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Video: Hillenbrand on SEC Championships

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Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart embraces Cally Macumber after her second-place finish in the 10k on Friday at the SEC Championships. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart embraces Cally Macumber after her second-place finish in the 10k on Friday at the SEC Championships. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
For a normal person, preparing to run more than six miles is a months-long undertaking.

Cally Macumber needed only a few days after she decided to run the 10,000-meter race at the Southeastern Conference Track and Field Championships.

"It wasn't originally the plan to run the 10," Macumber said. "Kind of a last-minute decision to try and get some points for the team."

The decision paid off for both Macumber and her Kentucky team. She ran the 10k in 34:01.52, finishing second behind Arkansas' Dominique Scott to pick up eight important points for the Wildcats.

"Anytime you gotta be crazy or courageous enough to volunteer to run a 10k, you're a special athlete," UK head coach Edrick Floreal said. "She performed very special."

The performance was even more special considering Macumber's history in the 10k. A year ago, she finished seventh at SECs in the same race.

"It was a hard decision to make not having the best track record with it," Macumber said. "But I knew it would really help my team and once you think about that, it's worth it, the 25 laps."

It's that willingness to sacrifice for her team, in fact, that paved the way for her record effort.

"Getting them to the point where it's their idea is so important," Floreal said. "Had I forced her to do it, it would have been a different story. But she wanted to do it."

Macumber has always been a good teammate, but her attitude has undergone a change that represents the culture shift brought on by Floreal's arrival two summers ago. A promising, albeit inconsistent, performer in her first three years at UK, Macumber has transformed into an All-American under Floreal and women's distance coach Hakon DeVries.

"It's been crazy to watch," Macumber said. "Everyone, just as soon as Coach Flo stepped on campus, it was like a transformation with everybody, everyone's attitudes. It's been so exciting and without them I wouldn't have seen the improvements I've seen and I know the other kids on the team wouldn't have seen as big of improvements either."

Ibn Short and Nathan Donnellon joined Macumber as Friday point-scorers for UK, finishing fifth and seventh in the decathlon, respectively. Dezerea Bryant, Keilah Tyson, Kendra Harrison, Keffri Neal and Allison Peare, meanwhile, advanced to finals to put Kentucky in good position -- third on the women's side with 13 points, sixth on the men's with six -- entering Saturday and Sunday of a loaded SEC meet.

"All that stuff is good," Floreal said. "It's momentum. The kids in the locker room were very excited about where we are and about what their chances are of doing well. That's all I want. I just want them to give it their absolute best shot and where the chips fall, they fall."

All those laps behind her, Macumber will play a role in deciding where a few more of those chips fall. She will run as one of the favorites in the 5k late Sunday afternoon.

"I'm definitely looking forward to it," Macumber said. "I think I've got a little bit left in the tank. I have a day tomorrow to just cheer on my team, relax, chill out and then be ready to go Sunday."

The idea of running another three-plus miles in less than 48 hours might sound unpleasant, but it's exactly where Macumber wants to be.

"I love it," Macumber said. "I couldn't ask it for it to be in a better place my last year, going out on the home course with all my teammates and people supporting me. I'm just really happy to be here."

Video: Dezerea Bryant on SEC Championships

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Edrick Floreal and the Kentucky track and field program will host the SEC Championships this weekend. (Photo by Nick Agro) Edrick Floreal and the Kentucky track and field program will host the SEC Championships this weekend. (Photo by Nick Agro)
The plan, initially, was for Cally Macumber to run only the 5,000-meter race at the Southeastern Conference Track and Field Championships.

The senior, however, wasn't having any of it.

Sensing an opportunity to score important points, Macumber said she wanted to run the 10,000 as well.

"That's 25 laps," Edrick Floreal said. "I don't even know if I'm that courageous to volunteer for that."

Macumber has only recently gotten healthy, running in two races in April after coping with "dings and dangs," in the words of her head coach. It would have been understandable for Macumber to want to focus solely on the 5,000 with the end of her collegiate career fast approaching.

Instead, she abandoned self-interest for the sake of her Kentucky team.

"That's kind of the character of this team: People are beginning to volunteer," Floreal said. "That's what I want. I want the kids to come to my office and say, 'Hey, I think I can do this event and get a couple points for you.' That's kind of what we've got going on right now."

The timing couldn't be better.

UK -- its women's team ranked sixth nationally and the men ranked No. 19 -- is set to host one of the nation's best track meets Thursday through Sunday. It's a big moment in the growth of a program only just beginning to tap into the vast potential Floreal sees in it.

"We planted the seed and it just broke ground a little bit," Floreal said. "I know we're excited about that but in my wildest dreams, I want to run out of trophy space."

Floreal, from the moment he left his head-coaching post at perennial power Stanford to come to Lexington, has preached the importance of hosting elite meets. There's a caveat though.

"There's nothing worse than hosting it and not to be so good," Floreal said. "It sort of exposes you to the fans that, 'Oh, we're not very good.' But the fact that we're pretty good and we're a contender and having it home, it makes it even more special. That's really what I'm excited about, that the fans are going to get a chance to see some quality kids compete against the toughest conference in the country."

There's no disputing the strength of the SEC.

On both the men's and women's side, eight of the teams ranked in the nation's top 20 will compete this weekend. Three 2012 Olympians will be in action with many more sure to join them in 2016.

"It's a tough conference to be good but that's sort of the signature: If you can be good here, you're truly good," Floreal said. "You can go in another conference and be a winner and that won't be good enough to be top eight here at the SEC, and that's what I wanted. I want to challenge myself and know that I'm good enough to compete at this level."

Not even two full years in, Floreal and the Cats are proving just that.

UK's men and women each finished in the top five at SEC Indoors a little more than two months ago, a first for the program since 1988. Since then, numerous individuals have established themselves among the nation's elite.

"I think we're moving in the right direction with the bodies we have and the way our kids are performing, having the fastest woman in the world on the team is not a bad deal at all and having kids lead the nation in multiple events," Floreal said. "I guess for me the cool thing is that we're good a little bit all over."

Not only has Dezerea Bryant posted the best all-conditions 100m time in the world this season, but Andrew Evans has the top discus throw in the United States in 2014, Kendra Harrison the top 100m hurdles time and Raymond Dykstra the second-best javelin throw. Hurdlers Kayla Parker and Leah Nugent, distance runners Matt Hillenbrand and Allison Peare are expected to contend for medals as well, but UK is even deeper than that.

"There's a bunch of kids of the team that you've probably never heard about that you're going to see this weekend that are going to shock the crap out of you," Floreal said.

Floreal says home-field advantage will help on that front. With a sense of comfort and family and friends in the stands, he expects many of athletes to reach another level.

"You know the track like the back of your hand, and that's good," Floreal said. "You go to somebody else's facility and the turns might be a little tight or the sand might be a different texture. But when you line up here, every day you train here so the nervousness kind of goes out of the way."

Some nervousness has been reintroduced by the cooler, rainy forecast for this weekend. At practice on Tuesday, Floreal overheard some such talk. He quickly put an end to it.

"I told the kids yesterday, they were kind of hoping that it doesn't rain, and I said, 'Stop,' " Floreal said. "We're not going to hope nothing. We're not going to hope that it doesn't rain or that it's sunny. We're going to hope that the race goes off on time and when it does go we're going to perform and compete.

"The No. 1 thing you have to do is represent your university and your teammates, whatever the weather is."

Floreal will accept no excuses. In fact, he wants the Cats to use the weather as another advantage.

"For me, I hope it rains cats and dogs. I hope everybody in the conference gets so tickled, so nervous because it's not perfect weather that our kids go out there and shine."

Allison Peare (Photo by Shawn Price) Allison Peare (Photo by Shawn Price)
Even with the Southeastern Conference and NCAA Championships still to come, the Kentucky track and field teams can expect to compete in front of the biggest crowds they will see this season at this weekend's University of Pennsylvania Relay Carnival.

With over 100,000 fans annually in attendance over the duration of the week-long Penn Relays -- including an expected crowd more than 40,000 on Saturday -- the Penn Relays is arguably the most visible meet in collegiate track and field, although the championship meets are plenty prestigious.

So even with four weeks remaining till the start of the track and field postseason, the Penn Relays will mark the start of the home stretch for Kentucky's 2014 season.

As such, the meet will serve as a major benchmark for the Wildcats.

"The Penn Relays is a big-time event with big-time crowds," head coach Edrick Floreal said. "It truly is a track and field carnival unlike anything else. It's organized chaos. We go into this meet hoping its very competitive field as well as huge crowds and fast pace help prepare our team for what's to come in future weeks."

The organized chaos Floreal refers to is mostly a result of just how many athletes compete at the Penn Relays. There are entries from 1,020 high schools and 252 colleges, meaning not a minute is wasted in the meet schedule and as a result the positioning of runners to be in place for the start of races is intense.

But the UK coaching staff is hopeful the hectic atmosphere can help prepare the Wildcats to handle plenty of distractions when the time comes to race.

Six of the top 10 teams in the nation will compete at the Penn Relays, providing a similar level of competition to the 10 top-25 men's teams and eight top-25 women's teams in the SEC that will compete at the Conference Championships, hosted by UK in mid-May.

Relay Contenders

The main draw among collegiate races at the Penn Relays are the "Championship of America" relay races, from which the winners receive the famed Penn Relays wagon wheels.

Kentucky has won two Collegiate Championship of American wagon wheels all-time, but not since the 1996 men's sprint medley relay. The Wildcats won the woman's DMR in 1986.

This year the Wildcats boast their best chance in years to claim a Wagon Wheel from multiple relays.

Arguably their best chance will be in the women's sprint medley relay (Friday, 6:05 p.m. ET), where the Wildcats are the top seed after running an NCAA-leading 3:43.20 at the Florida Relays earlier this month.

The sixth-ranked Wildcat women's team also boasts top-10 4x100m and 4x400m relay teams, meaning they can be expected to field solid lineups in each of  those events in addition to the 4x200m relay.

The UK men's team will also field some intriguing distance relay squads with entries in both the DMR, where they finished fifth at the SEC Indoor Championships last month and the 4xmile relay, which will be televised Saturday afternoon on NBCSN.

The Penn Relays will also include some intriguing individual events, including two-time SEC Champion Cally Macumber's 5,000-meter season debut (Thursday, 8:40 p.m. ET) and two national top-25 100m hurdlers in Kayla Parker and Leah Nugent (Friday, 4 p.m. ET).

Kentucky will also have throwers competing at UC San Diego's Triton Invitational and multiple competitors at the Bellarmine Classic this weekend.

Video: Highlights from Kentucky Relays

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Dezerea Bryant (Spencer Allen, Sports Image Wire) Dezerea Bryant (Spencer Allen, Sports Image Wire)
Entering this the third weekend of the outdoor track and field season, members of the team will have perhaps their best chance this year to perform at their best,

A select group of Wildcats produced times/marks in the first two weeks of the year that will be good enough to rank in the top-32 of the Region and qualify for the NCAA East Preliminary Championships.

The rest of the Wildcats have but one goal this regular season: to record a qualifying time/mark.

Pretty much nothing else matters until that mark is recorded. Only after getting a mark does the focus shift toward tapering training in preparation for the championship season.

And almost all of the Wildcats who got their qualifying times early are now in search of qualifying in other events.

Should the forecast hold, this weekend could be as good a time as ever to get those so-far elusive times and marks.

The majority of the top Wildcats will compete at the Florida Relays in Gainesville, Fla., where the weather on Friday is expected to be in the 80s and sunny. Three of UK's top distance runners have traveled to Stanford, Calif., to run against the nation's elite when it comes to multi-lap races.

Head coach Edrick Floreal chose those two meet locales for this weekend quite consciously. During the spring months in the United States, the time of year upon which the heart of the collegiate track and field season resides, weather is unpredictable.

At least of Friday in Florida it will be sunny and warm. In Northern California Floreal knows as well as anyone that sunshine seems to be a permanent condition, even if it may be a bit cool.

"You don't know what the weather is going to be the rest of the year," Floreal told the team on Thursday. "Everything else could be rained out. The rest of the regular season, our meets are mostly in and around Kentucky and we have the Penn Relays in Philadelphia and Triton Invitational in San Diego for throwers.

"You never know what the weather is going to be like. It could be really cold and rainy the rest of the year. This weekend we're going to have good weather so my suggestion is to take advantage."

Indeed bad weather will not be an excuse for the Wildcats competing on Friday. Similarly, competition level will not be a category worthy of complaint.

Both the Florida Relays and Stanford Invitational boast fields that rival any meet all season. Both are littered with national champions and All-Americans.

The Florida Relays has a strong reputation as one of the best early-season meets for the top sprinters, hurdlers, jumpers and throwers.

The Stanford Invitational, in contrast, is widely considered the nation's top early-season meet for elite distance runners. Many of those distance standouts will make their outdoor debuts there.

Floreal is all too aware of this. After all, he was largely responsible for building and enhancing the Invitational's reputation when he was director of track and field at Stanford for six seasons between 2006-2012.

Both the ideal weather and competitiveness of the Florida Relays and Stanford Invitational could mean the UK track and field teams are in for some eye-catching results this weekend.

At least that's the plan.

What to Watch
Kendra Harrison's 400m hurdles debut

Kendra Harrison ran the fastest 100m hurdles time by any American this season last weekend at the Texas Relays. She will follow that up this weekend by debuting in the 400m hurdles at Florida Relays.

After hurdling only over 60 meters throughout the indoor season, the UK coaching staff has now determined she has developed the stamina needed for what many consider track and field's most grueling event: 400 meters over hurdles.

Harrison's debut will be eagerly anticipated across the country. She is the top returner from the 2013 NCAA Championships in the event. She placed fourth; the top-three finishers were seniors.

Bryant's first 200 meters outside

Dezerea Bryant, the 2014 NCAA Indoor 200m Champion, will compete at the distance for the first time outdoors this year.

The 200m at Florida Relays will provide Bryant with a nice early test. The field's other headliner is Kyra Jefferson of Florida, who was runner-up to Bryant at the NCAA Championships.

Bryant certainly showed she's still in strong form last weekend at Texas Relays. She ran the fourth fastest all-conditions 100m dash in the world this year, a wind-assisted 11.13 (+2.7).

Kayla Parker's Florida homecoming
The Florida Relays will provide a homecoming of sorts for team captain and All-American hurdler Kayla Parker.

Parker is a native of Port Saint Joe on the Panhandle. She is scheduled to compete in the 100m hurdles, in her home state for the first time in a few years, certainly since she emerged as one of the SEC's best.

Throwers look to continue progression
Kentucky boasts a strong group of throwers littered with All-Americans.

But for the first few weeks this year, few of those Wildcats have performed at their best so far this outdoor campaign. That's not something to panic about, it's still quite early and even below their best, some have already posted qualifying marks.

Still UK's throwers are a competitive group. They want to win. This weekend will provide such an opportunity.

Distance outlook
Matt Hillenbrand and Adam Kahleifeh finished 1-2 in the SEC Indoor 3,000m Championship. They'll make their 5k debut at the Stanford Invitational looking to take advantage of a fast field.

Mackay Wilson will look to do the same in the 3k steeplechase as he races that event for the first time since the 2013 NCAA East Regional.

Those three traveled to Stanford separate from the rest of UK's elite runners, who journeyed to Florida. for one basic reason: to run fast against other fast runners.

Andrew Evans, 2013 NCAA Outdoor Championships Andrew Evans (Spencer Allen, Sports Image Wire)
Kentucky track and field head coach Edrick Floreal speaks often about the importance of "making an impression."

The thinking goes that Kentucky teams, so often considered an afterthought in recent years at Southeastern Conference and NCAA championships, must prove their worth time and time again on big stages before they can be considered "relevant."

For those familiar with Floreal, relevance is another focal point he often hammers home to the Wildcats.

To that end, Floreal's Wildcats are solidly on the way to relevance given their indoor performances, but they're not there yet.

Despite both teams finishing in the SEC top five for the first time since 1988, the women's team placing in the top 10 at the NCAA Indoor Championships for the first time in 25 years and also earning a school-record ranking No. 6 during the indoor season, much remains to be achieved.

After the SEC Indoor Championships, Floreal admitted to the teams that by his nature it's doubtful the Wildcats will ever satisfy him no matter how good they get -- though he did concede he would be quite happy with a SEC team championship as a start.

Nonetheless starting with the 2014 outdoor track and field season, which begins of Friday, UK will have plenty of opportunities this outdoor season to begin the journey toward reaching their coach's goals.

Floreal for his part has now dubbed the 2014 outdoor season the "quest for relevance." The first step in that quest will begin this weekend as the Wildcats are taking spring break in a warm and ideal setting given the winter they just went through in Lexington, Ky.

The setting is typical of many college students' Spring Break: Tempe, Ariz., but the purpose is a little less so.

While they will have ample opportunity to sit by pools and enjoy the desert sun, almost to a person, the Wildcats will compete on Friday and Saturday, pushing their bodies beyond the limit most people would consider comfortable.

Such is the life of a track and field athlete, not to mention those who compete for teams looking to challenge for national prominence and especially those who compete a coach as demanding as Floreal.

"This weekend will be one of many steps we must take on our march toward NCAA outdoor track and field relevance," Floreal said. "Our purpose going into this trip is twofold. No. 1 we want to set some early NCAA East Preliminary Championship qualifying marks. No. 2 we need to reacquaint ourselves with outdoor track and field while we build and strengthen our team under some much-needed sun rays."

What to watch for: Arizona State Baldy Castillo Invite (March 21-22, 2014)

The action will begin Friday evening and the only running events that night will be the men's and women's 1,500m in addition to the women's hammer throw, the only field event in which UK has entries.

Hillenbrand and Peare look to get back out there
Matt Hillenbrand and Allison Peare both made the mile finals last weekend at the NCAA Indoor Championships, but neither earned the top-8 finishes needed to score points. As such they are both likely to be eager to get back out there and post impressive times.

The men's field will be very deep with UK runners coming off strong indoor seasons. Keffri Neal will race for the first time since his SEC 800m Championships, likewise, Adam Kahleifeh will hit the track for the first time since he claimed the SEC 3k Silver Medal, only behind Hillenbrand who also won the conference mile.

Peare will be joined in the women's mile by Chelsea Oswald and Hiruni Wijayaratne. Oswald was the 2013 SEC 5k and 10k Champion last season, but will make her debut this outdoor season apparently looking to build a base of foot speed before going after the longer distances.

Long throwers debut
Part of the optimism for both of UK's teams to do even better than their monumental indoor season comes from the additional events on the outdoor track and field program that are not possible indoors, chiefly the discus and javelin throws.

Of Kentucky's three outdoor male scorers at the 2013 NCAA Outdoor Championships, two return: Andrew Evans and Raymond Dykstra.

Evans will throw the discus in collegiate-competition for the first time since claiming the NCAA Bronze last season.

Dykstra will throw for the first time in competition since placing fifth at last season's NCAA Outdoor Championships.

UK will also look to turn out a formidable cast of outdoor throwers.

Rebecca Famurewa ranked No. 3 nationally in the discus for much of 2013 as a freshman after earning points in the weight throw indoors.

Madison Jacobs, who was an SEC All-Freshman performer in the shot put indoors, also has great potential as a discus thrower as she had a national prep top-10 mark last year.

Women's sprint options
Kentucky boasts a talented array of women's sprinters led by 2014 NCAA Indoor 200m Champion and 60m runner-up Dezerea Bryant. Given her recent success, as well as that of SEC 60m hurdles champion Kendra Harrison, the duo will not compete at the Castillo Invite after logging heavy loads at last weekend's NCAA Indoor Championships

Even without Bryant and Harrison's services this weekend, the Wildcats will still boast a formidable corps for relays this weekend, including transfer standout Dominique Booker and 2013 Second Team All-American in the 100m dash Keilah Tyson.

Bryant and Harrison will likely make their outdoor debuts at the upcoming Texas Relays.

Records in play
Many Wildcats made significant strides during the outdoor season, and as such multiple school records could fall this weekend.

Kayla Parker headlines the list of candidates to take down a school record this weekend. Parker owns the 100m Hurdles record, 13.16w, set at last season's NCAA Championships. Coming off a NCAA Indoor Championships where she did not make the 60H final and given her drastic improvement since last outdoor season began -- and especially over the course of the most recent indoor campaign -- now would be as good a time as ever for Parker to lower that mark, especially because Harrison will have a great chance at it when she makes her outdoor debut in the upcoming weeks.

Michelle Canterna will also have a chance at her outdoor school record.

Canterna set the UK pole vault mark last outdoor season, and raised the all-conditions mark to 3.97m/13'0.25" at her last outing, the SEC Indoor Championships.

Charles Moushey will have a shot at the UK outdoor freshman pole vault record, after he broke the indoor mark in a fourth-place performance at SECs.

Ibn Short and Justin Kretchmer will also have a shot at the Outdoor Freshman Record in the high jump.

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