Head coach Edrick Floreal (left) with senior sprinter Shiara Robinson (right). (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
When the Kentucky track and field team gets ready to compete in the 2013 Outdoor Southeastern Conference Championships this weekend, the Wildcats will look very different from their conference counterparts. The blue and white uniforms, of course, will distinguish the Wildcats, but the real contrast won't begin to show itself until competition begins.
The SEC allows each university to bring 30 male and female student-athletes to compete at the conference championships. Instead of piling in 60 members from the UK track and field team and busing to Columbia, Mo., this week, first-year head coach Edrick Floreal chose to take a different approach.
Floreal made the decision to send just 35 athletes, 18 males and 17 females, to compete at SECs. This might seem to put the Cats at an immediate disadvantage, but Floreal knows his team better than anyone else. He has a clear picture of what a UK track and field athlete looks like, and the Wildcats he'll bring with him to Missouri have grown to fit that vision.
The biggest difference he has seen in this group over the course of the year hasn't necessarily been a boost in athletic ability or skill, but a change in their mentality.
"I just think it's been self-belief," Floreal said. "They believe they actually belong and I actually heard it from some of the coaches in the SEC that the kids that we have now act like they belong in the SEC and they can be competitive. That was a goal for the kids to feel like they belong instead of just letting them participate in the event.
"That's kind of why we took a smaller group of people that actually feel comfortable competing at that level as opposed to taking a large group that might not be ready when it comes to competing at that level yet."
One of the meets this year that has stood out to Floreal on that front was the Kentuckiana Border Battle in mid-April, when UK teamed up with Louisville in a meet against Indiana and Notre Dame. UK and U of L ended up winning both the men's and women's meets but more importantly, Floreal saw belief and determination out of his athletes.
Coaches from the three neighbor schools who were familiar with Kentucky and how the Wildcats compete were caught off guard by the Wildcats' new sense of self-confidence.
Creating that attitude has been one of Floreal's main goals since he arrived in the Bluegrass. He hopes for a similar reaction from UK's SEC brethren this weekend.
"I'm hoping for a little shock factor for the rest of the conference to exceed their expectation," Floreal said. "Not so much exceed their expectation in winning events but just from watching how hard our kids fight and how confident they are at that level more importantly than anything else.
"It is one thing when you are used to seeing Kentucky on the back and now they are next to you being competitive. That's what we are aiming for in every event. Whether somebody is fighting for next-to-last or fighting to make the final, I just want them to fight as hard as they can all the way to the finish."
What this week does for the Cats is give them an opportunity to compete at the highest level and gain experience for the 2014 SEC Championships, which will be held at the UK Track and Field Complex. Floreal is hoping that his athletes take this experience and develop some leadership for next year as well.
Kentucky has a large recruiting class coming in next year, with 25 male and 12 female athletes set to arrive in Lexington for the 2013-14 season. With such a massive group of newcomers, UK needs some leaders to step up so the freshmen have an example to follow.
"We just need to establish a group of leaders now so when the freshmen come they already know, 'Hey these people have gotten it done, we need to learn from them on what it takes to compete in the SEC,' " Floreal said. "You don't want the freshmen to come in bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and completely lost. You want them to come in and feel like they can talk to the All-SEC members and All-Americans on the team and learn from them."
Another goal of Floreal's is to improve on last year's performance - eighth for the men, 12th for the women - and see if the Cats can crack the top half. With the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M this season, the Wildcats will need to place at least seventh to achieve Floreal's goal.
Last year junior Andrew Evans won the discus throw, while senior Luis Orta and sophomore Raymond Dykstra were runners-up in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and javelin throw, respectively. Floreal wouldn't mind seeing a few more of his athletes up on the stage accepting awards this year.
"We didn't have an exceptionally good showing last year and the No. 1 thing is to improve on that," Floreal said. "Anytime you can be in the top half of the SEC that's a big accomplishment. We want to see some people in that top five and top three and see some people on the podium. We just want the kids to compete hard and be competitive so it should be fairly clear who are the stars and who are not."
Baseball - Kentucky completed a three-game week with a three-game series against No. 14 Arkansas, part of a stretch of 14 of 16 games against ranked foes. The Wildcats fell in the first two games of the series before claiming the series finale on a walk-off single in the ninth inning. - The Wildcats will return to their grueling schedule over the week, stepping out of nonleague play for a Tuesday game vs. Wright State at 6:30 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium. UK will then welcome No. 1 Vanderbilt to Lexington, with the Commodores off to the best start in the storied history of the SEC, sporting a staggering 21-2 record in league action. - UK has hit .256 as a team in 2013, with a .362 on-base and a .366 slugging percentage. UK has belted 30 homers and stolen 51 bases in 2013, also owning a 3.36 ERA on the mound. The Wildcats have been led offensively by freshman outfielder Kyle Barrett, who has hit .345 with four doubles, one triple, 12 RBI and four steals.
Softball - The Kentucky softball team recently completed one of the most successful weekends in school history, taking two of three games against No. 7 Alabama - the defending national championships - in Tuscaloosa. The series win was the first for Kentucky against the Tide in school history and also marked the first time UK had won in Tuscaloosa. - The wins moved UK to 13-11 in SEC play, earning the No. 7 seed in the SEC Tournament. UK has now posted three straight winning conference seasons under sixth-year head coach Rachel Lawson, advancing to five straight SEC Tournaments. The two wins over Alabama give UK nine against ranked foes this season and 40 against ranked foes under Lawson, including 24 against top-10 teams. - Freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley led Kentucky over the weekend, winning both games she started, throwing 15 innings, allowing only four earned runs with 11 strikeouts and a 1.87 ERA. Nunley shutout the Tide Saturday, marking the first time a pitcher had shutout Alabama at home since 2010. Fellow freshman Nikki Sagermann went 3-for-5 in the series finale with a school-record tying six RBI. Sagermann blasted a three-run home run in the eighth inning, giving Kentucky the win.
Track and field - Matt Hillenbrand finished as top collegiate finisher in the IU Billy Hayes Invitational 1,500 meters on Friday. - Hillenbrand ran a personal best time 3:44.66. - Adam Kahleifeh finished the same race fifth in 3:45.99. - Hillenbrand's time is second-fastest in the SEC this season. - Kahleifeh's time ranks No. 8 in the conference. - Keffri Neal posted No. 3 SEC time over 1,500 meters at the Stanford Invitational earlier this season. - Friday's race was Kentucky's final tune-up for the SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championships, which begin Thursday, May 9. - The conference championships will be held at the Audrey J. Walton Track Stadium at the University of Missouri in Columbia from May 9-12. - Kentucky will enter the SEC Championships defending one individual championship, as Andrew Evans claimed the event title last season in Baton Rouge, La. Upcoming schedule
Tuesday, May 7 Baseball def. Wright State, 4-1
Wednesday, May 8 Softball hosts South Carolina - 6:30 p.m. (SEC Tournament)
Thursday, May 9 Track at SEC Championships - 12:30 p.m. (Columbia, Mo.) Softball hosts Tennessee - 4:00 p.m. (SEC Tournament) Women's golf at NCAA Regionals (Auburn, Ala.)
Michelle Canterna (left) broke UK's pole vault record at the RedHawk Invitational, while Matt Hillenbrand (right) was the 2013 Indoor SEC Mile Champion. (Britney McIntosh and Chet White, UK Athletics)
Watch a collegiate track and field meet in person for even a few minutes and it's difficult not to notice just how many different things are going on. It's one of the unique aspects of the sport, just how many different ways there are to win. Running faster, throwing and jumping farther or jumping higher.
Among the top programs in collegiate track and field, the mold for success varies just as much as the program of events at championship meets. Some top schools build winning team scores through excellence in field events, others in sprints and others again use a distance-based formula to go for titles.
Under first-year head coach Edrick Floreal, the Kentucky track and field program has yet to identify a singe group of athletes that stands out as the major point-earners at championship meets like the Southeastern Conference Championships, which take place this weekend.
UK boasts a balanced squad, with no group standing out particularly over the other. And under the new coaching staff, multiple athletes have taken huge steps forward this season.
For two of those Wildcats, that success has come in very different styles, an illustration of just how many ways there are to get the job done when it comes to finding a way to win at track and field.
Michelle Canterna's path to success has been long and winding, but given her recent string of results, it seems she's struck the right chord.
She was recruited and competed her freshman year at Kentucky as a long jumper. Being a former gymnast for 12 years of her life, Canterna would perform tumble routines in the field during her downtime after practice. The coaches joked with her and threw a pole vault in her hand, telling her to try it out. She went through drills and even competed in an event as a sophomore, clearing 11 feet before getting injured.
Then things changed over the summer for the redshirt sophomore.
Her previous jumps coach had never been a pole vaulter before and with the new coaching staff on board, assistant coach Will Thomas, responsible for the team's vertical jumpers, has been a major key to her success. Thomas, a former decathlete, has brought the experience of competing in multiple events at the highest levels of Division I to the Wildcats.
By Canterna's own estimation, the new training regime under Thomas has been the catalyst for her unprecedented success this season. As a former decathlete, Thomas can relate the experience of having been a long jumper and pole vaulter, something that may have seemed daunting when Canterna first made the switch in events.
"I like the fact that I can come in my first year vaulting and he was able to mold me," Canterna said. "It was really nice because I've never vaulted before so being able to be molded by a new coach is awesome and obviously he is doing a great job if I can hit heights that people haven't at UK before. It's just humbling because I had no idea that I could do it and he showed me that I can which was awesome."
Under Thomas' guidance, Canterna has been a force for the Wildcats this year, breaking the school's all-time pole vault record clearing 3.96 meters / 12'11.75" at the Miami RedHawk Invitational last Saturday. The height came a week after the Florence, Ky., native set the UK outdoor record at the Heart of the Bluegrass Classic, Kentucky's first home meet since 1996.
On the track side of things, distance runner Matt Hillenbrand's story is more along the lines of a normal track athlete. The junior had tremendous success in high school, winning state championships as a distance runner. He has kept it going at Kentucky.
His first two years at UK were good, but he has had a breakthrough junior season.
"It was a combination of a lot of hard work that finally paid off over the past three years," Hillenbrand said.
At the SEC Indoor Championships in February, Hillenbrand claimed the mile race with a time of 4:01.55. He has continued his excellence by posting a personal-record time of 3:44.66 at the IU Billy Hayes Invitational last Friday, finishing second in the heat. His PR time is currently good enough to qualify him for the NCAA Regional Preliminary Championships if the season ended today.
According to Hillenbrand, a greater sense of self-belief has been the biggest factor in his newfound success this season. While Canterna's background may contrast quite a bit with Hillenbrand's, the SEC champion believes his teammate's success stems from the same source.
"We have worked a lot of longer distances and a lot of aerobic workouts, but it's really just the perception of what being good is," Hillenbrand said. "That's really the change."
The Wildcats travel to Columbia, Mo., this week to compete at the SEC Outdoor Championships. The event is the final invitational on the Cats' schedule before NCAA Regionals May 23-25.
Canterna has high hopes for her future both short and long term. She has the 13-foot mark on her mind at the SECs after falling just short of the feat at Miami, but her primary goal is to be one of the top eight finishers at the SEC Championships, earning valuable points for the UK cause.
"Right now my main focus is scoring at SECs," Canterna said.
Looking past SECs and toward regionals, nationals and even next year, Canterna is aiming to vault in the upper 13s and possibly clear as high as 14 feet. With the 2014 SEC Championships set to be hosted at the UK track and field complex in 2014, Canterna feels like she can use this week's experience to prepare for a great performance a year from now.
"I really think the more I work at it and even over the summer I am going to get bigger, stronger, faster and I am going to utilize this facility more to my advantage knowing that it will be our home meet that hopefully I can dominate," Canterna said.
Hillenbrand is looking to defend his indoor mile crown at the comparable outdoor 1,500M and he likes his team's chances to perform well this weekend given UK's greater depth with the outdoor meet program compared to indoors. UK can utilize the help of senior Luis Orta - who finished second at last year's championship in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, but was out of eligibility during the 2013 indoor season - and UK's group of throwers, which features two returning outdoor All-Americans in the form of defending SEC Discus Champion Andrew Evans and 2012 All-American javelin thrower Raymond Dykstra.
Maybe the biggest goal for Kentucky this week is to show the rest of the conference that this team is ready to take the next step toward being elite again.
"I'd definitely like to repeat and our team is looking pretty good and now that we have Luis back for outdoors and a couple of the throwers, we are definitely trying to be in the top half of the conference and just change the mold of Kentucky track and field," Hillenbrand said.
Changing the mold of the program is well under way, as evidenced by success of Hillenbrand and Canterna. This weekend will be a major measuring stick for just how much the new mold is beginning to take shape
The University of Kentucky celebrated its 146th May Commencement on Sunday. (photo by Mark Cornelison)
During the University of Kentucky's 146 May Commencement on Sunday, 49 UK student-athletes received degrees. Forty-seven earned undergraduate diplomas and two received graduate degrees.
(Note: Includes student-athletes who received degrees after their completing eligibility.)
Baseball Thomas McCarthy Zac Zellers (Will complete coursework this summer)
Football Aaron Boyd La'Rod King Quentin McCord Craig McIntosh Kevin Mitchell Matt Smith Taylor Wyndham (Note: 2012 seniors Mikie Benton, Gabe Correll, Gene McCaskill, Morgan Newton, Cartier Rice, Collins Ukwu, Steven Duff and Sam Simpson graduated previously.)
Gymnastics Caitlyn Ciokajlo Storey Morris Whitney Rose
Men's basketball Twany Beckham Marquis Estill Jon Hood Jarrod Polson (Graduated in three years) (Note: Jamal Mashburn also received an honorary doctorate of humanities.)
Men's golf Joseph Barr
Men's soccer Pedro Andreoni Gabriel Conelian Barry Rice
Men's swimming and diving Jon Bullock Jon Keltner Ben Russell
Rifle Heather Greathouse
Softball Chanda Bell Kara Dill (Graduate degree in exercise science) Alice O'Brien Erika Silence
Track and field Katy Achtien Keith Hayes Ben Mason (Will complete coursework this summer) Chelsea Oswald Shiara Robinson Josh Nadzam (Masters of social work) Danielle Sampley Rashaud Scott Samantha Stenzel Hiruni Wijayaratne Megan Wright
Volleyball No graduates this weekend, but seniors Ashley Frazier and Christine Hartmann had already graduated.
Baseball - The No. 24 Kentucky Wildcats completed a season-long seven-game road trip with a four-game week, including an 18-inning game at Western Kentucky on Tuesday and a historic series win at No. 16 Ole Miss during the weekend. UK will break for finals during the week and return to action on Friday in hosting preseason top-ranked Arkansas, currently tabbed as high as No. 14, in a three-game series. - After an 11-5 loss on Friday, the Wildcats posted a comeback 5-4 win on Saturday to claim the series against the Rebels, behind Corey Littrell's 20th career win. It marked UK's third all-time series win in Oxford and its first since 2007, also winning in 2001. - The Wildcats have been led offensively in average by freshman right fielder Kyle Barrett, who has hit .347 with four doubles, one triple, 11 RBI and four steals in 2013. All-America two-way start A.J. Reed leads all NCAA sophomores in homers and RBI, batting .310 with eight doubles, two triples, 10 homers and 40 RBI.
Softball - The No. 19 Kentucky softball team posted two wins over the week, defeating No. 7 Louisville and No. 11 Missouri to increase its win total to 36. The week started with Kentucky taking down in-state foe and highly ranked Louisville 2-1 in a thrilling seven-inning battle. Junior Lauren Cumbess was the hero in the game with a walkoff RBI single in the bottom of the seventh inning to win the game. Freshman Kelsey Nunley earned the win in the circle, throwing a complete game and allowing only one run. - Over the weekend, UK went 1-2 against Missouri, earning the win Saturday after a hard-fought nine-inning loss on Friday. Kentucky's win on Saturday against Missouri was its seventh over a ranked foe this season and 38th all-time under Lawson. The Wildcats started the year with a win over then-No. 3 Cal while it also has wins over then-No. 3 Florida, No. 7 Louisville, then-No. 16 Washington, then-No. 20 Stanford and then-No. 25 North Carolina. - Nunley earned the win Saturday in the circle, throwing a complete game and allowing two runs. For the week, Nunley was 2-1 with a 1.50 ERA, striking out 16 in 23.1 innings pitched. Offensively, senior Alice O'Brien and junior Ginny Carroll paced UK. O'Brien had a double and home run on the week, while Carroll had two doubles and two RBI.
Track and field - Michelle Canterna raised the UK pole vault record 3.96 meters / 12'11.75" en route to the Miami RedHawk Invitational on Saturday. - UK competitors also competed at the Penn Relays and Triton Invitational last weekend. - 2012 SEC Discus Champion Andrew Evans threw a collegiate-best 60.12M / 197'03" to place 9th in his signature event at the Triton Invitational. - The Kentucky women's team moved up 17 spots to No. 24 in last week's national rankings. - Kentucky appeared in the outdoor top-25 for the first time since checking in at No. 21 in the 2010 preseason poll. - A three-day total of 111,284 fans watched the Kentucky Wildcats compete at the 2013 Penn Relays.
Friday, May 3 Track and field at Billy Hayes Invitational - 3:00 p.m. (Bloomington, Ind.) Baseball hosts Arkansas - 6:30 p.m. Softball at Alabama - 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 4 Softball at Alabama - 3:00 p.m. Baseball hosts Arkansas - 7:00 p.m.
Sunday, May 5 Baseball hosts Arkansas - 1:00 p.m. Softball at Alabama - 2:30 p.m.
Baseball - Kentucky continued a grueling stretch with 14-of-16 ranked opponents with a four-game week, with No. 8 Louisville earning a midweek win and No. 14 South Carolina sweeping the Wildcats in Columbia over the weekend. - Sophomore two-way standout A.J. Reed smashed his team-high 10th homer of the year on Saturday, as a part of a 4-12 weekend at the plate. - Junior lefty Corey Litrell tossed his seventh quality start of the year and 21st of his illustrious career on Sunday, allowing three earned runs in 7.2 innings. - Freshman catcher George Fettes belted his first homer of his career on Saturday afternoon over the left-field wall that helped UK rally to take the lead before falling to the Gamecocks.
Softball - The Kentucky softball team is coming off a 3-2 week where it swept a doubleheader at Middle Tennessee State before earning a win at Arkansas in a three-game set. UK defeated MTSU 7-4 in game one before a 13-1 triumph in game two. - Home runs led UK in game two over MTSU as the Wildcats blasted five home runs to break the school record for most homers in a game. Sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner started the home run assault, blasting a leadoff shot in the second inning before junior infielder Krystal Smith hit a two-run homer later that inning. Junior pitcher/infielder Lauren Cumbess hit a two-run home run in the third inning before freshman infielder Ansley Smith hit consecutive two-run round trippers in the third and fourth innings to tie and break the school record. In all, the Wildcats posted 15 hits in the game, including three doubles and 12 RBI. - Cumbess has been the offensive leader for UK, hitting safely in 13 of her last 14 games with an extra-base hit in nine of those 14 games. For the season, Cumbess leads the team with a .359 (56-for-156) average, including 12 doubles, 11 homers and 37 RBI. Freshman Kelsey Nunley is 20-6 on the year in the circle with a 2.08 ERA. Cumbess is second on the team with a 3.52 ERA and a 10-5 record.
Men's tennis - Kentucky advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2013 SEC Tournament, knocking off No. 9 Mississippi State in the second round, 4-2. - The Wildcats bowed out in the quarterfinals after dropping a tight match with number one overall seed, and No. 2 Georgia, 4-3. Anthony Rossi defeated No. 6 KU Singh 7-6, 6-3 in his second win of the year over a top-10 player. - The NCAA Selection Show is Tuesday, April 30 at 5:00 p.m. ET on NCAAsports.com. Women's tennis - The Kentucky women's tennis team lost 4-2 in its opening round match vs. LSU at the Southeastern Conference Tournament. - Junior Caitlin McGraw and freshman Nadia Ravita won the No. 1 doubles match 8-0. - Ranked 22nd, Ravita recorded another singles win, defeating Kaitlin Burns 7-5, 6-3 in the No. 1 singles slot. - McGraw also recorded a singles win for UK, taking court four 7-5, 7-6 (3).
Women's golf - The women's golf team recorded its best finish at the SEC Championships in 20 years as it placed tied for fifth, shooting 58-over-par for the tournament at the Greystone Golf and Country Club in Birmingham, Ala. - Freshman Sarah Harris was the highlight of the tournament for the Wildcats, finishing a career-best second place at 9-over-par for the event. Harris, who was tied for the individual lead after day one, was tied for fifth coming into Sunday before a 4-over-par, 76 catapulted her into second overall. The second place individual finish was also the highest this season for Kentucky. - Junior Liz Breed, who was nearly as impressive as Harris over the weekend, recorded a career-high finish tying for sixth overall at 11-over-par. The Waynesboro, Pa., native came into Sunday tied for fifth before falling just one slot after a 6-over-par, 78 final round.
Men's golf - The UK men's golf team finished in 13th place at the SEC Championships last weekend, shooting 50-over-par for the tournament at the Seaside Course in St. Simmons Island, Ga. - Junior Ben Stow was the high finisher for the Wildcats, placing tied for 12th at 5-over-par. The Salisbury, England native was even par through the first round before posting 2-over in round two and 3-over in the final 18.
Track and field - Kentucky opened the new UK Outdoor Track and Field Facility with the inaugural collegiate Heart of the Bluegrass Classic on Saturday. - UK won all but one of the 29 events the team entered at the inaugural collegiate Heart of the Bluegrass Classic on Saturday. - Cally Macumber and Michelle Canterna set the school records in their respective events. - Macumber's mile time of 4:37.75 also set the facility record. - Canterna cleared the new outdoor school record vault height at 3.87 meter /12'08.25". - Keith Hayes won all four of the events he entered, including two relays. - Rebecca Famurewa won three throws events, including a PR in the hammer throw.
Tuesday, April 23 Baseball at Western Kentucky - 7:00 p.m.
Wednesday, April 24 Softball hosts Louisville - 6:00 p.m.
Thursday, April 25 Track and field at Penn Relays - 10:00 a.m. (Philadelphia, Pa.) Baseball at Ole Miss - 7:30 p.m.
Friday, April 26 Track and field at Penn Relays - 9:00 a.m. (Philadelphia, Pa.) Track and field at Triton Invitational - 1:00 p.m. (San Diego, Calif.) Softball hosts Missouri - 5:00 p.m. Baseball at Ole Miss - 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 27 Track and field at Penn Relays - 12:55 p.m. (Philadelphia, Pa.) Track and field at Triton Invitational - 1:00 p.m. (San Diego, Calif.) Softball hosts Missouri- 1:00 p.m. Baseball at Ole Miss - 3:15 p.m. Track and field at Miami University RedHawk Invitational (Miami, Ohio)
Sunday, April 28 Softball hosts Missouri - 1:00 p.m. Track and field at Payton Jordan Invitational - 4:00 p.m. (Palo Alto, Calif.)
The UK track and field program held a Senior Day celebration on Saturday at the Heart of Bluegrass Classic. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
For the first time since 1996, the Kentucky track and field program hosted an outdoor meet as the Heart of the Bluegrass Classic on Saturday. In more ways than one, it was a special day for the program. Not only did it give UK a chance to showcase its world-class facility, but it also provided a chance to honor its seniors as a special ceremony was held toward the end of the day.
UK had great performances by several athletes, highlighted by junior distance runner Cally Macumber, who broke the school-record mile time, and senior Keith Hayes, who claimed victories in four different competitions.
Head coach Edrick Floreal told his seniors earlier in the week to compete in one event and then rest up so they could be in the action while still enjoying the Senior Day celebration. However, Hayes took a different approach, attempting to race in as many heats as possible because he plainly and simply wanted to run.
"I told him if you need me to run the 4 by 800, I'll run the 4 X 800; if you need me to run the mile, I'll run the mile," Hayes said. "I just wanted to run just to be out because everybody doesn't see what we do on a day-to-day basis. They see results here and results there but we got the opportunity to put on a performance."
The Wildcats put on a show for the fans Saturday, winning several competitions. Although Floreal wanted his Cats to come out and perform well, Saturday was less about how they competed and more about a way to show appreciation to the crowd and alumni.
"The point today was less about performance, more about putting on a good show for the crowd," head coach Edrick Floreal said. "We also wanted the alumni to be part of this after 17 years without an outdoor track meet. It was more of a thank you.
One of Floreal's goals for the coming years is to bring the high school state meet to UK. There were 37 high schools competing against each other on Saturday and the commissioner and assistant commissioner of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association in attendance to boot.
"I think the meet belongs here at UK," Floreal said. "I think with a facility like that, you have to highlight it. I think having the high schools participate and perform here gave them a sense it's a fast track and they can do well here."
As the day continued and the races starting winding down, a Senior Day celebration took place to honor the student-athletes who have dedicated themselves to the program.
Seniors had their names called and were accompanied by either family members or their respective coaches as they had their list of accolades read off by the public address announcer. After the festivities concluded, there were two more competitions left. The men's and women's 4 by 400-meter races were saved for last as the seniors anchored each.
"Student-athletes have other places they can go to it's not like they are forced to come here. They can go somewhere else and they are great athletes," Floreal said. "If they are going to come here the least we can do is to give them a meaningful thank you to really highlight what they have done and that was my goal."
UK will showcase its new outdoor track at the Heart of Bluegrass Classic on Saturday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
In what has been a year of milestones for the Kentucky track and field program, perhaps the biggest step forward will come Saturday when UK hosts its first outdoor meet in more than a decade: the Heart of the Bluegrass Classic.
Kentucky opened its state of the art Outdoor Track and Field Facility last fall, and Saturday's meet serves as a celebration befitting of such a spectacular venue.
The meet will also mark Senior Day, as UK's departing student-athletes will be honored on the new track as they compete in front a home crowd outdoors for the first time in their careers.
"I think this is more so for the fans and the university," Floreal said. "This is more for our kids and their parents to see them compete on the UK facility for the first time in a long time. Having a meet that's not as competitive will be even more fun because they can win more events. It's more so a feel-good type thing and less about trying to break records."
It will be a nice gesture for the seniors who have spent a lot of time at UK training and working hard every day for the program. There should be a good crowd at the UK Track Complex with family members making their way to Lexington to be a part of the event and support their favorite Wildcats.
The day is going to be focused on the seniors and Floreal is going to do the best he can to send them out in style and possibly let some anchor a relay or two.
"Our seniors haven't really been recognized," Floreal said. "If you don't play basketball at your university it's kind of hard to recognize your seniors. I think having a home meet gives us a chance to do that."
Along with the 10 universities participating in the track meet on Saturday, a total of 37 high schools will be attending for their own competition as well.
Floreal and the athletic department have worked hard over the last few months to make sure this weekend's meet is run as a world-class event.
Unlike a lot facilities around the state, Kentucky's track provides it all in one place for the fans. You don't have to leave the track area to go watch the field events and Floreal sees this as an opportunity to showcase every aspect of the sport. He wants Saturday to be a top-notch event, which will serve as a showcase which will hopefully lead to the state high school meet returning to Lexington.
"I think there is a responsibility in having the best looking track in the state that you put events on," Floreal said. "I want to host a state meet as soon as possible because I think it belongs here. I just think having a state meet is a big statement for us and I want to get that back here as soon as possible."
The Cats are coming off one of their best weekends of the season when they teamed up with Louisville at the "Kentuckiana" Border Battle. UK and U of L defeated Indiana and Notre Dame 101-99 in the women's competition and 103-97 in the men's.
Kentucky's effort was impressive, but the successful meet was perhaps more important because UK was able to turn the heads of rival competition for the first time in a long time.
The Wildcats seemed to jell and show the other schools that this was a different unit from the start of the meet all the way through the final races of the afternoon.
The hard work and new training methods implemented by the first-year head coach and his staff have been evident from the cross country season through indoor track and field in spurts. Even with the Wildcats' early success, the Border Battle Meet was the first total team performance turned in by the Wildcats since Floreal arrived in Lexington.
One change for Kentucky this season has been beginning every meet with a show of team unity. At the Border Battle the Wildcats took a team lap before the meet started, followed by a team cheer of "Go Cats."
More importantly, once the meet got underway, the Wildcats raised plenty of eyebrows.
"A couple coaches came by and said, 'I don't know what you are doing but oh my goodness these are not the same kids. They act like they belong and act like they should be beating us,' " Floreal said. "It was pleasant to see that people are noticing that we are different. Not that we are doing it for them but it's nice to see that this is working."
The track has served as an important new asset for Kentucky through training and competing in outdoor events. Floreal - in another basketball reference - compared preparing for an outdoor meet in an indoor facility to practicing free throws on a nine-foot rim instead of the regulation 10 feet.
The turns are a lot tighter inside as opposed to outside and athletes can get the feel of where the start and finish lines are. The UK track is going to match what the Cats will see at the SEC Championships at Missouri in a few weeks.
It gives the team a sense of calm heading into a major competition, instead of arriving at an outdoor event in disbelief as might have been the case in the past.
"I think the performances we've gotten so far outdoors have reflected on the fact that the kids go to an outdoor track meet and they don't have to be in shock," Floreal said. "It can be calmness like, 'This is normal. I have been doing this outdoors the last three weeks and here it is same outdoor track just different color.' "
Baseball - Kentucky baseball picked up a 6-3 win over Austin Peay on Tuesday, behind five strong innings from freshman righthander Kyle Cody and a two-hit performance from freshman outfielder Kyle Barrett. - Kyle Barrett shined once again on Friday going 3-5 and plating the game-tying RBI in the series-opening comeback win over Tennessee. - After a quality start that led the Wildcats to victory on Friday night, A.J. Reed crushed his team-leading ninth homer of the year in UK's heartbreaking 10-9 loss to Tennessee on Saturday afternoon. - Junior closer Trevor Gott added two more saves during the week, improving his total to nine on the year and program-record 20 in his career. Gott's ERA is now an impressive 0.95 with a 4-0 record, while fanning 24 in 19.0 IP.
Softball - The Kentucky softball team wrapped up one of its most historic weeks in school history last week with several records broken. The first was sixth-year head coach Rachel Lawson becoming the winningest head coach in school history with her 182nd career win. That honor came a few days before UK upset No. 3 Florida on the same day it named its new $9.5 million stadium after longtime administrator John Cropp. Overall, UK went 4-2 on the week with wins over Florida, Marshall and two against EKU. - Freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley earned the win in the upset over UF, becoming the first player in school history to win 20 games in a season, surpassing former stars Chanda Bell and Keary Camunas. Nunley went 3-0 on the week with a 1.64 ERA, while junior Lauren Cumbess also earned a win in the circle. - Cumbess was the star for UK at the plate, going 10-for-22 throughout the week with four doubles, three homers and seven RBI. Cumbess is riding a nine-game hitting streak - a career long - posting an extra-base hit in eight of those nine games. Senior Alice O'Brien went 8-for-19 on the week with a double, home run and four RBI, while freshmen Maisie Steed and Nikki Sagermann also had home runs.
Men's tennis - The University of Kentucky men's tennis team has earned the No. 8 overall seed in this week's Southeastern Conference Tournament, it was announced on Sunday night. - UK will face the No. 9 overall seed, Mississippi State on Thursday at 6:00 p.m. CT. The Wildcats and Mississippi State have faced off two times this season already, with UK winning both prior matches. - The first match saw Kentucky sweep MSU 4-0 at the ITA National Indoor Championships in Seattle, Wash., in the Sweet 16. Kentucky lost the doubles point and rallied to win four of six singles matches in the second meeting of the season in Starkville. Women's tennis - The Kentucky women's tennis team upset No. 27 South Carolina 4-3 on Sunday at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex. - Junior Caitlin McGraw clinched the match for Kentucky with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 win on court five. - Kentucky won the doubles point, winning two of three doubles matches as Khristina Blajkevitch and Jessica Stiles clinched the point by winning three consecutive games to win the No. 3 doubles match 9-7. - Freshman Nadia Ravita defeated another ranked opponent, taking down No. 77 Jaklin Alawi 7-5, 0-6, 6-4.
Track and field - The Kentucky track and field teams enjoyed one of the best total team performances of the season at the "Kentuckiana" Border Battle on Saturday. - The Wildcats' men's and women's teams combined with Louisville to defeat the aggregate scores of Indiana and Notre Dame. - Fifteen - 10 men's and five women's - Wildcat individuals or relay teams claimed event titles on Saturday. - Rebecca Famurewa increased her UK freshman record discus throw to 57.09 meters / 187'04", which gives her the No. 2 ranking in school history. - The mark also is the third-farthest discus throw in the nation this season. - UK competitors won four of the seven throws events they entered. - Tamyah Pipkin became the third fastest Wildcat ever at 200 meters as she won race with a time of 23.67. - Kadeem Kushimo enjoyed a career-afternoon winning both the 100 and 200 meters.
Men's golf - The UK men's golf team placed eighth in the 14-team field at the Gary Koch Invitational last week, finishing at 22-over-par. The Wildcats recorded top-10 team finishes in all six of their spring tournaments. - Juniors Cody Martin and Ben Stow led the way for the Cats, shooting 5-over-par for the invitational and finished tied for 29th. - UK wrapped up its regular season schedule and now look toward the post season as the Wildcats travel to St. Simmons Island, Ga., this weekend for the Southeastern Conference Championships, April 19-21.
Tuesday, April 16 Baseball hosts Louisville - 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday, April 17 Softball at Middle Tennessee State (DH) - 4:00 p.m. Women's tennis vs. LSU - 3:00 p.m. (Starkville, Miss.)
Thursday, April 18 Men's tennis vs. Mississippi State - 7:00 p.m. (Oxford, Miss.) Women's tennis at SEC Tournament (Starkville, Miss.)
Friday, April 19 Softball at Arkansas - 7:00 p.m. Baseball at South Carolina - 7:00 p.m. Men's golf at SEC Championship (St. Simon's, Ga.) Women's golf at SEC Championship (Birmingham, Ala.) Men's tennis at SEC Tournament (Oxford, Miss.) Women's tennis at SEC Tournament (Starkville, Miss.)
Saturday, April 20 Track and field hosts Heart of the Bluegrass Classic - 10:00 a.m. Softball at Arkansas - 1:00 p.m. Baseball at South Carolina - 3:00 p.m. Men's golf at SEC Championship (St.Simon's, Ga.) Women's golf at SEC Championship (Birmingham, Ala.) Men's tennis at SEC Tournament (Oxford, Miss.) Women's tennis at SEC Tournament (Starkville, Miss.)
Sunday, April 21 Baseball at South Carolina - 1:30 p.m. Softball at Arkansas - 2:00 p.m. Men's golf at SEC Championship (St.Simon's, Ga.) Women's golf at SEC Championship (Birmingham, Ala.) Men's tennis at SEC Tournament (Oxford, Miss.) Women's tennis at SEC Tournament (Starkville, Miss.)