Eric Quigley finishes his Kentucky career as the winningest player in program history. (Bill Kallenberg, UK Athletics)
There are realistic goals that are reached through effort. Then there are dreams that are only attainable by motivated, tirelessly working people who never stop trying to make those dreams a reality.
A young man out of Pewee Valley, Ky., realized one of his dreams this week.
Senior Eric Quigley became just the third University of Kentucky men's tennis player to compete in the NCAA Singles Championship Final on Monday. He fell to Southern California's Steve Johnson, the nation's No. 1 player, in the title match, 6-4, 6-4.
Upon returning to the Bluegrass, Quigley set off for home to rest and reflect on his tournament run, his career and everything along the path over his time at UK. And though he lost his final match, he's still proud of what he was able to accomplish over the last few weeks.
"Obviously I wanted to win that last match," said Quigley, "but looking back at it all, it was awesome making it that far. I think I did a good job of taking it one match at a time. I think that really helped."
In the past, that was a problem for Quigley. With his eyes set on larger goals in the distance, he would trip up on the smaller steps along the way. The "one match at a time" mantra that has been ingrained in each and every UK tennis player is something that head coach Dennis Emery has been preaching all season long to his team.
Quigley obviously got the message. And he's quick to attribute his success to a man that he calls the best in the business.
"Coach Emery, I mean, enough said about him," said Quigley "He's one of the greatest coaches in all of college tennis. He's helped me so much, day in and day out, over the past four years, and they're a real big key to my success looking back. Over my four years, I've improved in every area of tennis, and it's all due to (the coaches)."
The "one match at a time" philosophy is a tried and true in the world of athletics. The teams and athletes that stick to it are usually the ones with the most success at the end of the day. And Quigley has had his share of success.
He finishes his career with an impressive 172-47 record, including a record mark of 54-8 his senior season. His 172 career victories are 27 more than the next player in school history. He became the SEC Player of the Year on his way to a perfect 11-0 record in No. 1 singles in conference play. He's a five-time All-American, including three singles and two doubles honors. Quigley is just one of two players ever to compete in two collegiate grand slam finals. And he received the ITA Rafael Osuna Sportsmanship Award this season, which honors sportsmanship and on-court accomplishments.
At a point, those dreams and accomplishments seemed out of the realm of possibility. Arriving at Kentucky, he was just looking for an opportunity to compete.
"Coming into school, I was just happy to play," Quigley said. "I definitely didn't have these goals in mind, and these great achievements that I set. I had no idea. But I was just hoping to improve and help the program become better. I hope that in my four years, and my team, we were able to help make this an even better program and I just hope they continue to win championships and put themselves in a position to win a national title."
But eventually, Quigley realized he had something special. And it didn't take long.
"One of the key moments for me was my sophomore year, in the fall, I beat the number one guy in the country," Quigley said. "I played a great match. And that was a big moment for me. I kind of followed it up with another great win after that, and it told me that it wasn't just a fluke."
In fact, Quigley has been anything but a fluke, as he's continued to prove the legitimacy of his talents to his opponents.
Now Quigley will look forward to beating fellow professionals on the tour circuit as he begins his career post-UK. Though he has cemented himself as the greatest tennis player ever to wear the Blue and White, the dream to play professionally was one of the reasons he chose to play at Kentucky. By playing for Emery and his staff, he knew that he would have a chance to improve his game and take it to the next level.
Training begins just three days removed from his last collegiate match for that next level. He says he'll be back on the court Thursday and by the middle of next week, he will be off for California to begin training at the USG Training Center to prepare for "Futures" and "Challengers."
In fact, before his collegiate career was even finished, he accumulated some ATP points last summer, which will help him qualify for some professional tournaments in the near future. Quigley was also named to the United States Tennis Association collegiate team, which will help him earn wild cards that will help him enter into tournaments.
But there's no timetable for Quigley. He has no set number of matches he hopes to win this summer. He mentioned that some players take longer than others to make it to where he hopes to go. All he hopes to do is to improve and polish his game that he knows is good, but far from perfect.
"I try not to set a number," said Quigley. "I just want to keep improving right now, because I think that's the biggest thing I've got to work on, my serve and just improving my game."
But as he works towards his individual professional career, Quigley is quick to point out that the thing he will miss most is the team mentality and the camaraderie he's built with his teammates along the way. And even though he will no longer be on the team, it's going to be tough to keep him away from it.
"I'm going to miss all the guys on the team, and fighting for each other, working out together, and pushing each other to get better," said Quigley. "That's one of the many things I'm going to miss from Kentucky. I'm hoping I can come back in the fall and the spring the next couple years to practice and continue to learn from Coach Kauffmann and Coach Emery."
Perhaps that affection for his teammates and coaches is why he was so disappointed by their finish this season in the NCAA Tournament.
After reaching the Elite Eight last season, Kentucky, who returned quite a bit of talent including Quigley, had its sights set on loftier goals. Emery had talked all season about the possibility of this team reaching a Final Four and potentially a national championship. He felt as if he had the most athletic team in the nation, and he probably was not far off on that assessment.
Kentucky was selected to host a regional in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, and they breezed past both Radford and Indiana on their way to the Sweet 16 in Athens, Ga., with their eyes on a Final Four appearance. It was not to be, however, as No. 11 Stanford caught the No. 6 Wildcats at the right time, leaving Kentucky a round short of another Elite Eight appearance.
It was a tough pill to swallow for Quigley, who badly wanted to make a deep run in the tournament for he and his teammates.
"It was real tough," said Quigley. "Especially the year before when we had made the Elite Eight, and had a tough loss, and we thought we kind of had a chance there against USC even though they were a great team. But we really wanted to come back and improve on that good year that we had last year."
Luckily for Quigley, he had two shots at redemption for his team. He still had the singles and doubles tournament waiting in the wings. The Sweet 16 loss to Stanford was all the motivation he needed.
"I think one of the reasons I was able to do so well at individuals last week was because I had such a sour taste in my mouth after the team event," Quigley said. "I wanted to bounce back and do it for the team. I didn't want to have a disappointing end to my career, I wanted to go out on a good note, and I was definitely able to do that."
Quigley rode that wave of emotion and turned it into momentum that didn't stop until he reached his goal, his dream.
He was faced with a tough task in the Final. Defending singles champion Steve Johnson from USC was all that stood in the way of a championship run for Quigley. However, Johnson was in a midst of a 71-match winning streak, and he would not be denied a second national championship. But the loss, although disappointing, did not ruin the experience and journey to the place that he had worked so hard to reach.
"It was kind of surreal," Quigley said. "I've been thinking about that since I was in high school when I was a little kid, making it to a Finals and the NCAAs. And for it to actually happen is like a dream come true.
"You know I was definitely happy to be there. I was happy making the Finals, but I wanted to bring home the title. But (USC's) Steve Johnson's quite an accomplished player, it's definitely not a bad loss by any means. It was a great run, and looking back, it was awesome."
It was awesome, and he Quigley has been awesome for the Kentucky tennis program and for his University. And for a Kentucky kid to reach his dreams and represent the University of Kentucky in the fashion that he has over the past four years, that is as awesome as it gets.
Baseball - The Kentucky baseball team has been selected for its seventh all-time NCAA Tournament, traveling to the Gary, Ind., regional as the No. 2 seed, hosted by No. 1 seed Purdue. UK will face off with No. 3 seed and 25th-ranked Kent State in the opener on Friday, with No. 4 seeded Valparaiso taking on Purdue. - The Wildcats have had the best season in the history of the program, winning the second-most games in school annals and finishing third overall in the Southeastern Conference. UK led the SEC in eight of 10 weeks and was just one win shy of winning the second league regular season title in UK history. UK is just one win shy of equaling the school record for wins, owning a 13-9 record against top-25 teams, a 10-5 mark against top-10 foes and setting a school record by winning seven of its 10 SEC weekends. Last week, UK advanced to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament, the highest UK finish in the modern-era history of the league tournament (1998-present). - UK owns a 5-0 all-time record against Kent State, a 5-1 all-time mark against Purdue and have never played Valpo in school history. Overall against the field, UK owns a 14-13 mark against teams in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. UK ended the year with a No. 14 RPI. - Kentucky will be making its seventh all-time appearance in the NCAA Tournament, owning a 10-12 overall record. UK's last appearance in the NCAA Tournament came in 2008, when the Wildcats tied the best finish in school history with a regional runner-up finish. Men's tennis - Eric Quigley's historic four-year career as a member of the University of Kentucky men's tennis team came to an end Monday in the NCAA Singles Final as he fell in a tight battle to No. 1 Steve Johnson of Southern California at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga. Johnson, who won the NCAA Singles title last season as well, earned late breaks in both the first and second sets to defeat the UK star 6-4, 6-4. - The impressive tournament run by Quigley put him in exclusive company, becoming only the third player in school history to play in the NCAA Singles Final. The UK star joins fellow All-Americans Jesse Witten and Carlos Drada as the only players to advance to the finals of the singles event. - Quigley had to defeat some of the best players in the nation to advance to the singles final, taking down five ranked players, including four that are ranked in the top 20 in the nation. The run to the finals began with a 7-5, 6-4 win over No. 41 Andre Dome of Cal Poly in the first round before Quigley defeated No. 18 Andreas Mies of Auburn 7-6 (4), 6-3 to advance to the round of 16. Quigley's Sweet 16 win came in thrilling action, taking down No. 13 Artem Ilyushin of Mississippi State 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4) before he earned a 6-4, 6-3 win over Henrique Cunha of Duke in the quarterfinals. Quigley faced No. 9 Blaz Rola of Ohio State in the semifinal Sunday, using a come-from-behind effort to grab the win 2-6, 6-1, 7-6 (1). - The native of Pewee Valley, Ky., ends his senior season with a 54-8 record, which is the most wins in a single season in school history. The impressive mark this year took Quigley's career total to 172-47, which is the most wins in school history by a large amount, shattering the previous record by 27 wins.
Track and field - Raymond Dykstra, Andrew Evans and Luis Orta will represent Kentucky track and field this year at the NCAA Outdoor National Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, from June 6-9. The trio each earned qualified marks/times at the NCAA East Preliminary Round last weekend. - Dykstra, a freshman, earned a spot in the NCAA Outdoor National Championships with an eighth-place finish in the men's javelin, throwing 222-09/67.91m at Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla., on Thursday. - Evans qualified for the national championships with a mark of 182-07-55.67m in the discus. Like Dykstra, Evans also finished eighth at the east prelims on Thursday. - On Friday, Orta became the third Wildcat to qualify for the national championships, running a career-best time of 8:44.25 in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Orta's time was the second-fastest 3,000m steeplechase in Kentucky history.
Friday, June 1 Baseball vs. Kent State - 4:00 p.m. (Gary, Ind.) Saturday, June 2 Baseball vs. Purdue/Valparaiso (Gary, Ind.)
Sunday, June 3 Baseball vs. TBA (Gary, Ind.) Wednesday, June 6 Track and field at NCAA Championships (Des Moines, Iowa)
Thursday, June 7 Track and field at NCAA Championships (Des Moines, Iowa)
Friday, June 8 Track and field at NCAA Championships (Des Moines, Iowa)
Saturday, June 9 Track and field at NCAA Championships (Des Moines, Iowa)
On Monday, Eric Quigley went toe-to-toe with the nation's top-ranked player before falling 6-4, 6-4 to Steve Johnson of Southern Cal. Quigley ends his career as the most decorated player in school history, with his runner-up finish in the NCAA Singles Championship serving as a final addition to his long list of accomplishments.
In the video below, you can view highlights of the match and listen as Quigley talks about the match and his Kentucky career. Congratulations and thanks go to Eric for a memorable four years:
We're ticking down to the end of the 2011-12 UK Athletics season, but that's not stopping Memorial Day from being a busy one for the Big Blue Nation. Here are a few notes to help you keep up:
Eric Quigley wanted to help carry men's tennis to a team national championship, but the Wildcats fell in the Sweet 16. Instead, he's going for the next best thing. At noon on Monday, UK's all-time winningest player will take on top-ranked Steve Johnson of Southern Cal with the singles national championship on the line. Quigley has done just about everything a college tennis player can in his four years at Kentucky, but his resume lacks a national title. NCAA.com will be live streaming Quigley's final collegiate match here.
Speaking of Quigley, Kyle Tucker of the Louisville Courier-Journal on his bid to become UK's first men's tennis national champion. Check it out.
The baseball team received the disappointing - and surprising - news on Sunday that Cliff Hagan Stadium would not be playing host to an NCAA regional. Nonetheless, the Wildcats will have a chance to prove themselves in the NCAA Tournament and they will learn where they'll path will start and what it will look like in the Selection Show at noon on ESPNU.
He will face off against top-ranked Steven Johnson of Southern Cal in the finals and will look to end Johnson's 71-match winning streak. Stay tuned for coverage tomorrow, but in the mean time, here are video highlights of Quigley's semfinal win.
With four different teams adding to Kentucky's tally, UK Athletics is fast closing in on Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart's benchmark of 15 conference or national championships by the year 2015.
With the work of all UK's varsity teams, the Wildcats are also on the cusp of Barnhart's goals in the classroom.
For the second consecutive semester, UK student-athletes narrowly fell short of the 3.0 department-wide grade point average set forth by Barnhart. All UK student-athletes combined for 2.97 GPA and the GPA for scholarship athletes was a slightly higher 2.98 GPA. The average team GPA for the spring semester was 3.07.
"I am very proud of the effort our student-athletes logged in the classroom this semester," Barnhart said. "We fell just shy of our GPA goal and will work tirelessly to reach it, but I am happy with the academic culture we have fostered at UK. I appreciate everything our student-athletes, coaches and support staff have done to make that happen."
Among all teams, women's tennis had the highest GPA at 3.55, while men's cross country had the highest GPA among men's teams at 3.29. Of UK's 20 Division I teams, 12 had a GPA of over 3.0, including the championship-winning men's basketball, rifle and men's tennis teams. ***See below for complete grade information for each sport***
The work of the men's basketball team was particularly impressive. The Wildcats brought home the program's eighth national championship, spending essentially the entire month of March away from campus for tournament play, yet still excelling academically.
Five players off this year's championship team opted to turn professional early - all projected first-round picks and three in the lottery - but also demonstrated their commitment to both UK and eventually graduating by finishing the semester strong as full-time students. Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague - three so-called "one and dones" - combined for a spring GPA well above 3.0. Additionally, the lone seniors on the team, Darius Miller and Eloy Vargas, each received their diplomas at May commencement.
"All these kids are good kids," John Calipari said. "We had a (3.12) GPA as a team for this term with five players who are leaving early, so all this stuff bitter old men say that they don't go to class, it's not true."
The men's basketball team is just the most high-profile example in a department full of student-athletes committed to excelling both on and off the field. With spring sports yet to be recognized, 90 Wildcats have already been named to the Southeastern Conference Fall and Winter Honor Rolls. UK student-athletes have also volunteered over 4,000 total hours to various charitable causes.
"I am excited about all the great things our student-athletes are doing," Barnhart said. "They do so much to enrich our athletic department, our University and the Lexington community. We are blessed to be a part of their development and take that responsibility seriously."
Baseball - After falling just a win shy of claiming the second Southeastern Conference Championship in program history on the final day of the regular season, Kentucky will kick off postseason play by opening the SEC Tournament on Tuesday as the fourth seed against the ninth-seeded Ole Miss Rebels, with first pitch set for 10:30 a.m. ET at Regions Park. - UK will be making its 14th all-time appearance in the SEC Tournament, owning a 16-28 overall record, with its fifth-place finish in 2000 and 2008 marking a program best. - UK completed its regular season with the most wins in a regular season in the history of the program, equaling the 41 from the school-record 44-win season in 2008. UK also tied the school record set in 2006 by winning seven of its 10 SEC series matchups in 2012. The Wildcats led the SEC in eight of 10 weeks and boasted home series wins over No. 2 South Carolina, No. 10 Ole Miss and No. 1 LSU, and road series wins at Tennessee, No. 18 Georgia and No. 9 Arkansas.
Men's tennis - The sixth-ranked University of Kentucky men's tennis team won the doubles point, but could not continue its momentum in singles action, dropping a 4-1 decision to No. 11 Stanford in the NCAA Men's Tennis Tournament Round of 16. - The loss concludes Kentucky's season with an overall record of 28-6, the second-most wins in the history of the program. Last year's team set the school record for wins in a year with a 29-9 mark. UK ends the season with a .778 winning percentage, which is the third highest in the history of the program behind the 1988 and 1992 teams. - Kentucky ends the season with a 23-6 record against currently ranked teams. More specifically, UK was 11-6 against teams currently ranked in the top 25, including three wins over teams in the top 10. Since the start of the 2009 season, Kentucky has won an impressive total of 31 matches against top-25 foes.
Softball - The Wildcats made their fourth-consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament on Friday in Louisville, and dropped a heart-wrenching 3-2 walk-off loss to No. 22 Michigan in the opening round. UK then defeated Valpo in an elimination game by a 5-4 margin before falling to the No. 7 Louisville Cardinals 3-2 in the Saturday elimination game. - UK ends its season at 30-30, marking the fourth-straight season the Wildcats have posted a .500 or better record. It is the best run in school history. Sophomore Ginny Carroll led the offense with a .444 average in the tournament, which included a double and pair of runs scored. Freshman Griffin Joiner connected for a two-run homer in the Louisville contest for UK's lone long ball. - The 2012 senior class comprised of Macy Allen, Chanda Bell, Brittany Cervantes, Ashleigh Gustafson, Rachel Riley and Erika Silence are credited with changing the culture of UK softball forever. The six-member class is the lone group of letter-winners to appear in postseason action in each season of its careers. They own the school-record for most wins in a career (136). Bell and Riley rank among the top-five in every pitching category in school history. Cervantes steps away as one of UK's most prolific offensive performers owning school records for homers and RBI. Track and field - Four Wildcats were named to the Track & Field All-SEC teams. Andrew Evans was a first-team selection in the discus, Raymond Dykstra and Luis Orta were second-team selections in the javelin and 3,000m steeplechase, respectively, and Keilah Tyson was named to the All-SEC Freshman Team in the 100m and 200m. Dykstra was also named to the All-SEC Freshman Team in the javelin. - Thirteen Kentucky student-athletes have qualified for the NCAA East Preliminary, which takes place from May 24-26 in Jacksonville, Fla. Representing Kentucky will be Terence Boyd (long jump, triple jump), Raymond Dykstra (javelin), Andrew Evans (discus), Terri-Ann Grant (high jump), Isiah Kent (discus), Josh Nadzam (1,500m), Luis Orta (3,000m steeplechase), Kayla Parker (100m hurdles), Allison Peare (800m), Jennifer Svoboda (shot put), Keilah Tyson (100m, 200m), and the 4x100m relay team, which will consist of Tamyah Pipkin, Tyson, Julie Nunn and Parker.
Tuesday, May 22 Baseball vs. Ole Miss - 9:30 a.m. (Hoover, Ala.) Wednesday, May 23 Men's tennis in singles and doubles draw (Athens, Ga.) Baseball vs. LSU/Arkansas/Mississippi State (Hoover, Ala.)
Thursday, May 24 Men's tennis in singles and doubles draw (Athens, Ga.) Track and field at NCAA East Preliminary Round (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Friday, May 25 Baseball vs. TBA (Hoover, Ala.) Men's tennis in singles and doubles draw (Athens, Ga.) Track and field at NCAA East Preliminary Round (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Saturday, May 26 Baseball vs. TBA (Hoover, Ala.) Men's tennis in singles and doubles draw (Athens, Ga.) Track and field at NCAA East Preliminary Round (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Sunday, May 27 Men's tennis in singles and doubles draw (Athens, Ga.)
Monday, May, 28 Men's tennis in singles and doubles draw (Athens, Ga.)
Alex Musialek and the men's tennis team advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 4-0 win over Indiana on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Dennis Emery knows these types of opportunities are rare.
It's not often that a coach has the best player in the history of his program playing the best tennis of his career in the middle of his final postseason run. It's less often still that that player is surrounded by the arguably the best assemblage of talent in school history. Having those things converge with an uncommon sense of togetherness among the team, that might happen once in a career.
Beyond this season, the future remains bright for Kentucky men's tennis, and Emery will field contenders again, just as he has throughout his tenure. But this time it feels a little different. This time Emery has no intention of letting this chance get away from his Wildcats.
"When you're here, when you're at Kentucky in the SEC, the one thing I've learned over 30 years is when you have a good team, you better win," Emery said.
For the third year in a row, UK will play in the Sweet 16. There, the No. 6 Cats (28-5) will face No. 11 Stanford (19-8) on Friday at 4 p.m. in Athens, Ga. A victory would send Kentucky to the Elite Eight for the second straight season, but UK has never advanced past the national quarterfinals. In the minds of players and coaches, this is the year to break through that glass ceiling.
"It's important when you're good to seal the deal and put the nail of the coffin and that's what we have to do this week coming up," Emery said. "We graduate our No. 1 (Quigley) and 2 (Alex Musialek) and though we feel like we're going to be good next year, this our time."
Emery has no trouble identifying what makes this team different. Assistant coaches Cedric Kauffmann and Matt Emery have made a difference in developing and mentoring players, but even more importantly, the young Wildcats they get to coach are pretty good too.
"We're just better than we have been in terms of our talent. We have the ability to make mistakes and outrun them, out-jump them, out-serve them sort of," Emery said. "Our talent level is significantly better this year. We're more athletic. I've been around long enough, I had forgotten how important it was to have the best players."
Mix in the fire inside of every member of this team and you have something special.
"We've got a lot of character," Emery said. "These guys really want to win. It's the most competitive team I have ever been around and it's hard to describe. They're very, very competitive, both individually and as a team. They take a lot of pride in what they're doing."
In case advancing in the NCAA Tournament wasn't enough motivation, the Cats will have the extra edge of a rematch with the Cardinal, one of just four teams to defeat them all season. Back in February, UK was just a day removed from its first defeat of the season, a heartbreaking 4-3 decision at the hands of Ohio State, when then-No. 9 Stanford came calling. In a rare occurrence, it was the Cats' depth at the bottom half of the singles lineup that felled them.
"It was a match I felt like we definitely should have won the first time around," Emery said of the 4-1 loss. "I felt like I necessarily didn't do a very good job preparing our team. We played great at one, two and three. We played probably our worst match of the year at four, five, six and in the doubles."
Though it has been nearly three months, the loss is fresh in the Wildcats' minds, a stinging reminder an eight-day stretch that saw them drop three straight matches, or 60 percent of their total on the season.
"You definitely want to get some revenge," Quigley said. "They're definitely a good team, but I think we can play a little better."
The rematch as well the rest of the NCAA Tournament will be played on Georgia's home courts at the Dan McGill Tennis Complex, a venue that calls to mind much more pleasant memories than UK's first opponent there. On March 30, the Wildcats beat the Bulldogs 4-3 in a match that ended up being the difference in UK's first SEC championship in two decades.
"It's a great place to play," Emery said. "It's a venue that our players love to play in. If you could have seen us play Georgia earlier this year, they were just thriving on that situation."
Two seasons ago, the Cats' Sweet 16 run ended in Georgia, a run they built on last year in advancing to the Elite Eight. The Wildcats want to take another step forward into the Final Four, but make no mistake about it, it's not their ultimate goal.
"We just don't want to improve on the previous year, we really want to go all the way," Quigley said.