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The Kentucky cheerleading team claimed its 20th national championship on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) The Kentucky cheerleading team claimed its 20th national championship on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Only for the Kentucky cheerleading team can one season without a national championship feel like a drought.

Last year, the cheerleaders were named runners-up to Memphis. On Sunday, UK returned to its familiar perch atop the world of college cheerleading.

"When you finally hear second place called and then they call first place, it's a lot of emotion, a lot of joy," Jomo Thompson said via cell phone. "We just feel vindicated, especially after coming in second place last year. We wanted to make sure we got back to the top and we did that."

UK won an unprecedented 20th national title at the UCA/UDA College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship in Orlando, Fla., finishing ahead of second-place UCF. UK has now won an incredible 15 championships since 1995, only being dethroned five times during that span.

"I'm just fortunate to have been a part of this program for so long and I love UK," said Thompson, the former UK cheerleader who has won eight national titles in his 12 years as head coach. "I love UK cheerleading. I'm just glad I'm here to experience it with the kids. We strive every day to be the best. It's just a great thing that we've won so many times. It just speaks to the history and the tradition of winning and be the best."

The UCA's official Twitter account described the winning routine as both starting and finishing strong. Thompson saw much of the same, saying UK's finals routine was even better than a solid one in Saturday's preliminary round.

"I think they just really seized the opportunity," Thompson said. "They didn't let down. They didn't take anything for granted. They just did a really good job of going out there and executing and bringing home number 20."

The championship is the culmination of a year of hard work. UK didn't drastically alter the formula that has led to so much past success, but a seven-member senior class was intent on going out the right way. Thompson said those veterans played an instrumental role in setting the tone for UK's training.

"We just told the kids, 'You want to make sure that you're giving a hundred percent every time, even in practice, because you get one shot, one opportunity,' " Thompson said. "So you want to experience as many as things that can go wrong, encounter all those things in practice so if something like that happens at nationals, you're ready for it. I thought they did a great job this year getting themselves prepared."

The UK dance team also competed this weekend, turning in an impressive performance in the Division IA Hip Hop finals. UK came in fifth, an improvement from last year's sixth-place finish. Head coach Dawn Walters reported the team posted a score of 93.2, its best ever.

"The girls had a lot of confidence today when we went out to perform," Walters said. "They really went out there and had energy and excitement and the whole arena really went crazy when they were up there. Our degree of difficulty was higher this year than last year and we had a lot of group tricks. I think their confidence was the biggest thing this year."

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


The UK cheerleading team is looking for its 20th national championship this weekend. (Chet White, UK Athletics) The UK cheerleading team is looking for its 20th national championship this weekend. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
After months of practice and supporting Kentucky teams at games, UK's cheerleading and dance teams will take center stage at the 2014 UCA and UDA College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship this weekend at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla.

Both teams will compete first on Saturday, with the cheerleaders beginning their quest for their 20th national championship at 7:50 p.m. ET in the Division IA Semifinals. The dance team will compete in both the Division IA Pom and Hip Hop Semfinals at 8:45 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. The finals for all three competitions will take place on Sunday with results expected to come in between 8-9:30.

Last year, the cheerleading team finished second. The dance team finished eighth in Pom and sixth in Hip Hop.

You can find information on how to keep up with the competition on the UCA and UDA's website right here. You can also follow @UCAupdates, @UDAnews, @UKAthleticsNews and @KentuckyCheer for real-time updates.

UK Athletics made steady progress toward Mitch Barnhart's goal of a 3.0 department-wide grade-point average in his first nine years, but only once did Wildcat student-athletes reach the mark.

Two years later, what was once a rare feat has become the norm.

For the third consecutive semester, UK Athletics posted a cumulative GPA better than 3.0. UK's competing scholarship student-athletes combined for a fall 2013 GPA of 3.088. It is the second-highest mark of the Barnhart era, trailing only the spring semester of 2013. UK began its streak of three consecutive semesters with a GPA of better than 3.0 with a 3.030 in fall 2012.

"Reaching a 3.0 GPA as a department is now expected, but that doesn't make it any less of an accomplishment," Barnhart said. "I am proud of the way our student-athletes have sustained their success in the classroom and even prouder of the way they have embraced academics as an important part of the UK experience."

**SEE BELOW FOR COMPLETE GRADE INFORMATION BY SPORT**


Sixteen of UK's 20 teams had GPAs of 3.0 or better, led by women's tennis at 3.727. Women's cross country (3.608), softball (3.608) and women's swimming and diving (3.533) joined women's tennis in exceeding 3.5. Leading all Wildcat men's teams was men's tennis at 3.443.

Of the 12 teams that competed in regular-season play during the fall, 10 had GPAs of better than 3.0. That includes the men's basketball team at 3.038, marking the fourth straight semester in which John Calipari's program has had a GPA better than 3.0.

"Thanks to the work of our student-athletes, coaches and staff, I believe we are moving in the right direction in all facets of our program," Barnhart said. "We are coming off our first top-25 Directors' Cup finish ever last year and we are still out to prove strong athletics and academics can go together."

GPAs Fall 2013.jpg

Video: A Christmas message from the Kid A.D.

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Video: UK student-athletes give back to community

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Video: Wildcats reflect on Ethiopia service trip

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SEC Network programming taking shape

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In just nine months, the Southeastern Conference and ESPN will launch the SEC Network together.

It's now becoming clearer exactly what fans can expect to see on the network.

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive and ESPN's Senior Vice President Justin Connolly held a joint press conference on Friday at the Georgia Dome before the league's football championship game, making several announcements about the network.

Headlining the press conference was the announcement that the SEC will kick off the 2014 football season on the network with a Thursday-night doubleheader. It will mark the first time ever that the college football year will begin on a conference network.

"In a span of two days or three days, we'll have five football games on the SEC Network, and then a triple-header every Saturday thereafter," Slive said. "Our goal is to get somewhere close to 45 football games on the network each fall."

Joining the previously announced Texas A&M-South Carolina game, Temple and Vanderbilt will face off on Aug. 28 to get the 2014 season rolling. UK won't play in the opening doubleheader, but you can be sure the Wildcats will play on the SEC Network multiple times in Mark Stoops' second season.

For that reason, it remains important that UK fans make their voices heard in calling for their cable and satellite providers to carry the SEC Network. AT&T U-verse remains the only national distributor signed on the carry the SEC Network, with providers like Time Warner, DirecTV and Dish Network still not on board.

Fans can visit GetSECNetwork.com to check whether their cable and satellite providers carry the SEC Network and, if they do not, contact them to demand they do. Cable and satellite providers make programming decisions based on customer requests. Fans should also regularly check GetSECNetwork.com for the latest information about the launch of the new SEC Network.  

For fans in Lexington that want the new SEC Network, Time Warner subscribers should call 859-514-1400, DirecTV subscribers should call 1-800-347-3288 and DISH Network subscribers should call 1-800-333-3474 to let them know you want the SEC Network. Cable TV subscribers outside Lexington can obtain the phone number to call from GetSECNetwork.com.

Beyond the live events that will air on the SEC Network, Slive and Connolly announced two exciting shows that will be shown regularly.

First is a two-hour traveling Saturday pregame show called SEC Nation that will be hosted by Joe Tessitore. A sort of SEC-centric version of ESPN's popular College GameDay, SEC Nation will travel to an SEC campus each week, starting with stops in Columbia, S.C., for South Carolina-Texas A&M on Aug. 28 and Auburn, Ala., for Auburn-Arkansas on Aug. 30.

"The thing that's unique about the SEC, as all of you know is what the pregame experience is, and we want to take people into that," said ESPN's Stephanie Druley. "We want people at home to feel like I've been there even though I haven't. Because there is nothing like it."

Additionally, the SEC Storied documentary series that began in 2011 will expand on the SEC Network. Ten original features will be produced next year to celebrate the rich tradition of the nation's best conference.

"We'll go from four to ten a year, and we'll debut six of the ten on the network, and we'll debut the other four on ESPNU, and then move it over to the network," Slive said. "So that rounds out, at least for me, the storytelling. You know, it celebrates great games, great athletes and great moments."

With approximately 45 SEC football games, more than 100 men's basketball games, 60 women's basketball games, 75 baseball games and events from 21 more SEC sports set to air, more such moments will surely be airing live on the SEC Network. Visit GetSECNetwork.com to make sure you can see them.


UK Athletics preparing for SEC Network transition

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Last Friday, thousands of fans across the country tuned in to Fox Sports South to watch as the men's basketball team opened a highly anticipated 2013-14 campaign.

Later that same evening, thousands more around the Bluegrass watched delayed broadcasts of the games on the UK IMG Network.

In recent years, Kentucky fans have come to rely on those avenues to watch their beloved Wildcats, but beginning next season that will all change.

In August 2014, ESPN and the Southeastern Conference will combine forces to launch the new SEC Network. The network will air SEC content 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including 45 SEC football games, more than 100 men's basketball games, 60 women's basketball games, 75 baseball games and events from across the SEC's 21 sports annually.

"The SEC Network will be an incredible asset for our conference and for UK Athletics," UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said. "It will provide unprecedented exposure for our teams, but we need the Big Blue Nation to help make it a success."

Many UK games currently televised on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, Fox Sports South, UK IMG Network, CSS and SEC TV will likely be available only the new SEC Network.  With future games like men's basketball's season opener vs. UNC Asheville and the recent football game against Alabama State likely moving to the new SEC Network beginning in 2014-15, fans need to demand their cable and satellite providers carry it. Considering marquee in-conference matchups in both basketball and football will also be televised on the new network, it becomes even more imperative.

The SEC Network launches in nine months, but so far AT&T U-verse is the only national distributor of the network. As of November, providers like Time Warner, DirecTV and Dish Network have not yet made arrangements to carry the SEC Network, meaning subscribers would miss many live UK events.

That's where the Big Blue Nation comes in.

Fans can visit GetSECNetwork.com to check whether their cable and satellite providers carry the SEC Network and, if they do not, contact them to demand they do. Cable and satellite providers make programming decisions based on customer requests. Fans should also regularly check GetSECNetwork.com for the latest information about the launch of the new SEC Network.  

For fans in Lexington that want the new SEC Network, Time Warner subscribers should call 859-514-1400, DirecTV subscribers should call 1-800-347-3288 and DISH Network subscribers should call 1-800-333-3474 to let them know you want the SEC Network. Cable TV subscribers outside Lexington can obtain the phone number to call from GetSECNetwork.com.

Meanwhile, UK Athletics is currently working to prepare for the SEC Network's launch. All live broadcasts -- including the more than 600 that will be streamed live online -- on the SEC Network will have the highest quality production value and maintain a look and feel consistent with ESPN's other networks.

Representatives from the SEC Network have visited all UK Athletics facilities in recent months in advance of the launch. They have found that UK has an advanced technological infrastructure that should make the transition as seamless as possible.

After the launch of the SEC Network next August, more UK events will be televised that ever before. To make sure you can watch, visit GetSECNetwork.com and let your cable and satellite provider know you want access to the SEC Network.

Video: Barnhart and The Wildcat 'brave the blue'

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Once again, UK ranks among the top schools in the nation in merchandise royalties.

On Monday, the Collegiate Licensing Company released royalty rankings for the period from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013. UK comes in fifth, trailing only Texas, Alabama, Notre Dame and Michigan. A season ago, UK was a school-record third on the strength of the 2012 men's basketball national championship. UK is also one of six Southeastern Conference schools in the top 10 in the most recent rankings.

UK Athletics and the university share all merchandise royalties equally. UK Athletics is responsible for all costs associated with managing the licensing program and 90 percent of merchandise sold is athletic-related. Through the merchandise program, UK Athletics has contributed more than $10 million to the university during the Mitch Barnhart era.

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