When Mitch Barnhart took over as Athletics Director in 2002, he set out his vision for the success of all 22 varsity teams at the University of Kentucky. During that time, UK has seen unprecedented levels of achievement across those sports, especially during the last athletic year.
Between rifle's national championship, men's basketball's trip to the Final Four, softball's berth in the Super Regionals, the appearance by men's tennis in the Elite Eight, volleyball's sixth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, football's fifth straight bowl game and UK Hoops' second consecutive NCAA berth, 2010-11 was arguably the best season in the history of UK Athletics.
As good as last year was, this one is setting up to potentially be even better. Teams with high expectations like rifle, men's and women's basketball and softball have yet to begin their seasons, but fall sports have the 2011-12 athletics year off to an amazing start. The fall sports teams have a combined record of 27-9-1 among those with win-loss records, while teams that play tournaments or participate in meets have four first place finishes in eight opportunities.
Here are some of the top storylines from the first month of the season:
Volleyball rallies from early season adversity
Craig Skinner presents junior libero Stephanie Klefot with a game ball commemorating her 1000th career dig. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Knowing UK would be hosting a regional in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats had high goals entering the season, wanting to position themselves to potentially play in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight in Memorial Coliseum. The season, though, did not get off to the best start. Volleyball lost two of its first four matches, both by sweeps. The second came at home against Cincinnati and the Cats did not hesitate to call the performance "embarrassing".
Since then, the Wildcats have been anything but embarrassing on the floor, winning 10 of 11 matches to run their record to 12-3 on the season, 3-1 in SEC play. In the 10 wins, UK has won an astounding 30-of-33 sets. The lone loss came in the toughest game the conference has to offer: on the road against No. 6 Florida.
After winning SEC Libero of the Year a season ago, junior Stephanie Klefot has been a defensive stalwart. Averaging nearly five digs per set, Klefot became the 11th player in school history with 1,000 digs three weeks ago. UK's attack is a balanced one, with five players averaging at least two kills per set, including junior Ashley Frazier with a team-leading 2.73.
Men's and women's soccer making a mark
Both the men's and women's soccer teams recently entered conference play having established themselves as contenders during difficult non-conference schedules.
Senior forward Kelsey Hunyadi has tallied 20 points in 10 games this season (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
At 8-2-0, Jon Lipsitz and his women's team rank 12th in the nation in the RPI, the highest rating in program history. Seven of the Wildcats' 10 games have come against teams ranked in the top 100 of the RPI, with UK winning five. The team started the year with six straight wins, but a loss to No. 24 Dayton on Sept. 17 ended the streak and forced Lipsitz to cut the beard he promised to grow until his team's first loss.
After losing their next game at Alabama in the SEC opener, UK bounced back with a 4-1 win over Auburn in which Kelsey Hunyadi tied a career-high with five points. Her two goals and one assist moved her point total on the season to 20, putting her on pace to make a run at the school record.
Since arriving at UK before the 2009 season, Lipsitz has built the program quickly. The Cats advanced to the SEC Tournament Quarterfinals a season ago and appear poised to improve upon that finish in a difficult conference that features nine teams in the RPI top 50. Next up for UK is a pair of road games this weekend against South Carolina and Florida.
Ian Collins and the men's team (7-4-1) currently are ranked 21st in the nation. Right off the bat, UK made a statement with a home upset of then-No. 9 ranked Michigan en route to a 4-0-1 start. The Wildcats are in now the midst of a stretch of games that called for them to travel nearly 10,000 miles in three weeks and face some of the country's top teams. Though the Cats have lost four games during that time, three of the losses have come at the hands of teams ranked in the top 20 and all have been on the road.
Most recently, UK suffered an overtime loss against No. 10 Central Florida, but sophomore Tyler Riggs scored his team-leading ninth goal. Riggs leads one of the nation's top attacks and ranks among NCAA leaders in both points and goals. Junior Matt Lodge also keys UK's high-octane offense and has tallied seven goals and seven assists.
Don't let the record fool you, because UK is more than capable of making noise in the post-season. With that stellar offense, an improving defense and the experience of playing an exceptionally tough schedule, there won't be a challenge the Cats face that they won't be capable of overcoming. UK next faces Florida International at noon ET Sunday in the second game of play in Conference USA.
Orta leads cross country's strong start
Junior Luis Orta has twice won SEC Runner of the Week this season. (UK Athletics)
Following a strong first two seasons at UK, junior Luis Orta entered the season with high expectations. Looking to improve on his three top-five meet finishes from a year ago, Orta has exceeded the goals head coach Don Weber set for him.
In the opening two meets of 2011, the Caracas, Venezuela, native has dominated, leading the men's team to a pair of wins in the Belmont/VU Opener and the Tennessee Invitational. Orta placed first in both meets, including finishing the 8,000-meter course at the Tennessee Invitational over 17 seconds faster than his nearest competitor. Orta was named SEC Men's Runner of the Week after both wins, the second and third times he earned the award in his career.
The women's team has also had a successful start to the season, placing first in the Tennessee Invitational and third in the Belmont/VU Opener. Junior Chelsea Oswald has paced the Cats in both meets.
The men's and women's cross country teams are in action again this weekend in the Greater Louisville Invitational in Louisville, Ky.
Men's, women's golf in full swing
Women's golf head coach Golda Johansson Borst is in her second season as head coach and is looking to build on a successful first year that saw the team advance to post-season play for the first time since 2008. Things are looking good so far as UK finished third in its first tournament of the season, the Texas A&M "Mo"Morial. The finish is the best of Borst's tenure. Senior Ashlee Rose and junior Ashleigh Albrecht each finished in the top 10 of individual play to lead the team.
Women's golf is the only fall sport with a home event this weekend, as they host the Bettie Lou Evans Invitational Friday through Sunday.
Men's golf has had three events already this season, including a first place finish in the UK Bluegrass Fall Invitational two weeks ago. Sophomore Cody Martin has been steady for UK, earning top-five finishes in all three tournaments. UK next plays in the Bearcat Invitational in Hebron, Ky., Oct. 10-11.
Senior Ashlee Rose finished 10th in UK's season-opening tournament. (UK Athletics)
On Thursday, head coach Golda Johansson Borst and the women's golf program launched a brand new UK Interactive site. The site features photos, videos and other exclusive content about players, coaches and the program as a whole. The site is designed for recruits and fans to learn about what makes the women's golf program so special.
The team is fresh off a third place finish in its first tournament of the year at Texas A&M. Top ten finishes by senior Ashlee Rose and junior Ashleigh Albrecht paced the Wildcats in their opener. Beginning on Friday, Sept. 30, UK will host the Bettie Lou Evans Invitational at the University Club in Lexington, Ky.
To keep up with the latest in UK women's golf, I encourage you to check out the Kentucky Women's Golf Blog over at UK Interactive. Borst is taking time to write a post after each of the team's major events and it's a great way to hear about the team directly from the coach herself.
Here is a behind the scenes video of the University of Kentucky women's golf team at their recent team photo shoot. The ladies had a great time taking photos throughout campus for their upcoming team poster. The Cats are anxious to kick off their season Sept. 10-13 at the Texas A&M "Mo"-morial before returning home to host the Bettie Lou Evans Invitational on Sept.30-Oct. 2 at the University Club of Kentucky in Lexington, Ky.
Move over Tonys. Take a backseat Oscars. The Scratchies (again, not a skin disease) are back.
I know it's been an unbearably long and grueling six-month wait since we introduced the Scratchies, but fear no more, it's time to introduce the 2011 spring semester winners.
Not to be confused with ESPN's Herbie Awards or UK's end-of-the-year CATSPY Awards - although I must confess, many award winners will repeat the CATSPYs - the Scratchies offer no actual hardware or glitzy awards show. Instead, these honorees have earned the appreciation of a lowly blogger trying to pass the beginning weeks of a long offseason.
A couple of the award names have changed, but the objective is the same - to look back at another semester of UK Athletics. Remember, these award winners only constitute the spring semester of UK Athletics action. The fall winners can be found here.
Please feel free to disagree and comment on who you think should have won in the comments section below. Keep in mind, this is all for fun.
Without further ado, here are the semiannual Scratchies:
MVW (Most Valuable Wildcat) Brandon Knight, men's basketball - There were a lot of candidates for this semester's awards. There is Eric Quigley, who guided the men's tennis team to a national quarterfinals berth and finished the season ranked No. 7 in the nation. There is Megan Yocke, the heart and soul of the record-setting softball team. And let's not forget about Ethan Settlemires' clutch performance in the rifle national championship. But it's hard to ignore what Knight did in this year's NCAA Tournament. Knight's dramatic game winners against Princeton and Ohio State were the highlights of a Final Four run that fans will never forget. Stepping into the gargantuan shoes of John Wall and the sensational freshman class of 2009-10, Knight and the 2010-11 team proved it could play a little basketball as well. Next week, Knight is expected to be a top-five pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. Honorable mention: Megan Yocke (softball), Eric Quigley (men's tennis), Ethan Settlemires (rifle), Victoria Dunlap (women's basketball)
The Dream Team (team of the semester) Rifle - Much like the previous award, this could have gone to a number of squads, including the men's basketball, men's tennis and softball teams. But the rifle team won a national championship. You know, that ultimate goal that every team sets out for at the beginning of the year that only a select few ever win. Ethan Settlemires didn't know it at the time, but his last shot in air rifle - the final shot of the match - would determine the national championship. Settlemires needed at least an 8.0 to capture the elusive title. The junior came through in the clutch with a 10.7, winning the program's first national championship. Honorable mention: Men's basketball, men's tennis, softball
Harry Mullins has been the one constant staple in the success of the UK rifle program over the last three decades. (UK Athletics)
The Adolph Rupp Award (coach of the semester) Harry Mullins, rifle - As sweet as that rifle national championship was, it was even sweeter for Mullins, the longtime coach and most important figure in program history. Since 1982, Mullins and the UK rifle team have been one in the same. In his journey from a former student-athlete to a part-time coach to the symbol of the program, Mullins has taken the rifle team from its infant stages and built it into one of the nation's top programs. Year after year, Mullins and the rifle team came agonizingly close to winning the whole thing, only to fall short with seven top-three finishes. Whether it was by a string of fate or pure coincidence, Mullins finally won that coveted national title in the same town where his late father served as a sergeant in the military and raised his family. Honorable mention: Rachel Lawson (softball), John Calipari (men's basketball), Dennis Emery (men's tennis)
The Josh Harrellson Award (most improved player) Josh Harrellson, men's basketball - Harrellson's turnaround his senior year was so significant and so inspiring that we've renamed the award after him. Before this year, Harrellson had played a total of 403 minutes and scored 151 points for Kentucky. By the end of his senior year, Harrellson had transformed himself into the nation's most improved player and one of the best big men in the NCAA Tournament. Transforming his body and work ethic after the legendary tweet about his head coach, Harrellson went on to average 7.6 points and 8.7 rebounds this year, including an 11.0 scoring average in the NCAA Tournament against some of the nation's top post players. Harrellson's spirit and leadership were just as valuable to the team's Final Four run as his presence in the paint and unpredictable production. Harrellson's storybook season will be remembered decades from now. Honorable mention: Alex Musialek (men's tennis), Meagan Aull (softball), Samantha DeMartine (softball)
The Butler-VCU Award (surprise team) Women's golf - In her first year as head coach, Golda Johansson Borst wasn't expected to do much with the Kentucky women's golf team. After all, the program had been to just one NCAA Tournament since 2000. But with just one senior on the team and a wealth of midseason injuries, including two to the top two players, Ashleigh Albrecht and Betsie Johnson, UK returned to the NCAA Tournament for the 16th time in school history. With most of the team returning next year, the future is bright for women's golf. Honorable mention: softball
One Shining Moment (best moment) Annie Rowlands and Meagan Aull's hits send softball to Supers - The Kentucky softball team went to its third straight regional appearance with bigger expectations and higher hopes. The coaches and players talked about making it to their first Super Regional in program history, but as the third-ranked team in the Ann Arbor Regional and with the second-ranked team in the nation in the same regional, the reality of advancing was pretty slim. And yet, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, with one win over No. 2 Michigan standing in the way of a historic march, Kentucky entered the bottom of the seventh trailing 1-0. With Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Jordan Taylor dealing a gem and the nation watching on ESPN, Meagan Aull belted a changeup over the fence in right field to tie the game. Five batters later, with one out and the bases loaded, senior Annie Rowlands, a sub-.150 hitter, came through with the biggest hit in program history, a game-winning single over the first baseman's head. The RBI bloop advanced UK to its first Super Regional, which the school would go on to host. Honorable mention: Brandon Knight's game-winning layup vs. Princeton; Knight's game-winning shot vs. Ohio State; Ethan Settlemires' winning shot to capture the national championship; Alex Musialek's match-clinching win vs. Louisville; gymnast Andre Mitchell's 39.550 score in the all-around, UK's highest score in 15 years
The "Band is Out On the Field" Award (best game/match) Men's tennis vs. Louisville in the NCAA Tournament - What happens when you combine your archrival with postseason play? You get some edge-of-your-seat theater. That's what the Kentucky-Louisville men's tennis match brought in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. After UK grabbed the doubles point, the singles matches went back and forth in front of a raucous crowd at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex. Every 10 minutes it looked like the match was going to go a different way. With Kentucky holding a 3-2 lead and courts No. 1 and No. 2 split in a 1-1 tie, everyone raced to the center courts to watch the decisive matches. Eric Quigley, UK's top player, dropped his match in three thrilling sets to tie the match 3-3. Moments later, though, after dropping the first set 5-7, Alex Musialek won the third set in dominating fashion, 6-0, to clinch the match and send UK to the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive year. Honorable mention: softball's win over Michigan in the regional finals; men's basketball's upset of No. 1 Ohio State
Brandon Knight hit a game-winning jumper over Ohio State's Aaron Craft with seconds remaining to send UK to the Elite Eight and eventually its first Final Four since 1998. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
The Doug Flutie Hail Mary Award (best play) Brandon Knight's game-winning jumper vs. Ohio State - Once again, there was plenty to choose from, but Knight gets the nod on this one given the magnitude of the situation. Against the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament and with the game tied 60-60, Knight pulled up from just inside the arc and drilled a jumper with five seconds left to send Kentucky to the Elite Eight and eventually the Final Four. For a team that failed to close during the regular season, it was an unforgettable moment in an unbelievable season. Honorable mention: Brandon Knight's game-winning layup vs. Princeton; Ethan Settlemires' winning shot to capture the national championship; Brittany Henderson's game-winning layup vs. LSU
The Jimmer Fredette Award (breakthrough player) Alex Meyer, baseball - Alex Meyer's first two years in the at UK were defined by potential and upside. In 2011, Meyer broke through with the type of year that everyone expected years earlier when Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein showed up on his doorstep at the end of Meyer's high school career with a lucrative multi-million dollar contract. Meyer, with big-league stuff, finished the year as the Southeastern Conference leader in strikeouts, complete games and complete-game shutouts. Two weeks ago, Meyer was selected by the Washington Nationals with the 23rd overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft, UK's highest draft pick since Joe Blanton went No. 24 in 2002. Honorable mention: Meagan Aull (softball), Greg Ferrucci (swimming and diving)
All-Calipari Team (all-freshman team) Greg Ferrucci, swimming and diving - Named SEC Male Freshman Diver of the Year and advanced to the NCAA Championships Terrence Jones, men's basketball - Tabbed SEC Freshmanof the Year after averaging 17.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in his first year Doron Lamb, men's basketball - Not to be overshadowed by Knight and Jones, Lamb averaged 12.3 points, hit a team-high 38 3-pointers and poured in a then-freshman record 32 points in December Emily Holsopple, rifle - Appeared on the fall semester's list, but she certainly qualifies again after earning first-team All-America accolades and winning a national championship Bernisha Pinkett, women's basketball - On a team with talented freshmen, averaged 7.0 points in just 18.7 minutes of action
All-Up-and-Comers (non-freshmen on the rise) Jessica Stiles, women's tennis - Led a rebuilding women's tennis program with 11 wins Darius Miller, men's basketball - Came on late in the season to win SEC Tournament MVP Chanda Bell, softball - UK's all-time strikeout leader will enter her senior season as one of the top pitchers in the nation Thomas McCarthy, baseball - Ranked third in the SEC with .371 batting average, including 19 doubles and 39 RBI Brittany Cervantes, softball - UK's career home-run leader will be the centerpiece of next year's offense
All-Wildcat Team (the Scratchies equivalent of the All-America Team) Brandon Knight, men's basketball - Replaced No. 1 overall pick John Wall by averaging 17.3 points and leading UK to the Final Four, plus first-team Freshman All-America honors Victoria Dunlap, women's basketball - Program's No. 2 all-time scorer led the team to its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance and became the highest WNBA draft pick in school history Eric Quigley, men's tennis - The nation's No. 7 player finished the year with a school-record-tying 45 wins Megan Yocke, softball - Heart and soul of record-setting softball team became just the second player in school history to earn All-SEC accolades all four years Colin Boevers, track and field - Won the SEC discus title and was one of nine student-athletes to advance to NCAA Outdoor Championships
All-Rex Ryan Team (when you need a sound bite, these are your go-to guys) Josh Harrellson, men's basketball John Calipari, men's basketball Matthew Mitchell, women's basketball Harry Mullins, rifle Amber Smith, women's basketball
Stacey Eden of the UK track and field team (second from the left) confessed that he's owned the jacket he wore to the 2011 CATSPY Awards since middle school. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
The Craig Sager Award (best/worst dressed) Stacey Eden, track and field - Depending on your taste in style, Stacey Eden of the track and field team was either the best dressed of the year or the worst. One thing is for certain: he caught people's eyes at this year CATSPY Awards. Eden (pictured to the right) attended the annual end-of-the-year awards show with a shiny gold suit, a patterned button-up, blue bowtie and sunglasses. Top that, Craig Sager
The Streak (strangest stat or streak) Men's basketball in the clutch - Before the NCAA Tournament, the Cats couldn't hit a shot to save their lives. UK entered the tournament 1-6 in games decided by five points or less, which included missed last-second shots that could have won or tied the game against Florida, Arkansas and Ole Miss. But when the season was on the line and the stakes mattered most, Kentucky - particularly Knight - came through with game-winning shots against Princeton and Ohio State.
She said what? (quote of the semester) Rachel Lawson, fighting back tears after losing to Cal in the Lexington Super Regional - "I feel really good about the future of the program. But I feel best about the fact that this group was - nobody thought they could win. I love (Samantha) DeMartine and (Meagan) Aull, (Megan) Yocke's OK. I know (Annie) Rowlands, for her to be able to come up with that big hit. I wanted them to go to the World Series. So far I'm the only one who's been there and I'm tired of having the upper hand on them."
The Best Dougie (best dance/celebration) Jarrod Polson, men's basketball - In 2009-10, the John Wall Dance was the unofficial celebration of the Wildcats. This past year it was, without question, The Dougie, a dance made famous (or infamous) by Matthew Mitchell at Big Blue Madness. Jarrod Polson continued the craze on national TV after Kentucky defeated North Carolina and advanced to the Final Four. Check out his rendition below.
After a fantastic (and much-needed) vacation, I'm back in the saddle for a little bit, at least until I take another vacation in the coming weeks. A big thanks goes to Guy Ramsey for filling in for me while I was gone. It looks like he kept everyone up-to-date on the Southeastern Conference meetings in Destin, Fla., as well as kicked off the "Where are they now" series with a great story on Dicky Lyons Jr.
Here are a few notes that we didn't get around to that should catch you up on everything going on around Big Blue Nation:
- Alex Meyer became Kentucky baseball's highest MLB Draft pick since 2002 when he was chosen by the Washington Nationals with the 23rd overall selection Monday, but the draft is far from over for current Wildcats. Rounds 2-30 will take place Tuesday, starting at noon, followed by rounds 31-50 on Wednesday. Current Wildcats Chad Wright, Thomas McCarthy, Jordan Cooper, Braden Kapteyn, Michael Williams and Taylor Black could all hear their names called over the next couple of days. Wright, McCarthy, Cooper, Kapteyn and Williams are underclassmen and could return to UK next year.
- One thing that wasn't mentioned on here last week from the SEC meetings was the new oversigning limit for football scholarships. The presidents and chancellors of the league voted unanimously last week to cut the number of scholarship players a school can sign from 28 to 25. It was a pretty fair compromise between the SEC coaches, who didn't want any restrictions on how they manage their rosters, and the critics of the critics of oversigning. Jon Solomon of The Birminghman News has a pretty good recap on the new limit here.
- Former UK women's golfer Mallory Blackwelder will play in her first U.S. Open on July 7-10 after qualifying for the major tournament this past weekend. Blackwelder, the daughter of former Kentucky coach Myra Blackwelder, finished third out of 69 players in the qualifying event with a 14-over-par 156 total. The U.S. Open will take place at Broadmoor East in Colorado Springs, Colo., the same course where Blackwelder qualified.
- Men's basketball head coach John Calipari continued his "State of the Cats" series last week on his website, CoachCal.com. In last week's address, he talked about UK's draft-eligible players and gave his opinion on each. You can read his full thoughts here, but the most interesting part, I thought, was that Enes Kanter would be his No. 1 pick if it were his decision. Here is an excerpt of what Calipari had to say:
This one is so hard for me because as more and more people see what we saw all year at the Joe Craft Center with Enes, I can't help but think how much more special last season could have been if our big teenager had been able to join us for our Final Four run! He just turned 19 a few weeks ago. There is a strong possibility that Enes could be the No. 1 overall pick. If it were my decision, Enes is who I would pick at No. 1. Here's why: he can truly be a dominating kind of player; he can be a Karl Malone-type big man. As the league gets smaller (size-wise) his ability to dominate his position will grow. He's got a position and a true size. If he doesn't go No. 1 he will go shortly thereafter and the teams that passed on him will look back and wince at that decision. I'm biased because I love him, but I'm also talking in pragmatic terms.
- The final UK Athletics event of the 2010-11 athletics year takes place this week in Des Moines, Iowa, for the NCAA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Sean Hilen is traveling with the team and should have the full details of the event later Tuesday in a release. The championships begin Wednesday.
Maybe seeing really is believing, but the inclusion of the Kentucky women's golf team into the 2011 NCAA Championships is pretty clear evidence that the Wildcats believed well before they achieved.
In 2009-10, the Kentucky women's golf team missed the NCAA Championships for the eighth time in the decade. Despite playing in a golf-rich conference and making the postseason the year before, the Wildcats failed to capitalize and fell outside the cut to make the 2010 NCAA Championships.
"The University of Kentucky should never be where we were," head coach Golda Johansson Borst said.
Borst believed Kentucky deserved better.
That was the mind frame Borst had when she took over the job following the 2009-10 season. Faced with a roster that was light on depth, seniors and experience, the prospect of making an immediate impact in Borst's first year looked pretty bleak.
But Borst believed Kentucky was better.
After years in the Southeastern Conference as both a player and coach, Borst knew what it took to make it to the NCAA Championships, and she believed this team had it.
"The girls were that good," Borst said. The hurdle for Borst was making the rest of her team buy into that.
Barely removed from bidding farewell to former head coach Myra Blackwelder and fresh off a disappointing season, there wasn't a ton of confidence within the program. The team's best two players, Ashleigh Albrecht and Betsie Johnson, had just completed their freshman seasons and were still learning how to compete on the college level.
Even if the statistics weren't there to back up bullish expectations, Borst was going to make them believe anyways.
"I told them every day they were going to get better," Borst said. "Every day was 'get better day.' It was get better Monday, get better Tuesday. We've tried to teach them as much as we can and develop their short games, but it was more about believing in themselves when they're playing and believing that they could make their shots."
The first-year head coach used positive reinforcement to instill an expectation level to believe and want more. It resulted in a bid to the 2011 NCAA Championships, the program's 16th postseason appearance and second since 2000.
"The coaches tell us how good we are, how much talent we have and how hard we work," Albrecht said. "They tell us that no one works as hard as us in the SEC. There is no comparison. Having someone there to reinforce it, everyone starts believing it."
And some would argue that believing is actually seeing. Once the young Wildcats started believing they could be better, they started to improve. Even if the finishes in tournaments weren't great results, the mental toughness was much improved.
Playing in a much more difficult schedule than the year before and in some of the nation's top tournaments, UK showcased an ability to hang with some of the best teams in the country.
"When I first came, our girls were just wide eyed," Borst said. "They were like, 'Oh my god, there's Alabama,' and 'Oh my gosh, there's USC and UCLA and Duke and all these teams.' I think for a couple of tournaments, they got a feel of what it's like to play with some of those teams."
The intimidation soon subsided, which should pay dividends Thursday at the East Regional in Daytona Beach, Fla., where UK will face 23 of the top teams in the country.
"We're going to face those girls whether it's in summer golf or college golf," Albrecht said. "It's just a matter of when you face them. If you know you can play with them, you're fine."
Albrecht and Johnson were two of the main benefactors from Borst and her new philosophy. Johnson's season stroke average dropped by more than a swing from last year to this season's 76.52, and Albrecht has a team-best 75.40 stroke average, currently just .06 off the Kentucky school record.
Albrecht shot as low as a 66 in the UCF Challenge on her way to a tie for first in the UCF Challenge. Her 66 was one stroke off the program record for the lowest round.
"We have a lot of girls that can shoot around the 74s, the 73s, but I think Ashleigh is the one person who can shoot below 70 for us on any given day," Borst said.
Technically speaking, Johnson said she's benefitted the most from Borst's short-game approach. Borst said the players can hit balls on their free time, but when she has them for practice, most of the drills center on chipping, putting, and getting up and down from trouble spots.
"Putting and chipping is where you score," Johnson said. "Your swing is not going to be 100 percent all the time. I really had to rely on my short game because we've been doing all that stuff in practice."
After returning from tendinitis in her rotator cuff, Johnson is playing her best golf of the year heading into the postseason, placing 23rd at the SEC Championship in UK's last tournament. Albrecht has also been dealing with a hip injury, but Borst said she's rounding back into early spring form when she was playing at her best.
No matter what happens this weekend in Daytona Beach, the future appears very bright for the UK women's golf team. With seven of eight golfers returning next year, Borst believes Kentucky can not only crack the top 30 but make it to the final weekend of the NCAA Championship.
"We're going to try to go places we've never been before," Borst said. "This definitely sets the standard and from now on we've got to work on getting to nationals."
Softball - Kentucky has clinched a spot in the SEC Tournament for a school-record third consecutive season. - UK had all five of its SEC games canceled last week due to weather-related incidents. - The Blue and White wrap up regular-season action with a three-game series at home against Auburn. On Sunday, UK will host Senior Day for Meagan Aull, Samantha DeMartine, Annie Rowlands and Megan Yocke.
Baseball - The baseball team completed a four-game week, highlighted by a sweep-clinching win over rival Louisville, before falling in a series sweep at six-time NCAA Champion LSU. - Kentucky posted a 7-1 win over Louisville on Tuesday, clinching a series sweep over the Cardinals, the first sweep in the series since UK won two in 2006. - UK fell 9-5 Thursday night as LSU plated eight runs in the eighth inning to erase a 5-1 UK lead and post the series-opening win. UK junior Alex Meyer turned in another dominating outing, striking out 10 and allowing only four hits, with two hits going as infield hits. On Saturday, LSU used big innings to secure a 12-4 series-clinching win. In the series finale, LSU got a three-run inning in the first and rode a strong pitching outing from Ben Alsup and closer Matty Ott to a 8-4 win. Senior Neiko Johnson had the best weekend of his injury-shortened year, collecting four hits in five at-bats, including three doubles and four RBI. - Kentucky has been led offensively by junior Chad Wright, who has hit .331 with 11 doubles, two triples, four homers and 29 RBI. Senior shortstop Taylor Black has added a .324 average with 13 doubles, two homers and 31 RBI, while third sacker Thomas McCarthy has added a .311 average with an SEC-leading 16 doubles, four homers and 23 RBI. - On the mound, Meyer (4-5, 3.32 ERA) has established himself as one of the top starting pitchers in college baseball, making 11 starts on the weekends and tossing seven quality outings and three complete games. He leads the SEC with 91 strikeouts in 78.2 innings, allowing only 11 extra-base hits in his 61 hits allowed.
Men's tennis - Four men's tennis players were named All-SEC performers, setting a new school record for honors in a season. - Junior Eric Quigley was named to the first team, while senior Alberto Gonzalez and junior Alex Musialek were named to the second team. Freshman Tom Jomby was named to the freshman team. - The first-team honor is the second consecutive for Quigley, while Musialek has been named second team in back-to-back seasons. The All-SEC honor is the first for Gonzalez.
Track and field - Senior Keenan Hall captured the Kentucky school record in the triple jump with an event-winning leap of 15.72m/51-07.00, surpassing current teammate David Banks who set the previous school record of 51-05.50 in Columbus, Ohio, last season. - Junior Keith Hayes finished second at the Drake Relays with a career-best time of 13.76 in the 110m hurdles, shooting him to second in the SEC and on UK's all-time list. - Senior Sharif Webb collected the top spot among his collegiate competitors in the 800m run with a time of 1:48.48. The senior was the only collegiate athlete to run in the final, finishing sixth. - Six underclassmen recorded personal bests Sunday at the Payton Jordan Invitational, including sophomore Cally Macumber who moved up to No. 4 on UK's all-time 5,000m run list with at time of 16:19.13.
Women's golf - The women's golf team will begin play Thursday in Daytona Beach, Fla., in the East Regional of the 2011 NCAA Women's Golf Championships. - The Cats will field junior Ashlee Rose, sophomores Ashleigh Albrecht, Betsie Johnson and Heather Lott, and freshman Liz Breed. - Albrecht enters the East regional with the lowest scoring average on the team (75.40).
Thursday, May 5 Women's golf at NCAA Regionals (Daytona Beach, Fla.)
Friday, May 6 Baseball hosts Vanderbilt - 6:30 p.m. Softball hosts Auburn - 7 p.m. Women's golf at NCAA Regionals (Daytona Beach, Fla.) Track and field at Billy Hayes Invitational (Bloomington, Ind.)
Saturday, May 7 Softball hosts Auburn - 1 p.m. Baseball hosts Vanderbilt - 6:30 p.m. Women's golf at NCAA Regionals (Daytona Beach, Fla.)
Softball - With a 4-0 week the No. 18 Kentucky softball team eclipsed the 30-win plateau for the third consecutive season, a feat never achieved before in school history. - Junior Rachel Riley blasted two home runs in the nightcap of a sweep of Marshall. She became the fourth different UK player to hit two long balls in a single outing. Riley also picked up the win in the circle, working 5.0 innings of relief. - Junior Brittany Cervantes hit two home runs this week to run her season total to 13. She is now just two round trippers shy of breaking Molly Johnson's career home run record. - Junior hurler Chanda Bell worked 8.2 innings of action over the Tennessee Tech series. She threw 19 strikeouts, including 16 in a victory during the second game to match her own single-game record in that category. - Freshman Lauren Cumbess secured the win in the circle in the opening game of the TTU series. She then delivered a game-tying RBI single in the sixth inning to help UK force extra innings to set the stage for senior Samantha DeMartine's walk-off homer in the 10th in the nightcap.
Men's tennis - Kentucky completed another come-from-behind victory Saturday at No. 29 Vanderbilt, coming back to grab a 4-3 win in its regular-season finale against the Commodores in Nashville, Tenn. With the win, Kentucky clinched the No. 3 seed in the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Gainesville, Fla. The Wildcats will receive a bye in the first round before facing either South Carolina or Auburn on Friday morning at 9 ET. - The win moves the Wildcats to 5-1 on the road in SEC play and 8-4 overall away from home. The win moves UK to 14-7 against teams ranked in the top 50 this season. Kentucky's 8-3 record in SEC play marks the second consecutive year that UK has posted eight SEC wins. UK has also earned a top-four seed in the SEC Tournament in back-to-back seasons. - Kentucky posted the win over Vandy after four solid singles wins from No. 3 Eric Quigley, No. 56 Alex Musialek, No. 88 Alberto Gonzalez and No. 117 Anthony Rossi. Quigley paced the Wildcats by taking down a top-30 ranked player, while Rossi clinched the match in a three-set thriller.
Baseball - The Kentucky baseball team completed a four-game week on Sunday, highlighted by a win at No. 28 Louisville on Tuesday night. The Wildcats traveled to Ole Miss for the weekend series, with the Rebels sweeping the series. - UK fell in the three-game series at Ole Miss by a combined four runs, with two one-run losses and a two-run loss on Saturday. - The Wildcats have been led offensively by senior shortstop Taylor Black, who has batted .346 with 12 doubles, two triples, one homer and 24 RBI, stealing 10 bases. - On the mound, Alex Meyer (3-5, 3.59 ERA) leads UK in innings pitched (62.2) and strikeouts (71), tossing nine starts and two complete games.
Track and field - Senior Keenan Hall was awarded the Tony Wilson Memorial Trophy for being the most outstanding male field athlete during the meet. Hall won the men's triple jump with a personal-best mark of 15.56-meter/51-00.7 and finished second in the long jump at 7.46m/24-05.75. - Senior Sharif Webb won the 800m run with a time of 1:49.32, marking his second victory in two chances this season, after winning with a school-record and SEC-leading time of 1:47.19 at the Florida Relays. - Freshman Allison Peare posted a career-best time of 2:09.64 in the 800m to take fourth, drawing closer to the freshman school record of 2:06.47, set in 1986. - Senior Colin Boevers claimed two top-five finishes during the meet, collecting third in the discus and fourth in the shot put. Boevers, an All-America honoree in the discus throw last year, threw 53.44m/175-04 to capture the bronze. In the shot put, the senior made a long toss of 15.97m/52-04.75 to grab fourth. - Junior Precious Nwokey rounded out her first heptathlon competition in 2011 as the second-place finisher with 5,309 points. Nwokey holds the school record in the event with a total score of 5,543.
Men's golf - The Kentucky men's golf team finished the SEC Championships in ninth place after sophomore Chase Parker and freshman Stephen Powers each finished in the top 20. - Parker shot a 1-under-par 69 in the final round to end the 54-hole tournament tied for 12th, while Powers earned his second consecutive top-22 finish by ending his first SEC Championship appearance tied for 19th. - Kentucky concludes the 2010-11 season with four top-three finishes as a team, increasing the total number of top-three finishes under 10-year head coach Brian Craig to 35. Individually, UK players earned 14 top-20 finishes during the year, including Belden who had a team-high five top-20 finishes.
Women's golf - Kentucky finished 10th in the SEC Women's Golf Championships. - Sophomore Betsie Johnson led UK with a 10-over par 226 to finish in 23rd place individually. - Johnson found success on Auburn University Club's four par 5 holes. The Nicholasville, Ky., native was 3-under par on the par 5s. - UK will learn if it has been invited to the NCAA Championships on a conference call on April 25 at 6 p.m. ET.
Women's tennis - The Cats fell to No. 18 Vanderbilt 5-2 on Senior Day Saturday. Megan Broderick, Lauren Meier and Nicole Scates were recognized on Senior Day. - Broderick won a thrilling match over No. 76 Alex Leatu in her final match at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Center, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. - Sophomore Jessica Stiles turned in the most dominating performance of her collegiate career with a straight sets 6-0, 6-0 victory at No. 2 singles. Stiles' win was her 10th singles victory this season, the most on the team and her fourth conference win. - The Cats are the No. 10 seed in the SEC Tournament and will face No. 7 seed LSU in the opening round in Knoxville, Tenn., on Thursday.
Tuesday, April 19 Softball hosts Eastern Kentucky - 4 p.m. Baseball at Western Kentucky - 7 p.m.
Wednesday, April 20 Softball hosts Louisville - 6 p.m.
Thursday, April 21 Women's tennis vs. LSU - 6 p.m. (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Friday, April 22 Men's tennis vs. South Carolina/Auburn - 9 a.m. (Gainesville, Fla.) Baseball hosts Arkansas - 6:30 p.m. Softball at South Carolina - 7 p.m. Track and field at UCSD Triton Invitational (La Jolla, Calif.) Women's tennis at SEC Tournament (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Satruday, April 23 Football hosts Blue/White Spring Game - 3 p.m. Softball at South Carolina - 4 p.m. Baseball hosts Arkansas - 7 p.m. Women's tennis at SEC Tournament (Knoxville, Tenn.) Men's tennis at SEC Tournament (Gainesville, Fla.) Track and field at UCSD Triton Invitational (La Jolla, Calif.) Track and field at Jesse Owens Invitational (Columbus, Ohio)
Sunday, April 24 Baseball hosts Arkansas - 1 p.m. Softball at South Carolina - 1 p.m. Women's tennis at SEC Tournament (Knoxville, Tenn.) Men's tennis at SEC Tournament (Gainesville, Fla.) Track and field at Jesse Owens Invitational (Columbus, Ohio)
Men's basketball - Kentucky finishes its season at 29-9. - The Wildcats end the season having advanced to their 14th Final Four, while posting their 55th 20-win season and winning their 27th SEC Tournament title. - John Calipari is one of only two coaches to lead three different schools to the Final Four. - UK is now 105-46 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and is tied for first with the most NCAA Tournament wins. - The 75,421 fans in attendance for the UK-UConn game was an NCAA Final Four single-game record. - Junior Darius Miller hit a 3-pointer in 25 straight games to finish the season and connected from long range in 36 of 38 games this season. - Brandon Knight closed his rookie season with a UK freshman scoring record of 657 points, and 87 made 3s, also a UK freshman record.
Gymnastics - Behind a season-high score on balance beam of 48.9, the University of Kentucky gymnastics team posted its highest team score at a NCAA Regional in school history with a 195.175 in a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional in Coleman Coliseum at Tuscaloosa, Ala. - Kentucky's team score at the meet surpassed its previous NCAA Regional high mark of 195.150, which helped UK earn a fourth-place finish in the 2001 NCAA Regional. The Wildcats had not scored a 195 team score or above since the 2001 season. - The Wildcats were impressive on all four events at the meet, but earned its highest event score on balance beam, posting a season-high score of 48.9. Junior Storey Morris led all UK gymnasts on the event with a 9.85, surpassing her career high of 9.825, while freshman Audrey Harrison scored a 9.8 for her highest career mark.
Softball - Kentucky swept No. 5 Florida for the first time in school history to claim its fourth SEC series of the season, matching a program record. - Senior Meagan Aull entered the weekend with six career home runs and connected with four in propeling UK's offense to 26 runs on the weekend. Aull had a homer in all three games, including two in the first inning of the final win. She became the first player in school history to hit two long balls in the same inning. - While completing the sweep, UK coach Rachel Lawson won her 200th career game as a head coach. - UK currently ranks second overall in the SEC and first in the Eastern Division.
Baseball - The baseball team completed a four-game week, posting a midweek win over Tennessee Tech, before falling in three games at defending NCAA champion, No. 3 South Carolina. - Kentucky rode a 4-for-4, four-runs-scored outing from senior shortstop Taylor Black in the win over TTU on Tuesday, posting an 11-8 result. - As a team, the Wildcats have posted a .294 batting average through 29 games, owning a 3.83 ERA with eight saves in 254 innings, striking out 237.
Men's tennis - With the match tied 3-3 and the final singles match in a decisive third-set tiebreaker, University of Kentucky freshman Tom Jomby earned arguably his biggest collegiate win of his young career by defeating Andrew Butz to give No. 14 Kentucky a 4-3 win over No. 15 Florida at the Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville, Fla. - The win gives Kentucky its first victory over the Gators since the 2002 season and its first win in Gainesville since 1992 when the Wildcats took down Florida in the NCAA Tournament. UK's last regular-season win at Florida was in 1988. - Kentucky continued its winning ways Sunday, taking down South Carolina 5-2 for its 20th win of the season. - UK now has back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since UK earned three consecutive from 1987-89. All told, it is Kentucky's 18th 20-win season in school history and the 12th under longtime head coach Dennis Emery.
Track and field - Senior middle-distance runner Sharif Webb won the 800-meter run for the second consecutive year while setting Kentucky's 800m record and snapping a 25-year old Florida Relays record with a time os 1:47.19. - Sophomore distance runner Cally Macumber earned UK's second win of the Florida Relays with a personal-best time of 4:24.32. - A pair of discus throwers grabbed top-four finishes, with senior Mary Angell (51.34m/168-05) finishing third overall in the women's discus and senior Colin Boevers (57.26m/187-10) fourth on the men's side. - Junior Luis Orta also had a top-five finish, completing the 3,000m steeplechase in 9:01.54 to claim fourth.
Men's golf - UK men's golf freshman Cody Martin posted his third top-25 finish of the spring season as the Wildcats finished 14th in the Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate at Bulls Bay Golf Club in Awendaw, S.C. - Martin was again impressive for Kentucky, scoring the lowest round of the day for the Wildcats with a 1-over-par 72. The three-day score of 216 is the lowest of the season for Martin, who has finished as UK's top golfer in the last three events. - Fellow freshman Stephen Powers carded three birdies in the final round and eight for the tournament, posting a career-low score of 221.
Women's golf - Kentucky recorded its second-lowest round of the spring season Sunday. As a team, UK improved each round of the tournament and finished 19th. - Sophomore Ashleigh Albrecht led the Cats for the third time this spring season, finishing 35th overall. She carded her third-lowest round of the spring during the final round on Sunday.
Women's tennis - Kentucky lost to No. 2 Florida 7-0 Friday and fell to No. 38 South Carolina 6-1 Sunday. - Freshman Khristina Blajkevitch won her team-leading eighth singles victory against South Carolina on Sunday. Blajkevitch's win was also her fifth in conference action, the most on the team.
Tuesday, April 5 Baseball hosts Xavier - 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday, April 6 Men's tennis hosts Ohio State - 3 p.m. Softball at Austin Peay (DH) - 6 p.m. Men's tennis hosts Morehead State - 8 p.m.
Friday, April 8 Women's tennis at Arkansas - 1 p.m. Men's tennis hosts Arkansas - 3 p.m. Softball at Georgia - 6:30 p.m. Baseball hosts Auburn - 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 9 Softball at Georgia - 2:30 p.m. Baseball hosts Auburn - 6:30 p.m. Track and field at Kentuckiana Border Battle (Louisville, Ky.) Men's golf hosts UK Bluegrass Invitational
Sunday, April 10 Baseball hosts Auburn - 1 p.m. Women's tennis at LSU - 1 p.m. Men's tennis hosts LSU - 1 p.m. Softball at Georgia - 1:30 p.m. Men's golf hosts UK Bluegrass Invitational
Men's basketball - Kentucky advances to the Final Four for the 14th time in program history and the first time since the 1998 season. - John Calipari joins Rick Pitino as the only coach in NCAA history to lead three different teams to the Final Four. - Kentucky is the first team to lose the No. 1 overall pick (John Wall) to the NBA Draft and make the Final Four the following season since Virginia lost Ralph Sampson in 1984. - UK hit 12 3-pointers in the regional final against North Carolina, which is tied for the fifth most in an NCAA Tournament game for Kentucky. - Brandon Knight was named the East Region Most Outstanding Player. Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins joined him on the All-Tournament team.
Softball - Kentucky swept Mississippi State in SEC action for the second time in three seasons and captured the series over the Bulldogs for the third straight season. - In the series-clincher, junior pitcher Chanda Bell threw UK's first no-hitter in SEC action in an 8-0 victory. Bell struck out 11 in the win. It was the second no-hitter of the season for UK's hurler. - Kentucky hit four homers in the opening game of the series to set a program record for the most long balls in a single outing. Megan Yocke, Brittany Cervantes, Lauren Cumbess and Rachel Riley all connected for a homer in the win.
Baseball - Kentucky posted a pair of wins during the midweek, riding a 4-2 win over Cincinnati and a 12-4 win over Canisius on Wednesday. The Wildcats then traveled to Alabama for its first road series in SEC play on the year. 'Bama rode a complete-game shutout performance from ace right-hander Nathan Kilcrease on Friday and took advantage of a UK error in the bottom of the ninth for a walk-off win on Saturday. In the Sunday game, 'Bama plated four runs in the first inning and the Wildcats couldn't recover, falling in a series sweep with a 9-3 loss. - The Wildcats have been led by freshman J.T. Riddle, who has batted .349 with five doubles, two homers and 11 RBI. Outfielder Chad Wright hit .348 with three homers and 19 RBI, adding 11 stolen bases. Senior shortstop Taylor Black hit .317 with six doubles, two triples, one homer and 19 RBI, while center fielder Brian Adams has hit .306 with six doubles, eight RBI and five steals. - As a team, UK has hit .302 through 25 games with 17 homers and 144 runs scored, adding 43 stolen bases and a .973 fielding percentage. On the mound, UK owns a 3.93 team ERA with eight saves and 208 strikeouts in 219.2 innings.
Men's tennis - The Kentucky men's tennis team wrapped up a seven-match home stand this week with dominating wins over No. 43 Maryland and Eastern Kentucky. The Wildcats dropped it's lone SEC match of the week 4-1 to Auburn. - The win over Maryland was Kentucky's 11th this season over a top-50 ranked team and the two non-conference home wins extended UK's home non-conference winning streak to 25 matches. - Freshman Tom Jomby was named SEC Freshman of the Week last week for his efforts two weeks ago with Kentucky's wins over Notre Dame, Butler and Alabama.
Women's tennis - Kentucky won all three doubles matches en route to a 6-1 win over Auburn, with senior Megan Broderick and freshman Khristina Blajkevitch clinching the doubles point and grabbing their team-leading fourth victory at the No. 1 position. - Broderick won her eighth victory in singles play with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Auburn's Paulina Schippers at No. 1. Broderick leads Kentucky with three victories in SEC competition. - Blajkevitch earned a win over Auburn and was also the lone player to capture a victory in the loss to Alabama.
Swimming and diving - Freshman diver Greg Ferrucci placed 33rd on the one-meter board at the NCAA Championships before suffering a quad injury that forced him to withdraw from the remaining competition. - Senior forward Victoria Dunlap has been selected as one of the top 40 finalists for the 2011 State Farm Coaches' All-America Team, as announced by The Women's Basketball Coaches Association, in cooperation with State Farm. The finalists, who are voted upon by WBCA-member coaches in each of the eight WBCA geographical regions, are now in the running for selection to the 10-member State Farm Coaches' All-America Team.
Monday, March 28 Men's golf at Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegaite (Awendaw, S.C.)
Tuesday, March 29 Baseball hosts Tennessee Tech - 4 p.m. Men's golf at Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegaite (Awendaw, S.C.)
Friday, April 1 Men's tennis at Florida - 3 p.m. Women's tennis hosts Florida - 4 p.m. Softball hosts Florida - 7 p.m. Baseball at South Carolina • 7 p.m. Women's golf at Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic (Athens, Ga.) Track and field at Florida Relays
Saturday, April 2 Softball hosts Florida - 1 p.m. Baseball at South Carolina - 4:30 p.m. Gymnastics at NCAA Regional - 7 p.m. (Tuscaloosa, Ala.) Men's basketball vs. Connecticut • 8:49 p.m. (Houston) Women's golf at Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic (Athens, Ga.) Track and field at Florida Relays
Sunday, April 3 Women's tennis hosts South Carolina - noon Softball hosts Florida - 1 p.m. Men's tennis at South Carolina - 1 p.m. Baseball at South Carolina - 1:30 p.m. Women's golf at Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic (Athens, Ga.) Men's basketball vs. VCU/Butler - 9 p.m. (Houston)