some of our Ethiopian brothers, Girma and Wario. However, being with some of the most talented college athletes in the country, we soon decided that an early morning trip to the gym was first in store. So without further ado, we headed out in the brisk Ethiopian morning air for a jog to our local gym - Bole Rock.

Traditional Ethiopian attire requires pants to be worn past the knees. With this in mind, it is no wonder that we got some odd looks in our blue and white gym attire as we jogged through the muddy streets of Addis Ababa. Upon reaching the gym, we each went our separate ways, some hitting the bikes, others hitting the treadmills and others hitting the weights. Despite being scattered at the beginning of our workout, we all ended in the same place - the floor. Being eight times the altitude of Lexington, Addis managed to give us a great opportunity to train in altitude. On our jog back to the guesthouse, street vendors clapped and cheered words of encouragement, or at least we thought they did. After a quick shower, we headed to our next destination - an optional church service at the Beza International Church.

I've been to many church services in the United States. However, I am forced to think hard to remember a church service that was as genuine as the one at Beza. The moment we arrived, we were greeted by the most joyful people. Despite our obvious foreign appearance, I felt the love and compassion from those in the congregation. Yet again the people of Ethiopia treated us like their own.

As we took our seats we immediately began worshipping with our fellow attendees. When I say "we began worshipping" I am referring to the hour and a half spent singing and dancing. The pure energy and passion that we saw initially shocked us. How is it that a country that is so financially broke can be so spiritually rich? How can those that have so little to eat on a consistent basis find so much energy to praise God? The music was done and we were eagerly greeted by a preacher who couldn't wait to share the Word with us.

After one of the most incredible sermons I've heard, I looked at my watch for the time to find that it was already 2 p.m.! We were blessed with three incredible hours of praise and worship. I found today humbling due to the fact that those who have so little can give so much thanks for the lives they have and the role that God plays in them. Definitely a lesson we could use back home! Seeing the physical manifestations of thanks and praise in such a poor country has made me feel like our lives of luxury have blinded us to the relationships that surround us.

Once church was over I talked to my good friend Girma about some of the differences between America and Ethiopia. I told him that I wish I could bring America to Ethiopia. However, I quickly realized that while we may have paved roads, video games and phones, the greater benefit would be to bring Ethiopia to America. Fortunately, our Ethiopian brothers have shown us the importance of relationships and love and now we, as a body of student-athletes, can return home not only with photos to show others, but with full hearts to pour into our community.

After lunch we headed to a lion zoo to see some of the local wildlife. Ethiopia is the only place in the world home to lions with black manes. While these beasts are truly beautiful, I was glad they were on the other side of the bars!

Upon leaving the zoo, we headed to a giant parking lot where locals play soccer. Having a large crew, we split into three different teams and set off between the buses and cars to try our hand at the sport. The first two teams took to the pitch and had a quick goal. Seeing all of the different athletes from their respective backgrounds converge to play soccer proved to be enough entertainment in and of itself.

Towards the end of the first game it started to rain. Hard. While all the locals ran for cover, we stayed and continued our quest for another goal. After we were thoroughly drenched, we decided we better head back to our bus. Yet again, while doing a mundane activity such as walking through a parking lot, we learned another hard lesson. Sitting in the middle of this giant parking lot was a small girl. She sat on the ground and tears ran down her face. Quietly crying to herself, we quickly realized how blessed we were. While we were soaked to the bone, we all had dry clothes back at the guesthouse, a warm meal awaiting us, and we all had friends and family to call when things got tough.

In America, we do a great job of hiding. We hide our pain, we hide our hurt. We hide the sick and the homeless, the bruised and the broken. In Ethiopia there was no hiding. Although there wasn't a lot we could do for this girl, it just showed us the need that this country has and yet again, showed us how blessed we are. It hurt leaving a crying child sitting in the rain and it still hurts thinking about it today. However, like a bad shot, a slow race, a missed goal or a short putt, we have the opportunity to either walk away and forget or learn from the pain. What I've learned is that there is need. All around us. In our homes, in our communities, on our teams, and in the world. You can travel 17 hours in a plane or you can walk down the hallway. It's up to us to make a difference.

Despite the so called "rest day", we still learned some heavy lessons. The joy that these people have is truly inspiring especially when compared to their circumstances. If people who have so little can be so joyful, surely we can too. And while we are so blessed, we must make an honest effort to help those less fortunate around us.

Video: Barnhart's media day press conference

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