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Seven UK student-athletes participated in a service trip to Ethiopia this week. (Jeffrey Burns, UK Athletics) Seven UK student-athletes participated in a service trip to Ethiopia this week. (Jeffrey Burns, UK Athletics)
This week, Wildcat student-athletes Kate Lanier, Alex Carter, Ale Walker, Morgan Bergren, Sam Day, Kaelon Fox and Cassidy Hale are one the second of two UK Athletics service trips 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, Carter and Day write about a day in Korah that completely changed their perspective.

Alex Carter (women's soccer)

On Tuesday we went to the city of Korah, which is an extremely impoverished place. At one point it was solely a leper colony. Lepers are considered untouchables in Ethiopian society. In this day and age, however, cities surrounding Korah have grown enough to where their boundaries have merged and there are no longer only lepers residing there. However, it still remains one of the most impoverished places in Ethiopia.

Tuesday morning we drove into Korah and to an organization that does several different projects that have to do with loving and caring for the people in this city. We arrived with supplies such as toilet paper, oil, soap, noodles, rice, matches and other useful things. We were greeted by the leaders of the organization, along with 30 families that we were getting the opportunity to bless that day. As soon as we walked in, we saw so many big and beautiful smiles and kids who were running up to play with us.

After divvying up all of the supplies, the leader of their organization blessed and then passed them out. I cannot describe the joy on the people faces as they received these gifts. It was as if it was the first gift they had ever received. Even though we did not speak the same language, it was awesome to get to go around and hug some of the women and shake their hands. I did not need to understand them to know what they were feeling. We also got the opportunity to hand out candy, stickers and glow sticks to the kids and blow bubbles with them.

Afterwards, we said our goodbyes, got in the van, and headed to the city dump. This is where many people go to scavenge to try and find food for themselves and their families for the day. It was even more heartbreaking when I found out that many women lived in this dump with their many children and husbands, because they could not afford to pay rent for a house in the city. These people would set up what resembled a shelter, with at least a metal sheet propped up over their heads. But in most of these cases, there were five to 10 people having to live in these tiny spaces.

We went into one lady's "house" and started talking to her and learning about her with the help of our translators. She told us that she had problems with her head and her heart and could not work because of it. Her husband also could not work because he was crippled. All he could do is sit out on the street and ask for money. They had seven children who all lived with them in that small space. If they had food that day, it was either from finding it in the dump or from the money her husband collected that day (from one of the poorest cities in the country, mind you). In my mind they were completely hopeless.

After hearing their story, our guide, Mark, asked her in she was one of the families that were part of this program that we had just served earlier that day. She said no. He told her and the leaders of the organization that she qualified to be in this program and that they would set her up an appointment to be interviewed. When she heard this news she burst into tears and bowed, thanking God and us again and again. Wow. That just ripped my heart right out of my chest. This lady was given an interview to POSSIBLY receive a few supplies a month, and she was filled with such joy and hope (possibly for the first time in her life) that her and her family might be redeemed.

In the U.S., our society says that success is ultimately the most important thing. You can see this drive everywhere you look. We have Instagram, Twitter and Facebook where we post selfies or other pictures that make people understand just how important we think we are. We strive for the best education and the best resume that will set us up for the best job to get us the best car and the best house and a perfect family. Many times we strive more than anything to be known, powerful and liked, and we place value on those people who are, regardless of character. Success is what drives us, and we are willing to push whoever and whatever down to get there.

Here, I look around this city dump (and really around the whole country of Ethiopia) and I see people our society would count as nobodies. They are literally forgotten or ignored all of the time. In fact, the city has come several times to bulldoze the houses of the people in this dump, because they are considered illegal homes. They are seen as pests that are just in the way. It was at this moment where it all came together for me, and I experienced God's love more than I ever have before. Every time I looked at one of these people we were visiting, I could not fight back the tears. I just kept thinking, "God knows you name, child. He knows what you're going through. He sees your struggles and your broken spirit. He values your soul equally with mine (even with all of my falsely perceived self-importance) and every one else's. He designed and created you EXACTLY how he intended, without any mistakes. He has a plan and purpose for your life. Even though this world counts you out, you are important to Him. He wants you to seek him with all of your heart. He loves you." This was so humbling, and it changed the way I thought of these people. It is easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged and view this experience as a big and hopeless sea of problems. I started thinking of them as individuals that God loves.

The truth is, this life on earth is so short when compared with eternity. Even though I was surrounded by heartbreaking circumstances with heartbroken people, I could not help but be overwhelmed with joy, because I knew for a fact that all of the women we had met and served that day loved God and were saved. Tears of joy streamed down my face. I was filled with hope when I realized that these women have what counts. They have the only thing that matters in this life: faith and hope in Jesus, maybe even more so than me. It is easy for me to take God out of the equation in my life, where I grew up getting everything I wanted and needed. It is easy for me to think that I am the reason I am doing so well.

In a strange way, it was rather beautiful to see these women and families in such low circumstances, because they literally put every ounce of their hope in the Lord. When anything good comes their way they fall on their face and praise God. I wish I had faith like theirs. In Revelation it says, "and He who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, or any scorching heat. For The Lamb at the center of the thrown will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." I kept saying this over and over in my head, and suddenly was filled with hope for them. I prayed, "God, you truly know what these people are going through. If they could just hold on, if they could just keep hoping in you, even if they make it out by the skin of their teeth, one day soon they will be crowned in heaven and be made whole, healed, and forever satisfied in your presence. It was there that I truly felt the love of God and saw the true beauty in these people.

I have to admit somewhat embarrassingly, that beside my prayers, I was not a great help to my team that day due to the fact that I was such an emotional wreck. But let me tell you, that forever changed the way I see people in poverty, or with any other seemingly hopeless situation in life. I am so grateful for this opportunity I have been given to come to this beautiful country and meet and serve these beautiful people.  I hope to one day go back again and be able to bless and serve these people, in which God has broken my heart for.

Sam Day (swimming and diving)

As I planned and packed for this trip, I had to prepare myself mentally and emotionally, as well as physically. After spending five days in and around Addis Ababa, I have realized no matter what I did to plan for this trip, it wasn't possible for me to be fully prepared for these experiences.

On our final day in Addis Ababa we visited a community in Korah, which is also the place of the city's dump. One of our leaders said that there are between one hundred and one hundred fifty thousand people that make their living and provide for their families by scavenging through the dump. Even after nearly a week of working in Ethiopia, my heart continued to break for these people.

As we pulled into the community and up to the church, the people of the area flocked to our van. Everyone was interested and wanted to know what we were doing there. I hadn't seen poverty like this on the trip. Everyone was so desperate and in need. I struggled with this because if I tried to help anyone, I would have to help everyone and I wasn't able to do so. We went into the church and organized the supplies we had brought. Everyone was so joyful and happy to see us; the attitude of the people inside was the opposite as that of those outside. There was hope in their eyes. We introduced ourselves and passed out the supplies. Everyone was so thankful and appreciative. It was hard for me to wrap my head around why. How could people be so thankful for so little? But this was the reaction of everyone all week. Seeing this has caused me to take a step back and look at how grateful or ungrateful I am for everything I have.

From there we went to a community next to the dump and visited people in their homes. I will never forget the odor of the hillside we were on and will also never understand how people can live with such a smell engulfing the air. We pulled up and in the same way the people gathered near our van at the community center, they did here as well. Most of the homes were behind a makeshift fence that surrounded the community. We were able to meet and pray with a few of the people living here. They were all women and children because they were either widows or their husbands were out begging for money.

One of the women was living with her 1-year-old baby in a shack with barely enough room to sleep. I was utterly stunned when she said all she wanted was something to stop the rain from running through her house. A woman with almost nothing didn't want a new home but merely an improvement on the one she had. We visited another woman who had three children, 13, 9 and 1 years old. Her husband was crippled and out sitting on the street begging for money. She was very happy to see us and asked for our leader to pray for her. We continued through the community and met a few other people. I was blessed with the opportunity to be able to pray with a woman who let a few of my team members and me into her home. She said she has a heart problem and has to pay rent to someone that didn't actually own the land since it is owned by the government. This woman and her son could not understand anything I said but still seemed to know I was praying for them and that what I was saying was about them. It felt so good to be with them and I hope I was able to give them a little more hope than they had.

The children all around Korah were so happy all the time. They just followed us and would want to play and eat any candy we had. I probably threw about 50 kids in the air and lifted more onto my shoulders. These kids were so delighted to play and tried to come with us and I'm sure a few of us would have gladly done so. Even when our van pulled away and drove to a different area, the kids followed and would bring friends. I was encouraged by their attitude even though they had so little.

This week has been a truly eye-opening experience for me. Not only have I been tested physically with nearly two days of travel and working at high elevation, I have also been tested mentally and emotionally. I have had to take a step back and reevaluate a lot about myself. I hope to return home and bring my experiences with me. I need to allow these memories to help me change areas in my life. I'm sure this week is going to help me grow in new ways in the classroom, pool and life as a whole.

Ale Walker (middle) helps distribute supplies on UK Athletics' July trip to Ethiopia. (Jeffrey Burns, UK Athletics) Ale Walker (middle) helps distribute supplies on UK Athletics' July trip to Ethiopia. (Jeffrey Burns, UK Athletics)
This week, Wildcat student-athletes are one the second of two UK Athletics service trips 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, Ale Walker writes about the group's visit to a boys' home.

Ale Walker (women's golf)

What a week it has already been! As we near the last few days of our journey here in Ethiopia, I can say my heart has never been so full with love and joy. Coming into this trip, I was preparing myself mentally and emotionally for the things I may see or experience after hearing from others about their trips and what they have taken away. It is to no surprise that what they attested to is true, but it is something you have to experience yourself to really understand the impact it will have on your life.

Today, we went to visit a boys' home here in Addis called the Hope House. These boys were victims of living off the streets either due to the stress put on their household for supporting another child, which their parents could not afford, abandonment, or their search for a better life.

They are led by a man named Ermais. He is the one who took these boys off the street and enrolled them in his program at the home. We got the opportunity to share a meal with the young men and hear their stories on how they got to the home and how the program has changed their lives. We had pizza, which they all loved on this special occasion!  

It was such a wonderful experience to hear their testimonies firsthand. One boy told us of how he was living on the streets for 10 years before he was found by Ermais. He told us of how he had become hopeless and never thought he had a purpose in this life. He was abandoned by his parents at a very young age due to their inability to take care of him. He was living day to day in search for food, just trying survive on what little food or water he could find.

Once he was taken into the home, he said, Ermais showed him love and what it was like to have someone care for him for the first time in his life. He said that on the streets, people could give him money, anyone could, but no one could give him love. It takes a great person to give someone love, but a special person to give love to a stranger, someone who has no relation to him or her.

It would affect Ermais none if he chose not to take this boy in, but he did. Why? Because as children of God, that is what we are called to do. We are called to love others and care for others just as Jesus would, regardless of their race or whether they are rich or poor, healthy or sick. These children are starving on the streets and all they long for is someone to love and care for them.

Ermais is a man of God who gives not only love, but also his time and his grace. He had every opportunity to be a successful man in Addis, yet he chose to give his life to these boys, to better them and give them hope in a world so broken.  It was so moving to hear this from the boy and listen to how sincere and grateful he was for the opportunity to have a future and to have dreams because of the Hope House. All of the boys, having gone through the program, have jobs and are supporting themselves. After they answered our questions, they asked us a couple, "How will you take what you have experienced here and use it back home and in your lives?" And, "What did you take away from your experience here?"

First hearing this, I thought, "Wow, what amazing questions." Though this is one of the main purposes of this trip, doing something about what you have learned to better yourself and hopefully others, when hearing these questions asked out loud, it really hits home. What are YOU going to do in your lives, what are you going to change, how are you going to change?

What I will take away most from this experience is the gratefulness they have for what they are given, even under such harsh circumstances. I will remember how beautiful and contagious their smiles are when a simple wave is given and how joy overcomes them in that very moment. I will take away how everyone is more concerned with how YOU are doing than themselves and how it is more important to give to your brother than to receive.

When I return I hope to always remember what this trip has taught me. I hope to remember that no matter how difficult my situation is or how low life may get, there is always room to smile, and there is always room to laugh and love. And to always, always follow our passions. God put them in our hearts for a reason and he wants to see us pursue them. I cannot wait to see what the next couple days have in store for us, and I can't wait to be back in the States to share more about our journey here!  

Photo by Jeffrey Burns, UK Athletics Photo by Jeffrey Burns, UK Athletics
This week, Wildcat student-athletes are one the second of two UK Athletics service trips 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,Kate Lanier and Kaelon Fox share their experiences from their first day in Ethiopia.

Kate Lanier (women's tennis)

Wow, what a first day in Ethiopia! My first thoughts are how different the country is compared to the US and how spoiled we are. As we drove around in our bus, you witness that the grounds are extremely muddy and the streets are crowded with cars speeding by and honking with not much organization. You see goats and stray dogs and tons of shops side by side.

Our main destination today was visiting the church and discreet houses in which mainly widows and single parents live with their kids. Mark, our host for the trip, explained how their goal consists of a three-year plan to help those who are struggling. They are given some essentials such as food and some other needs so that the mother and kids can focus on more than just survival. Some are granted $400-600 loans which include those who are the in the greatest need. They can then start a business such as bread-making and begin to support their families.  One woman bought a fridge and then her trade was to sell beverages and she is now paying back her loan.

Before learning the basics of the organization and their goals, we first introduced ourselves. Then the women of the group stood before us and introduced themselves, which was one of the most impressive and impactful things I thought we went through today. Each one had a different story, but for example one widow had seven kids to support but two of them had mental disabilities. Some of the mothers had disabilities themselves such as being paralyzed or dealing with a broken hand, but all of them had in common that survival was a struggle, especially with kids. What impressed me so much about these strong women was that after each introduction they always said how Christ made them stronger and how thankful they were for us to be there. They said that their only family was God and us, which honestly had me on the verge of tears every time. To see these people have barely anything but still be so thankful was so impactful.  We were told that Ethiopians cherish relationships more than structure, and it was clear after hearing them speak and seeing them pray and sing. I feel Americans cherish the opposite, which is sad considering all the opportunities and essentials plus so much more we are blessed with.

We then proceeded to separate out a type of flour they use along with spices, oil, bedding and mattresses for three different families. I helped carry some of the supplies to two of the women's houses down a couple streets.  We had to be careful whom we helped though, because we learned that if a landlord sees tourists helping then they will raise the rent of the living space. Walking alongside the roads was very eye opening, because it is so different than the states. People are sleeping and often barefoot. Most are trying to sell some type of item such as gum or vegetables or doing a trade such as fixing or cleaning shoes. The women's houses we went to were small and muddy and laundry hung on lines, but it was so rewarding seeing their faces glow once we delivered the goods to their houses.

While we were at the church we also handed out bracelets that Sam's pastor from home had made which say NIKAO on them, meaning in short terms, to conquer through faith. The mothers and all the children loved the small gift and put them on immediately. We then took many pictures and the kids loved being in the camera. As one of us was about to take a picture with one kid, seven more rushed over to be in the picture so I had to take the picture just to fit them all in the shot. You could just tell how happy they were for us to be there which is an amazing feeling.

Later in the day after lunch, we went to an even poorer area in which the housing is built overnight, because it is technically illegal. The mission was to deliver one of the mattresses and pillows to a mother who we met at the church. I helped carry in the mattress and my first thought was how muddy and what close quarters the housing was. All of the housing here was connected to one another and very, very small.  The walls were mostly made out of mud and scrap metal. It was crazy to me how they survive there. We learned that the government plans to destroy the homes in this area since it is illegal, so I can't imagine the stress of the parents who reside there and who will not have anywhere to go if their homes are destroyed.

As a whole, today was already was such a great experience, and I could not be happier to be on this trip with these amazing people. Wario and Girma, two of our leaders who are from here, were so informative and friendly. Seeing the kids in the streets wave to us constantly and the women at the church giving us such thanks and welcoming us was rewarding to say at the very least. I can't wait to see what the rest of the trip has in store for us.

Kaelon Fox (men's soccer)

This morning was an early one. We woke up at 6:30 a.m. and I felt fully refreshed. I took a GoPro video of the city in daylight and from my hotel room. The city looks amazing and it is still hard to breathe because of the high altitude, but I am very excited for today and cannot wait to see what it is like in Ethiopia.
 
We just got back from a very eye-opening day. We traveled to Nifas Silk and went to a community center to distribute and meet people in dire need of help. We met our local translators Wario, Girma and Addis.

On the way to the village we went through the nearby towns and some of it was hard to look at. Adults and even children were on the streets asking for any type of money and food that we may have had. When we finally arrived at the church we introduced ourselves to the families that were there, and they did the same in return.

The stories and struggles they shared were incredible. Some had husbands that had left them with children to take care of, some were mentally handicapped and had children that were also, and others were born with illnesses that they had to treat while trying to feed their children with barely any income at all.

Following the introductions, we helped distribute pillows, bed coverings, mattresses, cooking oil, spices and teff (a flour-related substance used in Ethiopia). All of the familes expressed how thankful they were that we were helping them. They sang for us while we got the supplies ready for them. We helped a woman carry her mattress to her nearby village and when we all got there she let us look at her home. It was smaller than I anticipated, with dirt floors and barely any room to walk in at all. There was hardly any room for three of us to fit in to put the mattress on her bed. Just thinking about how someone would live in such a home like that is mind-blowing.

She was so happy that we were there and seeing the smile on her face knowing how hard her life is is remarkable to see. Walking back and seeing how everything worked was really cool. Lunch was next and most of us got pizza, but others got pasta and vegetables. We had some leftover food so we took it in a plastic bag to give to people who needed it. When we walked out we gave the food to some kids and they all fought over who was going to eat it all. I had never seen such a thing and it made we want to do more for those kids. They were grabbing and pushing to grab the Ziploc bag with food in it. It just makes you wonder and realize how good our lives are back in the US.

The last stop of the day was going to another woman's home in a van to help were with bedding. She led us into her house and this one was bigger than the first one. It had three beds, but the space was nowhere near big enough for those three living in that home. She was also every happy that we were there and prayed and hugged us multiple times. The people that the Ethiopian team has met have been extremely nice to us and been very happy and blessed that we are here for them.

We are back at the hotel now and will have dinner in about an hour. This day has exceeded my personal expectations and I cannot wait for what tomorrow holds for us. The team is getting a lot closer now. After dinner we all went to the rooftop and then played cards for an hour or so. Now it is time for bed. Early breakfast at 7:30!

UK Athletics hosted the 2015 CATSPY Awards on Monday night in Memorial Coliseum. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK Athletics hosted the 2015 CATSPY Awards on Monday night in Memorial Coliseum. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
When the Kentucky men's basketball team brought home the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship in March, UK Athletics completed the goals set forth in the 15 by 15 by 15 Plan.

Mitch Barnhart didn't wait long to issue the next challenge to the department he leads.

Delivering his speech at the CATSPY Awards - UK's annual celebratory awards show - Barnhart described the successor to 15 by 15 by 15, which called on UK Athletics to win 15 conference or national championships, finish in the top 15 of Directors' Cup standings and achieve a cumulative student-athlete grade-point average of 3.0 by 2015.

It's called 1-3-5.

The goals are as simple as they are lofty.

1 - By the year 2022, Barnhart wants all of UK's 22 teams to win a conference or national championship.

3 - He's calling for a department-wide grade-point average of 3.0 for UK student-athletes each and every semester.

5 - Finally, he's asking UK Athletics to pursue a top-five Directors' Cup finish in the next seven seasons.

"This won't be easy," Barnhart said. "I know that. But 15 by 15 by 15 seemed just as ambitious seven years ago. We didn't let that stop us from pursuing greatness. We went after it anyway. Now, I challenge you to do the same with 1-3-5 because I know we can do it. I know we can become elite."

The word "elite" was a common thread throughout Barnhart's remarks.

The 13th-year athletics director reflected on the start of his UK tenure at the CATSPYs, commenting on the fan support and tradition that drew him to the job in the first place. UK, he said, was a good athletics department that embraced the task of becoming great.

Now it's about taking the next step.

"We're here to take on the challenge to go from great to elite," Barnhart said. "To me, being elite means we are in the conversation for the best athletics department in the country. Individually, it means each of us pursues being the best of ourselves."

Barnhart, an avid climber, likened UK's journey to elite status to scaling a mountain.
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"I've thought about this over the last month and I keep coming back to one of my greatest passions: mountain climbing," Barnhart said. "Becoming what we are today has been quite a climb already. It's brought us to within a few thousand feet of the summit, but those final few thousand feet of the climb are the toughest."

To make the final leg of the climb and reach the summit, Barnhart said everyone involved with UK Athletics will have to go to the next level, starting with the student-athletes.

"Are you committed to working, to becoming the best version of yourself?" Barnhart said. "You were brought here because you possess unique gifts. It's on you to develop them."

"Are you willing to embrace the expectations that come with being at Kentucky? The resources that go into supporting you, the facilities you play in and the fans that cheer you on demand excellence. It's on you to make it happen.

"Are you able to put yourself out there? You will never reach the heights you're capable of if you're not willing to make yourself uncomfortable. You're going to have to risk failure to succeed the way I know you can."

Barnhart, ever committed to the growth of UK student-athletes as people, was sure to point out the answers to those questions will determine more than just the department's success over the next five years.

"This is the start of your climb in life and this is the start of our climb to becoming elite," Barnhart said.


Video from the 2015 CATSPYs

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Opening


Lip sync battle


Shelby Hilton's FaceTime shoutout


Senior tribute


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.

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