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Junior Lauren Cumbess has been a pivotal part to the Wildcats' success with her performances in the circle and at the plate. Junior Lauren Cumbess has been a pivotal part to the Wildcats' success with her performances in the circle and at the plate. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)


As the calendar approaches March and the weather begins to warm up, the feel in the air gives fans an itch for the outdoor sports season. The University of Kentucky softball team is off to a terrific start in their 2013 campaign and should give fans plenty to be excited about.

The Wildcats have jumped out to an 8-3 record, including wins over No. 3 California, No. 20 Stanford and No. 16 Washington, as sixth-year head coach Rachel Lawson believes this may be the best start in school history. UK got off to a 10-2 start in 2010, but in terms of quality opponents, the Cats have faced five ranked teams in their first 11 games, along with Oregon State and San Diego State who are receiving votes.

Kentucky, which began the year outside of the polls, has climbed into national consideration and currently sits 20th and 22nd in this week's rankings.

It's tough to gauge what your team is just two weeks into the season, but Lawson was pleased with the complete team effort she saw out of her players in the two tournaments out west. The Wildcats displayed great pitching and the offense came up with clutch hits in key situations to give Lawson confidence about her team's mental toughness.

"You can't beat those teams without great pitching so it started there and offensively, where we didn't put up a lot of power numbers, we were good situationally," Lawson said. "Some games we started off pretty hot but then in other games where they were close we were able to come up with a run at the end so that's a sign of mental toughness, which is something that we pride ourselves on and being pretty gritty."

Lawson is not surprised by her players' performance. Kentucky has several new faces that joined the roster this year and even have returners in positions they have never played before, but all stepped up when their time was called.

Sophomore Kara Howard made a possible game-saving catch against Stanford when she robbed a potential two-run homerun in the fifth inning to preserve a 3-0 lead for the Cats. Krystal Smith also stepped up, filling in at third base for the first time in her UK career. Smith's defense, specifically charging the plate on bunts, has stood out to Lawson. As far as the outfield goes, Lawson feels the entire crew is ahead of where they were last season, which was a bit of a weakness at the beginning of the 2012 season.

The Wildcats are loaded with depth and decisions are still up in the air on who has locked in positions in the lineup.

"We definitely have to figure it out," Lawson said. "The nice thing is we did so well and I don't even think the new people even came close to doing what they can do."

Kentucky features a talented freshman group that is expected to make an impact on the Cats' success this year.

Nikki Sagermann ranks second on the team in batting average, hitting at a .364 clip in nine starts and Lawson feels she is capable of even better numbers because she is yet to show off her power and slugging percentage.

Sylver Samuel has played in 10 of the 11 games and leads the team with three stolen bases, while Darrington Richardson - who has been used primarily in pinch-running situations - has swiped two bags. The two should create plenty of havoc on the base paths and Lawson believes they are two of the fastest players she's ever coached.

Ansley Smith, Maisie Steed and Christian Stokes also saw playing time in the opening two tournaments and should see their numbers rise when they get more comfortable as the season progresses.

In the circle, the Wildcats had some exceptional performances from junior Lauren Cumbess and freshman Kelsey Nunley. Cumbess gave the Wildcats a jolt of energy with a 3-2 victory over third-ranked Cal to open the season. The Lady Bears threatened multiple times in the game but the Normal, Ill., native buckled down and led the Wildcats to a nine-inning triumph.

Nunley has been arguably the most impressive player for UK thus far, posing a 6-0 record in the circle, including wins over No. 20 Stanford and No. 16 Washington. Her 32 strikeouts lead the team, while her 2.50 ERA is second to Cumbess' 2.04. The talent is obviously there for the young right-hander out of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., but Lawson says there is another quality Nunley possesses that you can't teach.

"She is just a winner," Lawson said. "She is just really tough and when you need someone to come up with an out in crucial situation, she is the one you want on the mound. There is nothing more that she would want than to be in the circle and get the big out. In that regard, she is special and you know what she does well I can't teach. If she starts to figure some things out and gets a dominant out pitch, she is going to be pretty awesome."

Not only has Cumbess been impressive in the circle, she leads Kentucky in hitting (.429), homeruns (two) and runs batted in (10). The junior has become a force in the middle of the Cats' lineup and has already garnered opposing pitcher's attention, forcing them to pitch around her.

"It is getting to the point late in the game where they won't even pitch to her," Lawson said. "Once we can tighten up some hitters behind her, she will do even better."

This weekend, UK travels to Spartanburg, S.C., to face Georgetown, Howard and USC Upstate. The Wildcats will not be facing the quality of opponents from a rankings standpoint compared to their first two tournaments. However, as Lawson says, this weekend will allow the Cats to focus on some situational hitting and an opportunity for the players to get more action under their belt.

But Lawson doesn't want to look past this weekend and will approach the games like any other.

"The goal is always to win the softball game, so first and foremost we have to win," Lawson said.

With an 8-3 start and three wins over ranked opponents on a challenging (and long) West Coast road trip, Rachel Lawson's Kentucky softball team has surged into both polls after beginning the season unranked. The Wildcats are garnering some national attention for their impressive start, including leading off Graham Hays' week 2 College Softball Notebook for espnW. Here's an excerpt from his story:

A lot of programs get good for a short time. Fewer successfully manage the transition to what comes next.

"We're kind of starting a new era with Kentucky softball," Lawson said.

At least the Wildcats are easing into it. Or not.

Kentucky's schedule in the first two weeks was as ominous as any in the nation. First at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz., and this past week at the Campbell-Cartier Classic in San Diego. Opponents have included Arizona State, California, Cal Poly, Oklahoma, Oregon State, San Diego State, Stanford and Washington. The Wildcats stand at 8-3, including wins against four Pac-12 teams and San Diego State on its home field.

They took their lumps against Arizona State and Oklahoma, two teams likely to apply them with regularity this season, but they also answered the skepticism that left them unranked to start the season.

"It was a very tough schedule, but it's exciting to get to play those teams," senior shortstop Kara Dill said. "We are in one of the best conferences, so we play Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, Georgia. We play them all the time. So to get to play some Pac-12 teams and some Big 12 teams, it's a different game. We understand SEC softball, but it's just a different game playing those teams. It's exciting.

"You want to be where those teams have been. We want to be in the World Series, and they've been there."

Next up for the Cats are four games this weekend in Spartanburg, S.C. Look for a longer story later in the week here on Cat Scratches, but check out Hays' full notebook in the meantime.

Link: UK leads off espnW's College Softball Notebook

Video: UK softball home opener promo

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Feb. 17 Performances of the Week

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Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Feb. 17:

Baseball: Jerad Grundy

Senior southpaw Jerad Grundy had a great season debut, pitching UK to a win over Niagara on Sunday ... Grundy worked six innings without allowing an earned run, walking one and tying his career high with nine strikeouts ... Grundy allowed only four hits and held NU to a .167 batting average ... In the middle innings, Grundy struck out five consecutive hitters, not allowing a hit the second time through the order ... Grundy retired In his two-year UK career, Grundy has started 17 games with a 7-3 record and a 3.53 ERA.

Softball: Lauren Cumbess

  • Led the team in hitting against some of the best teams in the nation, helping the Wildcats defeat No. 16 Washington and San Diego State, who was receiving votes in one poll. Cumbess hit .500 over the weekend, going 8-for-16 with two homers, one double and five RBI.
  • Cumbess leads the team overall in batting average (.429), hits (15), homers (two), RBI (10) and slugging percentage (.657). She had a hit in every game throughout the tournament, including two against Keilani Ricketts, who pitched two no-hitters the opening weekend of the season to earn National Player of the Week honors. She is currently on a five-game hitting streak, the longest of the season by any Wildcat
  • The native of Normal, Ill., also pitched well over the weekend, going 1-0 with a 1.40 ERA. She threw a complete game shutout against Cal Poly, going seven innings, allowing only four hits while striking out seven. Cumbess paces the team in ERA with a 2.04 mark and is second in strikeouts with 22.

Softball: Kelsey Nunley

  • Pitched beautifully for the Wildcats in the second tournament of the season, posting a 2.21 ERA with wins against San Diego State, who was receiving votes in one major poll, No. 16 Washington and UC Riverside. She threw a complete game shutout against San Diego State, allowing only three hits while striking out seven and only walking two. Also went six innings the next day against highly ranked Washington, allowing six hits and one run - none earned - striking out three with no walks.
  • Nunley came on in relief against UC Riverside after UK just captured a 4-3 lead and shut the door, allowing the highlanders only one hit over her three innings in the circle while striking out two batters.
  • In her two starts over the weekend, Nunley went 13 innings, allowing nine hits and no earned runs with 10 strikeouts. In her four starts this season, Nunley is 4-0 and 6-0 overall. In those four starts Nunley has thrown 25 innings, allowing only three runs - two earned - while striking out 27 and walking seven.

Women's basketball: Jennifer O'Neill

  • Redshirt sophomore point guard Jennifer O'Neill led Kentucky to a 78-74 come-from-behind victory over No. 16/14 South Carolina.
  • Scored 19 points, including 10 in the decisive second half as Kentucky came back from a 16-point deficit to record its largest comeback in the Matthew Mitchell era and tie the fourth-largest comeback in school history.
  • Pulled down a season-high six rebounds and hit 6-of-7 from the charity stripe in a season-high 36 minutes.
  • With the game knotted at 72 with 25 seconds remaining, O'Neill found open teammate Kastine Evans under the basket for a layup to give UK a two-point lead. She later iced the game by sinking two free throws with 16 seconds to go, giving the Wildcats a four-point advantage.
  • Ranks third on the team in scoring at 10.2 points per contest, including 12.5 points in league play.
  • Has reached double figures in 12 games this season, including nine of 12 SEC contests.
  • Ranks tied for second on the team in 3-point field goals made (43) and 3-point percentage (.387). Her 3-point percentage also ties for fourth on UK's single season list.

Baseball: J.T. Riddle

Junior J.T. Riddle had one of the most prolific weekends in Kentucky baseball history, batting .786 (11-for-14) to open the year, with three doubles, one triple, one homer and six RBI ... Riddle collected 19 total bases, charted a 1.357 slugging and a .824 on-base percentage ... In a win on Sunday, Riddle set a new program record with a 6-for-6, three runs, three RBI game at the plate, including ripping a triple off the centerfield fence, finishing a homer shy of hitting for the cycle  ... In the season opener, he pelted doubles off the left and rightfield walls in a 3-for-5 game ... In the finale of the weekend, Riddle went 2-for-3 with two RBI and two runs ... He had a walk and two hit  by pitches, belting his first homer of the year as a no-doubt blast to spark a dramatic UK comeback win on Monday at USC Upstate.

Kentucky Sports Report (week of Feb. 19)

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Men's basketball
- The Kentucky men's basketball team dropped an 88-58 loss to Tennessee on Saturday. Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer led the Cats with 18 points and six rebounds.
- Senior Julius Mays scored 12 points and has logged 10 or more points in five straight games.
- Junior Jarrod Polson contributed a career-high 11 points.

Women's basketball
- Kentucky has won its last three games and looks to keep its winning streak alive when it faces No. 11/13 Texas A&M on ESPN2's Big Monday in the second meeting of the season between the teams.
- The Wildcats charted their 10th SEC win last week with an impressive come-from-behind victory over No. 16/14 South Carolina. Trailing by 16 points early in the second half, the Wildcats used a four-guard set to chip away at the Gamecocks' lead and win 78-74 - the largest comeback in the Matthew Mitchell era.
- Four players scored in double digits led by redshirt sophomore point guard Jennifer O'Neill with 19.

Gymnastics
- Then-No. 17 Kentucky defeated Missouri 194.250-194.125 on Friday night in Memorial Coliseum.
- Audrey Harrison was the lone all-around competitor posting a 39.3, which tied her career-high set last week.
- The junior also won balance beam, and shared the honors on uneven bars and floor exercise.
- The Knoxville, Tenn., native now has 12 individual event honors this season and 19 in her career.
- Her five all-around wins in 2013 have all come against Southeastern Conference competition.
- Shannon Mitchell tied Harrison for the floor title, her second of the season and the third of her career.

Rifle
- The Kentucky rifle team shot a 4697 on Saturday at the NCAA Qualifiers.
- Sophomore Elijah Ellis and senior Stacy Wheatley delivered personal bests in smallbore, with Ellis posting a 583 and Wheatley shooting a 586.
- Senior Henri Junghänel led the team in smallbore and air rifle, shooting a 588 in smallbore and a 594 in air rifle.

Softball
- The No. 22/24 UK softball team continued where it left off last weekend by defeating another ranked team en route to a 4-1 record in the 23rd Campbell/Cartier Classic in San Diego. The Wildcats posted wins over No. 16 Washington, San Diego State - who is receiving votes in one poll - Cal Poly and UC Riverside.
- Junior pitcher/infielder Lauren Cumbess paced the Wildcats throughout the weekend at the plate, blasting two homers for a .500 average (8-for-16) at the event with five RBI. Cumbess also went 1-0 in the circle, while freshman hurler Kelsey Nunley went 3-0 with a 2.21 ERA over the weekend. Nunley defeated San Diego State and Washington, throwing a complete game shutout against the Aztecs allowing only three hits.
- UK has now defeated three ranked teams this season in then-No. 3 Cal, No. 16 Washington and No. 20 Stanford. Coach Rachel Lawson and Co. have also taken down Oregon State and SDSU, who both were receiving votes when UK posted wins against them. After two weekends of play, UK is 8-3 with its only losses coming to No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 3 Arizona State and unranked Portland State.

Baseball
- Kentucky began the season 2-0 with wins over UNC Asheville and Niagara in Spartanburg, S.C. UK wraps up play at Wofford on Monday against USC Upstate.
- Junior second baseman J.T. Riddle set a new program record with a 6-for-6 game at the plate and starter Jerad Grundy tied a career-best with nine strikeouts in six innings in the win over Niagara.
- Sophomore All-America southpaw A.J. Reed worked five innings on the mound and went a career-best 4-for-5 at the plate with three RBI, leading No. 8 Kentucky to a 9-2 season-opening win over UNC Asheville.

Men's tennis
- Kentucky advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2013 ITA National Team Indoor Championships this weekend in Seattle, recording wins over No. 10 Mississippi State (4-0), and No. 6 Georgia (4-2).
- UK's No. 90 Anthony Rossi went 2-0 in singles action, defeating No. 12 Raymond Sarmiento of Southern Cal and knocking off No. 21 Nathan Pasha of Georgia 6-4, 7-6 (7) on Sunday.
- With the wins this weekend, UK recorded their seventh win of the season over teams in the top 25 of the ITA rankings, as the Wildcats are now 3-1 versus teams in the top 10.
- Tom Jomby also went 2-0 in singles play this weekend, collecting two straight-set wins. On Friday, Jomby ran past No. 43 Malte Stroppe of Mississippi State 6-2, 6-0 before giving UK a crucial point in its match with UGA, collecting a 6-
4, 6-4 win over No. 92 over No. 92 Ben Wagland at the two slot.

Women's tennis
- The Kentucky women's tennis team knocked off No. 55 Ohio State and No. 54 Indiana throughout the course of the week, taking both matches 4-3.
- Freshman Nadia Ravita recorded two singles win in the No. 1 slot to go along with two doubles wins in the No. 1 slot, paired with junior Caitlin McGraw.
- Senior Jessica Stiles went 2-0 on the week in the No. 2 singles spot, taking both matches in straight sets.

Women's golf
- The UK women's golf team began their 2013 spring season with an eighth place finish in the 15-team field at the Lady Puerto Rico Classic Feb. 10-12.
- Senior Ashleigh Albrecht was the low finisher for the Wildcats, tying for 14th at 7-over-par.
- Junior Liz Breed and freshman Sarah Harris were tied for 28th at 12-over, while freshman Cylia Damerau placed tied for 34th at 13-over.

Upcoming schedule

Tuesday, Feb. 19

Women's tennis hosts Miami (OH) - 4:00 p.m.
Swimming and diving at SEC Championships (College, Station, Texas)
Men's golf at Mobile Bay Intercollegiate (Mobile, Ala.)
 
Wednesday, Feb. 20
Men's basketball hosts Vanderbilt - 8:00 p.m.
Swimming and diving at SEC Championships (College, Station, Texas)

Thursday, Feb. 21
Swimming and diving at SEC Championships (College, Station, Texas)

Friday, Feb. 22
Baseball vs. Elon - Noon (Myrtle Beach, S.C.)
Softball vs. Presbyterian - 2:00 p.m. (Spartanburg, S.C.)
Gymnastics at Florida - 7:00 p.m.
Swimming and diving at SEC Championships (College, Station, Texas)
Track and field at SEC Championships (Fayetteville, Ark.)

Saturday, Feb. 23
Softball vs. Georgetown - Noon (Spartanburg, S.C.)
Women's tennis at Kansas - 1:00 p.m.
Softball vs. USC Upstate - 2:00 p.m. (Spartanburg, S.C.)
Baseball vs. Coastal Carolina - 3:00 p.m. (Myrtle Beach, S.C.)
Men's basketball hosts Missouri - 9:00 p.m.
Swimming and diving at SEC Championships (College Station, Texas)
Track and field at SEC Championships (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Rifle at GARC Championships (Oxford, Miss.)

Sunday, Feb. 24
Softball vs. Howard - 10:00 a.m. (Spartanburg, S.C.)
Men's tennis at Samford - 10:00 a.m.
Baseball vs. Kansas State - 11:00 a.m. (Myrtle Beach, S.C.)
Men's tennis vs. Jacksonville State - 2:00 p.m. (Birmingham, Ala.)
Women's basketball at LSU - 3:00 p.m.
Track and field at SEC Championships (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Rifle at GARC Championships (Oxford, Miss.)

Kentucky Sports Report (week of Feb. 11)

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Men's basketball
- Kentucky earned a hard-fought 72-62 win over visiting Auburn on Saturday to push its win-streak to a season-long five games.
- The Wildcats received another double-double effort from freshman Nerlens Noel who posted 10 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
- Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer led five players in double-figures with a team-best 14 points. Sophomore Ryan Harrow and freshman Willie Cauley-Stein both notched 12 points, with senior Julius Mays pitching in with 10.

Women's basketball
- Kentucky improved to 21-3 overall, 9-2 in the SEC with hard-fought road wins at Arkansas and Vanderbilt last week.
- Against the Razorbacks, the Wildcats rallied from an 11-point first half deficit for an 80-74 overtime win. Sophomore guard Bria Goss scored 16 of her team-high 17 points in the second half and overtime after not starting the game for the first time in her career, a stretch of 57 consecutive starts.
- On Sunday vs. Vanderbilt, A'dia Mathies put on quite the show by charting a season-high 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting, including 5-of-9 from beyond the arc. She also dished out a game-high five assists and three steals. She has now reached double figures in 22-of-24 games, including 15 in a row. The 28 points moved her up to No. 3 on UK's all-time scoring list with 1,815.

Gymnastics
- No. 18 Kentucky tied No. 6 Georgia 195.825 on Friday night in Memorial Coliseum.
- The team score was a season-high for the Wildcats.
- Audrey Harrison won the individual all-around title for the second straight week with a career-high 39.3.
- Harrison also won floor exercise, and she now has eight individual titles this season.
- Harrison has four all-around crowns this season, and they all have come in SEC competition.
- Jill Chappel, Shelby Hilton and Shannon Mitchell all tied or set new event career highs on Friday.

Softball
- The UK softball team started its 2013 season in style, going 4-2 against some of the best teams in the nation at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz. UK got the season started fast with a nine-inning, 3-2 victory over No. 3 California in its season opener before defeating No. 20 Stanford in the weekend finale. UK also defeated Oregon State - who was also receiving votes in both preseason polls.
- Junior pitcher Lauren Cumbess was the difference in the huge UK victory, pitching all nine innings, allowing only six hits and two runs while striking out six. Cumbess also went 2-for-4 at the plate with two RBI - including the game winner.
- Five Wildcats closed the opening weekend with a batting average well over .350, including freshman Nikki Sagermann, who leads the team with a .429 mark. Junior Ginny Carroll leads the team in RBI with six, while senior Alice O'Brien has scored a team-high seven runs.
- On top of Cumbess' pitching performance against Cal, freshman hurler Kelsey Nunley was UK's star pitcher on the weekend, going 3-0 with wins against WMU, OSU and Stanford. In all, Nunley threw 17.1 innings, allowing seven earned runs while striking out a team-high 19.

Men's tennis
- The Kentucky men's tennis team climbed to No. 7 in this week's ITA rankings, after starting out the season 6-0. The Wildcats dropped their first match of 2013 in a back-and-forth affair 4-3 on Saturday night at No. 19 Illinois.
- In the loss, No. 94 Anthony Rossi upped his record to 6-1 on court one singles with a 6-4, 6-4 win, while
Charles Minc improved to 4-0 on the season with a 6-3, 6-3 win on court five.
- The Wildcats won the doubles point for the seventh time in seven tries with wins on courts two and three.

Women's tennis
- The Kentucky women's tennis team fell to No. 59 Tulane 6-1 on Saturday in New Orleans.
- Freshman Kirsten Lewis recorded Kentucky's lone win of the match, defeating Caroline Magnusson 0-6, 7-6 (1-0) (7).
- Freshman Nadia Ravita lost her first match of the season, falling 6-0, 6-4 to Klara Vyskocilova in the No. 1 slot.

Track and field
- Cally Macumber won the 3,000 meters at the Husky Classic on Saturday.
- Macumber's time of 8:59.98 set a new indoor school record.
- Chelsea Oswald took eighth with a PR 9:06.64, third-fastest indoor time in school history.
- The rest of the Wildcats spent the weekend competing at the Tyson Invitational on the Arkansas campus.
- Bradley Szypka finished second in the shot put with a PR-tying throw of 18.50m/60-08.50.
- Keffri Neal took second in the men's 800-meter final with a PR, team-best time of 1:49.79.
- Allison Peare ran a season-best, team-leading 2:09.04 in the women's 800 meters to finish fourth
- Keith Hayes produced a season-best time of 7.79 in the 60-meter hurdles finals to place fourth.

Women's golf
- The UK women's golf team began their 2013 spring season at the Lady Puerto Classic in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico at the Rio Mar Beach Resort River Course.
- The Wildcats opened up the invitational on Sunday carding a 13-over-par, 301 and are currently in seventh place. Senior Ashleigh Albrecht recorded the low round for UK with a 2-over-par, 74.
- The tournament will resume on Monday at 7 a.m. ET and the tournament is scheduled to wrap up with a final round on Tuesday beginning at 6:30 a.m.

Upcoming schedule

Monday, Feb. 11
Women's golf at Lady Puerto Rico Classic (Puerto Rico)

Tuesday, Feb. 12
Men's tennis hosts Notre Dame - 1:00 p.m.
Women's tennis at Ohio State - 4:00 p.m.
Men's basketball at Florida - 7:00 p.m.
Men's tennis hosts Eastern Kentucky - 7:00 p.m.
Women's golf at Lady Puerto Rico Classic (Puerto Rico)

Thursday, Feb. 14
Softball vs. Cal Poly - 6:30 p.m. (San Diego, Calif.)
Women's basketball hosts South Carolina - 7:00 p.m.
Softball at San Diego State - 9:00 p.m. (San Diego, Calif.)

Friday, Feb. 15
Baseball vs. UNC Asheville - Noon (Spartanburg, S.C.)
Softball vs. Washington - 2:15 p.m. (San Diego, Calif.)
Gymnastics hosts Missouri - 7:00 p.m.
Men's tennis at ITA National Indoor Championships (Seattle, Wash.)

Saturday, Feb. 16
Softball vs. UC Riverside - Noon (San Diego, Calif.)
Men's basketball at Tennessee - 1:00 p.m.
Baseball vs. USC Upstate - 4:00 p.m. (Spartanburg, S.C.)
Softball vs. Oklahoma - 4:30 p.m. (San Diego, Calif.)
Rifle hosts NCAA Qualifier
Men's tennis at ITA National Indoor Championships (Seattle, Wash.)

Sunday, Feb. 17
Women's tennis hosts Indiana - 11:00 a.m.
Baseball vs. Niagara - Noon (Spartanburg, S.C.)
Women's tennis hosts Northern Kentucky - 6:00 p.m.
Rifle hosts NCAA Qualifier
Men's tennis at ITA National Indoor Championships (Seattle, Wash.)

Feb. 10 Performances of the Week

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Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Feb. 10:

Softball: Lauren Cumbess

Outstanding opening weekend for Cumbess, sitting first in ERA with a 2.50 mark and fourth in batting average on the team. Her season started with a bang when she threw nine strong innings against No. 3 California, getting the win over the highly ranked squad. Against Cal, Cumbess went the distance, allowing only six hits, two runs, two earned runs while striking out six. Her performance at the plate against Cal is what won UK the game, going 2-for-4 with two RBI, including the game-winning hit in the ninth inning against Jolene Henderson, who is the two-time defending Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year. Ended the weekend with a .368 batting average with seven hits, including one double and five RBI.

Gymnastics: Audrey Harrison

Audrey Harrison won the individual all-around title for the second straight week with a career-high 39.3 on Friday inside. The junior also took the floor exercise crown after posting a career-best tying 9.9 to help spark an improbable comeback as the Wildcats would tie then-No. 6 Georgia. The Knoxville, Tenn., native now has eight individual event honors this season and 15 in her career. Her four all-around wins in 2013 have all come against Southeastern Conference competition.

Track and field: Cally Macumber

Cally Macumber won the women's 3,000 meters at the Husky Classic on the Washington campus in Seattle on Saturday. Her time of 8:59.98 smashed three-time 5K NCAA champion Valarie McGovern's school record of 9:05.74. Macumber set a new personal-best by more than 10 seconds, and the time currently leads the SEC. The performance is also third-fastest in the nation this season, and she is in elite company as one of just three collegiate women in America to break nine minutes at 3K this season.

Women's basketball: A'dia Mathies

  • Senior guard A'dia Mathies led UK to road wins at Arkansas and Vanderbilt last week.
  • Averaged a team-high 21.5 points, along with 5.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.5 steals in the two wins.
  • In a tough, come-from-behind overtime win at Arkansas, she scored 13 of her 15 points in the decisive second half, including four in overtime play to give the Wildcats their first win in Fayetteville since 2010.
  • Hit four of her last six shot attempts in the overtime win and grabbed a season-high tying nine rebounds and team-high five assists.
  • Had an all-around impressive performance vs. Vanderbilt by netting a season-high 28 points on 10-of-17 from the floor, including 5-of-9 from beyond the arc.
  • Holding just a slight five-point lead with seven minutes to play in the first half, Mathies scored the final nine points for the Cats, giving the Cats a nine-point 31-22 advantage at the break.
  • Concluded the first half with a game-high 15 points.
  • The 28 points marked the third-largest point total in her career and the most since scoring 34 points vs. Tennessee on Jan. 12, 2012.
  • The 28 points moved her up to No. 3 on UK's all-time scoring list with 1,815 career points.
  • Mathies became just the third player in UK history to score over 1,800 career points.
  • Tied her career high with five 3-pointers and dished out a team-high five assists against the 'Dores.
  • Has reached double figures in 22-of-24 games this season, including 15 in a row.
  • Leads the team in scoring (15.8 ppg), including 18.8 points per game in SEC play ... Also leads UK in 3-pointers made (50) and assists per game (1.3) this season.

Men's basketball: Nerlens Noel

Freshman Nerlens Noel helped lead UK to a pair of wins at home this week to run the Wildcats' winning streak to five games. Noel logged double-doubles in both outings and has now put together a career-long three-game double-double streak. Noel had 10 points and 10 boards in a win over South Carolina to couple with five blocks. Against Auburn, he logged 10 points on a career-best 8-for-13 day at the line to go along with a game-high 12 rebounds. He continued his streak of at least one block in every game this season.

Softball: Kelsey Nunley

Impressive in her first collegiate action, going 3-0 with wins over Western Michigan, Oregon State - who is receiving votes in both major preseason polls - and No. 20/21 Stanford. Nunley's first action of the season came against Western Michigan, where she posted a complete game, allowing only one run and four hits with nine strikeouts. She also came on the next day in mid-innings against Oregon State, throwing 2.1 scoreless innings with two strikeouts, allowing UK to take a late lead and get the win. Her most impressive performance of the weekend came against Stanford, where she limited the top-20 Cardinal to four hits and one earned run while striking out eight. In fact, Stanford's leadoff batter reached on an infield single but Nunley would not give up another hit until the bottom of the fifth inning. In her two starts against Western Michigan and Stanford, Nunley went 12 innings, giving up only eight hits and two earned runs while striking out 17.

Junior captain Lauren Cumbess looks to be a force in the circle and at the plate this season for the Wildcats. Junior captain Lauren Cumbess looks to be a force in the circle and at the plate this season for the Wildcats. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Last season, Chanda Bell and Rachel Riley were a two-headed monster for Kentucky as they combined to start in 41 of the 60 games and earn 25 of the Cats' 30 wins, guiding UK to its fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

The two left their mark on UK softball but it's time to move forward and juniors Lauren Cumbess and Ellen Weaver along with freshmen Katie Henderson and Kelsey Nunley are ready to shine.

Cumbess finished last year with a 3-4 record in nine starts but boasted a team-best 2.78 earned-run average in 45.1 innings pitched. The Normal, Ill., native will most likely get the nod in the Cats' season opener vs. Cal and showed signs of brilliance last year when she no-hit Georgia. Cumbess has been known to play first base when she isn't in the circle and her athleticism is maybe the one thing Lawson likes the most out of her junior hurler.

"It's funny because she is probably one of the best athletes that has ever come through here," Lawson said. "What gives me confidence is not only that she's a superior athlete but that she's proven she could do it on a national stage last year. I would argue that at the beginning of the season she was our top pitcher and then she certainly showed it when we played Georgia and no-hit them."

Weaver provides some experience for the Cats, appearing in 14 games last season and had three complete games to her credit. Henderson and Nunley will get a taste of collegiate softball when they stand in the circle for the first time this season.

Cumbess is confident in the rotation the Wildcats will feature this season and likes the rarity of a four-person pitching staff.

"I think four strong pitchers on the staff is a great thing to have and not every staff in the country has that so we are very lucky to have four strong pitchers," Cumbess said. "We all complement each other really well so it's going to be very fun to see us work game-to-game together since we are all so different."

Cats hit the road

Fans will get a quick answer of where the Wildcats stand against the top teams in the country as UK will challenge No. 3/3 Cal, No. 4/4 Arizona State and No. 21/20 Stanford this weekend in the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz.

This weekend will also be a perfect time for Lawson to find out what her group of pitchers are made of as the Cats are slated to play five games in a span of three days. A lot of questions will be answered this weekend but this is just the start of a rough opening 20 games of the season for the Wildcats.

UK will hit the road for the first 20 games of the 2013 campaign, playing in four tournaments before returning home and introducing the renovated UK Softball Complex for the first time on March 6 against Marshall.

Lawson realizes this isn't the greatest situation for her Cats but there is only so much she can control and it's a hump the team will have to make it over.

"You never want to go on the road for the first 20 games," Lawson said. "First of all, it's nice sleeping in your own bed and second of all, we do have an unbelievable fan base which you can start to see that the SEC home-field advantage is really starting to take effect in the last couple of years in the sport of softball."

This is nothing new to Kentucky given its limited ability to begin hosting games in Lexington due to the weather in the month of February. What also prevented UK from hosting some early season tournaments was the UK Softball Complex.

With the upgraded stadium, Kentucky will host its first SEC Tournament this year and Lawson says fans will see a change in the schedule from here on out due to the luxurious new stadium.

"That's also why I'm excited about the new stadium because we'll be able to host," Lawson said. "Next year, you'll see our schedule is going to be a little different in that we can host a couple of tournaments at our own field."

Finding Leadership

Kentucky enters this season with just two seniors in Kara Dill and Alice O'Brien, who were both named team captains along with Cumbess.

Dill had a fantastic 2012 season posting team-highs of .351 average and 21 stolen bases, earning her way on the All-SEC second team. O'Brien had a fine year herself, finishing fourth on the squad by hitting at a .265 clip. Cumbess had success in the circle but was also productive at the plate and should see ample time at first base.

Although the team has a lot of youth, Lawson doesn't see a lack of leadership. She is very confident that her captains will step up and take charge but is also looking for her sophomores and juniors to lead as well.

"I believe there are a number of people on our team that step up in different situations," Lawson said. "I'm pretty fortunate that in this program, we year-in and year-out have brilliant student-athletes. They're good in the classroom, they're good on the field and they're blue-collar, level-headed people. I'm not worried from the standpoint that we have two seniors because what everybody provides collectively is pretty special."
Head coach Rachel Lawson looks to guide the Wildcats to their fifth straight NCAA Tournament berth. Head coach Rachel Lawson looks to guide the Wildcats to their fifth straight NCAA Tournament berth. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
This UK softball season is set to feature several new additions. Head coach Rachel Lawson is looking to take her program to the next level and earn a fifth straight NCAA tournament berth after setting a school record with six Southeastern Conference series wins during the 2012 campaign.

Lawson, along with senior infielder Kara Dill and junior pitcher/first baseman Lauren Cumbess, met with the media on Monday for the annual softball media day to talk about the upcoming season.

The newest addition to the program and one that's arguably attracting the most buzz is the renovation of the UK Softball Complex into a state-of-the-art 1,500-seat facility. The stadium is scheduled to host the 2013 SEC Tournament for the first time in school history during the week of May 8-11.
The upgrade to the stadium will certainly provide major boosts to the program and according to Lawson it will be among the best in the SEC, if not the cream of the crop.

"First and foremost, it is for the student-athletes," Lawson said. "It is going to provide us with an opportunity to train at the highest level possible. There are certainly unbelievable stadiums in the SEC but nobody is going to have a better set up when you take the stadium and new indoor facility into consideration."

The plan on the facility was passed by the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees on Dec. 13, 2011. Since that date, anticipation has been building for the 2013 season amongst everyone in the program. Lawson also said the field will give the Wildcats' loyal fan base an experience they deserve when watching an SEC softball game.

As for the players, Cumbess who is entering her third season, was ecstatic when asked about playing in the new stadium for the first time this year.

"We were out there a couple times this year when it was warm enough and I could not stop smiling looking at it," Cumbess said. "Everyone is really grateful for it and we are just really excited to have a nice area for all the fans to see us."

In the future, the stadium will also feature a new hitting building near the left field foul pole that will include a team lounge and locker room.  Like any new facility, one of the improvements that will come of this is in recruiting student-athletes to come to UK.

And it all starts with this year's class.

Kentucky will introduce eight freshmen on its roster, a group that will likely play a vital role in UK's success. The Wildcats lost three pivotal players from last season due to graduation in Chanda Bell, Brittany Cervantes and Rachel Riley. Bell and Riley are regarded as two of the best pitchers to ever come through UK, while Cervantes exited as the school's all-time leading home run hitter.

When a team loses that much talent, it's nearly impossible to replace. But Lawson and the players are confident the newcomers will step up to the challenge and be ready to perform when their time comes.

Lawson said she expects to see a few new faces in the starting lineup when the Cats open their season on Friday, Feb. 8 against Pacific-12 Conference powerhouse and the third-ranked California Golden Bears.

Dill, who is one of two seniors on the squad, also foresees a few freshmen getting their first taste of collegiate softball when the season gets underway but is very impressed by the 2013 class and expects them to contribute right away.

"The freshman class is unbelievable," Dill said. "Offensively, defensively, pitching, they're so good. I think a lot of them are going to play, whether they start or, you know, there are eight of them, I don't think they're all going to start, but they are going to have integral roles throughout the season with our tough schedule."

Lawson touched on the impact the freshmen will have this season.

Darington Richardson (Duluth, Ga./Woodward Academy) and Sylver Samuel (Simpsonville, S.C./Hillcrest HS) will provide speed in UK's outfield, while also wreaking havoc on the base paths. The sixth-year head coach added that Samuel is by far the fastest player she has ever coached.

Dill is the lone member of the four infielders from last year that returns for UK. With that being said, Lawson made it a point to bring in some youth to help fill the voids. Nikki Sagermann (Buford, GA./Mill Creek), Ansley Smith (Newman, Ga./Northgate HS), Maisie Steed (Powder Springs, Ga./Hillgrove HS) and Christian Stokes (Chesterfield, S.C./Chesterfield HS) will all fight the veterans for playing time and are all athletically gifted in their own way.

Lawson described Sagermann as one of the best young hitters she has ever seen, Smith as a player who is solid both on the offensive and defensive sides, Steed as a very smart and heads up ball player and Stokes as one of the most athletic softball players she's been around.

To round out the recruiting class, Lawson brought in pitchers Katie Henderson (Hixson, Tenn./Silverdale Academy) and Kelsey Nunley (Soddy Daisy, Tenn./Soddy Daisy HS) to complement projected starters Cumbess and fellow junior Ellen Weaver. Lawson regards the freshmen hurlers as outstanding pitchers who will have a chance to learn from Cumbess and Weaver and provide depth in the circle.

The Wildcats begin their season this weekend when they travel to Tempe, Ariz., for the Kajikawa Classic Feb. 8-10. Kentucky will play five games over the three-day span and along with Cal, UK will face No. 4/4 Arizona State on Saturday and No. 21/20 Stanford on Sunday.

Kentucky is no foreigner to competitive schedules as the Cats compete in the toughest conference in college softball. Lawson sees this as a measuring stick of where the team is at and will help them as SEC play approaches.

Two years ago, the Cats were one win away from the Women's College World Series. Lawson has high hopes for this season and believes the team can make it to Oklahoma City, Okla., referencing that winning the SEC is actually a harder feat due to the amount of teams from the conference that make it to the final eight-team tournament.

For now, Lawson will use these early games to find out some things about her team and make adjustments as the season moves forward.

"I just think that right now, at the beginning of the season, we can schedule really hard games right off the get go to see where we're at," Lawson said. "From there, I think we can really come up with a good game plan and assuming we keep our confidence up and our wits about us, I think we'll be right there in the postseason again, knocking on the door for the World Series."
 



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