The event will serve as the centerpiece of UK's spring practice schedule as well as the first chance for fans to get a glimpse of Stoops first Wildcat team. Further plans won't be announced until later and some kept secret until the day of, but this year's spring game figures to be one of the most highly anticipated in recent memory.
Fans will also have the chance to make April 13 a Big Blue Saturday as both the softball and baseball teams are in action at home that day. Softball will take on Florida at 1 p.m., while the baseball team will face Tennessee at 2 p.m.
UK Athletics may be in the middle of the offseason, but that doesn't mean its athletes aren't working hard to prepare themselves for next year. If anything, Wildcats from the women's basketball, softball, women's tennis, women's soccer, volleyball and gymnastics teams are working harder than they do during the season.
Kentucky strength and conditioning coach Stephanie Tracey-Simmons is putting athletes through each of those teams through an intense set of summer workouts. The workouts are designed to build strength, endurance and confidence for the upcoming season, but they also have effect of unifying teammates and creating bonds across sports. Jen Smith from the Lexington Herald-Leader has the story:
The UK strength and conditioning coach says it's not her mission to make athletes miserable. She wants to make them tougher and stronger, more confident.
"I always tell the basketball players, 'You guys hate me now, but you're going to love me in March,'" Simmons says.
By the time basketball season rolls around and the season starts in November, Simmons is sure of one thing. "They will have the confidence that they can run anyone in the country down and wear them out."
There's a competitive portion to the summer workouts. At the end of it, each sport's coach is provided with a chart of how each player finished, not only individually, but also against players from the other participating sports.
"It's a big competition at the end of the summer to see whose team performed the best," says Bria Goss, a sophomore guard on the basketball team. "Also, individually you're competing against other sports. We all push each other and get better."
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.)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - If you had asked any of the Kentucky Wildcats a month ago whether they would take a berth in the NCAA Tournament, they would have jumped at the chance. Sitting at 23-36, the Cats looked like relative long shots to even reach softball's biggest stage.
After a furious rally to close the regular season, UK made it to the postseason after all, but the end of their run left them wanting more.
On Saturday, the Cats won an elimination game against Valparaiso, 5-4, to force another one against archrival Louisville. The Cardinals charged ahead with three runs in the first inning, but behind the steady hand of senior Rachel Riley and a fifth-inning home run by Griffin Joiner, the Wildcats close to within 3-2.
Ginny Carroll, who has been UK's hottest hitter in the NCAA Tournament, came to the plate with a runner on and two out in the final frame. She lifted a high fly ball deep to left field, but U of L's Jennifer Esteban retreated to make the catch and put an end to a season that likely won't be duplicated anytime soon.
"Our record is 30-30, and that's probably perfect for this team," UK head coach Rachel Lawson said. "It's not the record you want, but about two months ago, I didn't even think we'd be sitting here right now. I think what this team has done over the last month, I've never seen a team do that before."
UK, along with the three other teams in the Louisville Regional, has helped provide a national television audience on ESPN and ESPN2 with late-inning drama over the last two days. Moreover, the Cats helped attract the largest crowd in the history of U of L's home field.
Saying goodbye to a six-member senior class of Riley (who pitched 10.2 innings and got a win over two games Saturday), Chanda Bell (who got her fourth save against Valparaiso), Brittany Cervantes (who scored two runs over the two games), Macy Allen, Ashleigh Gustafson and Erika Silence who were largely responsibility for UK's recent ascendance is tough, but the legacy of the class is beyond question.
"I feel good about our team," Lawson said. "You never want it to end, but I feel good that we had the fight in us, that we had the character to pull ourselves of the bottom and be able to play in this kind of stage is pretty cool."
In the video below, Lawson talks about the day and the end of the 2012 season:
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - For right or wrong, the word "heartbreaking" is often used to describe defeats. There's no question whether the term was appropriate after Kentucky's 3-2 loss to Michigan on Friday.
In the Wildcats' first game of the NCAA Tournament, they scored two runs in the top of the seventh to take a 2-1 lead over the Wolverines. With senior ace Chanda Bell in the circle, Michigan got a two-out, two-run double from freshman Sara Driesenga on a two-strike count to walk off with the win.
"I think we gave ESPN what they wanted," UK head coach Rachel Lawson said of the late-inning drama.
Ginny Carroll had three hits, including one in the seventh-inning rally, while Bell tossed six innings of one-run ball before allowing two runs in the final frame. In the video below, Carroll, Bell and Lawson talked about the defeat and previewed what's next.
What's next is a matchup at 5 p.m. on Saturday against the loser of Louisville and Valparaiso. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 and ESPN3. Now playing in the losers' bracket, the Cats will have to win four in a row to make their second appearance in a row in the Super Regionals. Fortunately, rebounding from adversity is something UK is used to doing.
"That's who we are, so I'm not really worried about that," Lawson said. "I think the cool thing about team is we're very analytical about what happens and so I think we'll go back, we'll process what happened and make some adjustments and hopefully we'll come back better (Saturday). This team has got a lot of character. They know how to bounce back."
Lawson has not yet announced who will pitch for UK. Regardless, we will have complete coverage here on Cat Scratches and UKathletics.com, with another live blog beginning a few minutes before first pitch.
UK will face Michigan at 4:30 p.m. on Friday to open NCAA Tournament play. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Three weeks ago, even Rachel Lawson wondered if her Kentucky softball team could even reach this point.
The NCAA Tournament-bound Wildcats had just been swept on the road by Mississippi State to drop their record on the season to 23-26, three games below the .500 mark they knew they would have to reach to be eligible for the postseason. With just seven regular-season games and the Southeastern Conference Tournament left on the schedule, things were a little desperate.
"There was a point in the middle of the season where I was like, 'I cannot believe we're at this point.' I was a little nervous," Lawson said. "I was thinking, 'We're going to have to run through the SEC and win the SEC Tournament to make postseason.' "
Star hitter Brittany Cervantes couldn't help but feel the same way, but she wouldn't dare let anybody know about it.
"I wasn't going to say anything to anyone, but in the back of my mind I was a little nervous," Cervantes said.
The last thing Cervantes and her five fellow senior class members who "pretty much turned everything around for Kentucky softball" wanted to do was end their careers falling short of the tournament. There were no "rah-rah" speeches about a late-season surge, but only because they weren't necessary.
"They knew what was going on," Lawson said. "It was one of those unspoken things. I think the cool thing is they just took it upon themselves to continue to get better and better."
Improve they did.
The Cats took care of business in a midweek game against Morehead State before trekking to Florida and taking two of three from the second-ranked Gators. UK would then register its first-ever sweep of No. 22 LSU to move two games above .500. A first-round loss to Georgia in the SEC Tournament cast some lingering doubts about its fate, but they were resolved when "Kentucky" flashed on the screen during the selection show on Sunday.
For the fourth season in a row, the Wildcats (29-28) will play in the NCAA Tournament, a run that will begin against Michigan (39-15) at 4:30 p.m. on Friday as part of the Louisville Regional. All games during the regional will be televised on ESPN2 and ESPN3. The double-elimination format will technically put UK in a "win or go home" situation for the first time this season, but in reality, it's old hat for these Cats.
"The last two weeks was absolutely tournament play," Lawson said. "When we were playing Florida, we knew that we had to take at least two. When we were playing LSU, we knew we had to sweep them. To have your back against the wall that many times in a row, that's what it feels like when you go to postseason."
Michigan and the regional's host, No. 15 Louisville (53-3), have been locks for tournament play for weeks now, which is a testament to the seasons they've had. The Wolverines and Cardinals make for arguably the NCAA's toughest regional, but they haven't dealt with the same strain as the Wildcats down the season's home stretch.
"With LSU, we felt some of that pressure and the way we reacted, that sort of feeling's going to come when we go to regionals and have these tight games," Cervantes said. "I think our team is finally comfortable with that pressure."
UK got another lesson in coping with that pressure during a run to the Super Regionals a season ago, one that ironically began in Ann Arbor, Mich., where the Cats defeated the Wolverines twice. Chanda Bell and Rachel Riley, seniors who pitched every inning of the NCAA Tournament last season, give the team a dimension many others lack with their experience and differing styles.
"When teams have seen one pitcher, we can bring in another or if they're practicing to hit the rise ball, we have Rachel who can come in and throw the drop ball," Bell said.
That doesn't mean the task will be easy.
"They're a juggernaut and they're one of the best teams in the nation," Lawson said. "They always are. They have young pitching this year, but they're very good.
"They have a lot of speed. The top of their order's very good, but they can come with a couple really big hitters in the middle of the lineup. They can do a lot of different things."
Michigan's two primary pitchers, Haylie Wagner and Sara Driesenga, are both freshmen, but the Wolverines boast a 1.90 ERA as a team to go with an offense that has belted 46 home runs this season while batting .288. If UK intends to repeat its Super Regional trip of last season, the Cats also figure to have to get past Louisville, which owns the nation's best record.
The Wildcats have the appropriate respect for two of the nation's top teams, but also confidence that if they play their game, they are capable of doing more than competing with them.
"I think if the right team shows up, we'll come out of that regional," Cervantes said.
In spite of that self-assurance, it would be a stretch to call UK anything but an underdog this weekend, a role the Cats don't necessarily mind.
"It's a challenge that we like," Lawson said. "We love to be the underdog."