Cat Chattin' with Haleigh and Leah

Seniors Haleigh Kerns and Leah Harms are entering their fourth seasons for the Kentucky swimming team. The two help comprise the distance swim group, and they have both made trips to the SEC Championships and are among some of the school's all-time top time leaders. Follow along as they chronicle their final season in the Blue and White.

January 25

Oh my gosh, we just competed in our LAST meet in Lexington.

Aside from this past Saturday being our Senior Day, the meet also happened to be one of the toughest and most exciting meets of our college careers...

Every year we go into the Louisville meet knowing that although we haven't lost in over a decade, the Cards always put up a good fight. Unlike prior years, however, this season Louisville was actually ranked ahead of us in the national rankings. As the favorite to walk away with a victory, this year's Cardinals squad posed a major threat to our winning streak. As much as they wanted the win, though, we wanted it more. With such a great legacy laid before us, we refused to be the first senior class in fifteen years to witness a UK loss to our intrastate rival ... especially not on OUR day.

On Friday afternoon, the girls' team met in the team room at the pool to discuss the meet, and Haleigh hopped up on the pool table and delivered her traditional UK-UL pre-meet pump up speech (adapted from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address). It's a tradition she started her sophomore year, and she's actually gotten really good at the delivery over the years! It's always a good laugh, but we definitely walked away from that meeting not just pumped up but also nervous beyond belief.

Between thoughts of our last home meet and anxiety over the competition (Leah had four dreams about it!), neither one of us slept too soundly on Friday night, but we both got up and headed to the Lancaster Aquatic Center for a quick wake-up swim Saturday morning with a sense of excitement that we've never felt before. We both tried to calm our nerves by napping after the wake-up swim (Are you supposed to do that?) but again, restlessness ensued, and before we knew it we were headed back over to the pool.

While we warmed up, fans from both schools began filing in, and by the time the meet started, the stands had reached their capacity. We had a final team meeting, the seniors led our traditional kick board cheer, we listened to the national anthem, and it was time for senior recognition.

Our teammates created a tunnel, and as each senior was called, we ran through (with warm-ups tied tight... someone always tries to pull your pants down), hugged our way down the line of coaches and headed out onto the bulkhead. After the last of the nine joined the others, we took a final bow, waved to the crowd and got ready to start the most electric dual meet we've witnessed thus far.

The relay girls started us off on the right foot in almost school-record time, posting a big win and setting the tone for the rest of the day. From then on, best times were shattered and team records were broken on our way to a 171-123 rout of the 20th-ranked Cardinals. We really can't describe the atmosphere of the meet or our emotions over the course of the day. Despite the madness of the suit situation (Louisville suggested using the meet to test out racing suits so we ended up playing "musical suits," shuffling around 10 suits among 20 girls), we really came together as a team and across the board, posted times we had never imagined possible for an in-season meet. It seemed like someone different stepped up in every event, and we can honestly say that we would not have won the meet without the efforts of each and every Lady Cat.

So, we really just want to say THANK YOU to the Wildcat fans who came out and supported us and to our amazing teammates who made Senior Day more than anything we could have asked for ... it has definitely gone down in the books as one of the most memorable experiences of our lives.

Ohhhh C-A-T-S... CATS CATS CATS!!Leah and Haleigh

P.S. Get pumped for SEC's... it's going to be CRAZY!!! :)

December 23

Happy Holidays, Cats!

Yes, we are actually still alive, despite the fact that we haven't posted in quite sometime... sorry! School has been pretty tough lately, leaving us both wondering what the heck happened to the whole "no work" concept of Dead Week, but as we begin the last week of our fall semeter, we're starting to be able to see past the exam load and on to the light at the end of the tunnel -- Christmas Break!!

As excited as we are to tell you all about our upcoming fun - from the team holiday party (Secret Santa gifts are starting to get a little crazy...) to a midnight practice extravaganza - we'll save those stories for our next blog (we promise it won't be another month before we write!) and instead give you our thoughts on UK's performance at our major fall invitational, the meet at Tennessee...

UT Invite. Fast pool. CRAZY fast times. AWESOME meet for the Wildcats.

We could stop here because that really is the meet in a nutshell, but we'll go ahead and share a few details since we haven't written in forever!

There were only three teams competing in the new pool in Knoxville, but the times and the atmosphere definitely gave the meet a championship feel. We did a quick drop taper (think: bus ride), but everyone still managed to get up and race and post some fast times in the process. The team also used the meet as an opportunity to test out our racing suits, and the two of us both had quite the experience as first-timers in the leg suit department (I know, we're so old school!)... but nothing says girls' team bonding like helping each other squeeze into those crazy tight suits, right? And, despite a minor suit mishap in Leah's mile, I think we've both been won over to the leg suit side. :)

From pool records to in-season bests to career best times, we swam (and dove!) out of our minds. Not surprising, Jessie Snowden was an absolute blast to watch on the boards. As the lone UK diver on the girls' side, she has really stepped up this year, and her hard work and desire to win were made painfully clear to the competition during her first place performances on both the one- and three-meter boards.

According to Gary, who can break it down in percentages and numbers (we're not so good with the stats...), this was the best fall invitational our team has ever had. Based on our own personal observations, we concur. It was truly motivating to see how fast we could swim on just a few days of rest and a little extra sleep, and we've been using the excitement from our performances in Knoxville to carry us through the tough weeks of practices since the meet. We'll continue to carry that momentum through to the holiday training ahead as we set our sights set on a January road-trip adventure to SEC foes Arkansas and LSU.

More on our holiday adventures next time...Leah and Haleigh

November 18

Sorry for the long delay since the last write in ... We (Haleigh, Leah, and the entire women's team) have been crazy busy with school work, practice, dual meets, and recruiting! Parent's weekend three weeks ago was a great success! We had an impressive representation of parents at both the girls' and guys' meets, and the additional cheering sure did liven up the Lancaster Aquatic Center!

We ended the weekend with a parent/team dinner at the Nutter Field House, where the "coaches" (the captains dressed up as each coach in the spirit of Halloween) hosted a Jeopardy- style game. A parent from each class went head-to-head on some grueling questions about the coaches, and the team, and the freshman class representative, Mrs. Cooksey, ended up taking home the win! The dinner put a close to a great Parent's weekend and made us realize what great parents we have from all over that come together to support their kids and our team.

Following the event- filled parents weekend, it was back to training before our next weekend dual meet. For the first time in our four years, we swam against UVA. Although we were defeated, the team did a great job of racing and coming together in the midst of tough training. Our two divers also had a rather impressive meet, both walking away with individual victories.

After the meet, the night was still young. We hosted a number of swimming and diving recruits, taking them to the basketball game following post- meet pizza at the pool. The next morning, we had a short practice and then it was back into race mode. Saturday morning, we swam (and won!) a sprint meet against IUPUI.

Following the second meet of the weekend, it was off to yet another UK Athletics function ... the UGA vs. UK football game. Man, was this one a close one! So close that we both stayed for the entire game hoping the Cats would pull off a victory. Saturday night we went back to the pool for a pool party with the recruits. This pool party was different from any of the previous ones to say the least. The adrenaline junkie in everyone seemed to come out. Platform slip- in- slide and rafter jumping were a crowd favorite (but, we enjoyed playing popcorn on the trampoline instead)!

Last weekend brought a well deserved break, as we rested up and got excited to post some fast times at our invite this weekend. Today we will be loading up the bus to head to the brand new UT pool for their invitational. We will be competing against UT and VA Tech. We are ready to bring some blue into this new pool, and show the SEC that we are getting ready to swim even faster times as we progress towards conference! We are off to finish packing up and preparing our little sis gifts for the weekend!

Go Cats,Haleigh and Leah

October 31

Hey Cats and Happy Halloween! :)

We're really getting into the heart of our season now, and nowhere is it more evident than right here in the LAC. With double workouts starting to add up and an increased intensity in every practice, we're finding ourselves the most sore and tired we've been all season--- and we LOVE it! As hard as it is to pull ourselves out of bed for morning workouts (and as hard as it is to keep our eyes open in class!), we love pushing ourselves and our teammates beyond what was thought possible because we know we'll see it pay off in February.

The team has been training so well, and we're especially proud of the freshies for hanging tough throughout every practice- we know it's a big adjustment from high school, and they've really been showing us what they're made of... I think that for swimmers new to collegiate competition, one of the biggest adjustments is learning to restructure your way of thinking in regards to in-season competition. We all know how those September-November meets go in high school... not pretty, and it's okay. But, once you hit the collegiate level, you've got to learn how to be confident in your abilities when you're just plain beat up. I think a lot of the freshmen surprised themselves at Indiana two weeks ago, and even though we lost the meet, we had some great swims (in-season and lifetime bests) come out of it, freshmen and upper-classmen alike.

It all comes down to mental toughness, and our minds and bodies will really be put to the test this weekend when we swim our SEC rival, Tennessee, in our first home meet of the season. The boys hit the pool later on Friday, and the girls will battle it out against the Lady Vols Saturday. Even though we train with the boys and are used to feeding off of each other's excitement at competitions, we're actually looking forward to this set up because we get to watch the boys light it up tonight and we know they'll get us pumped up for tomorrow. We'll also have a ton of extra fans in the stands both days because it's Parents' Weekend (Leah is so excited to see her 'rents in a few hours!!), and we've definitely got a home crowd advantage!

Well, we're off to paint ourselves in the blue and white and get the boys fired up! We'll chat again soon... and until then, GO CATS!

Leah and Haleigh

October 14

Dual meet season is in the air!

As we go along with the new practice schedule and continue to wrap up the most intense dry land sessions, we are beginning to prepare for this season's dual meets, traveling, and invitational meets ... oh my!

Since we last wrote, we have had two more recruiting weekends (including this weekend) AND a "fall break" weekend! We welcomed a large group of recruits- nearly 15- for the Western Kentucky football game weekend. This weekend was packed with activities. We not only went to the football game, but we also participated in the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Run in downtown Lexington, and incorporated a "different" type of Saturday morning practice. The coaches developed a practice that would require the entire team to step up and race their fellow teammates on a stroke by stroke basis, but there was a catch. Any time you were not swimming, you had to cheer for your other lane mates non- stop until it was your turn to swim again. This ended up being both a challenging and rewarding workout, preparing us for swimming fast and cheering loud in the dual meets to come!

The next weekend was a long awaited free weekend! Since everyone was working so hard, the coaches decided to give us a Saturday of rest, and man were we happy to hear that! Leah and the rest of the senior girls' household held down the fort in Lexington. Between Keeneland's opening weekend and other things going on around town, there was plenty to do. I, on the other hand, got a chance to do the unheard of! I flew home in the middle of October to join my friends and family for my older brother and newly ordained sister's wedding festivities! The weekend was full of excitement and packed with things to be done in the three short days I would be home. I had to catch a flight on Thursday not even an hour after weights, practice, and squeezing in a test! The weekend flew by, and was one of my favorite weekends thus far. Not only did I get to go home and spend time with my family, but I also got to welcome a new member into the Kerns family! Anyone that knows my family knows that the wedding did not stop at the ceremony. The whole gang carried the night onto the dance floor at the reception. After hours of dancing, cake eating, and bouquet tossing, it was time to come back to UK! I flew back into Lexington Sunday night, ready to get back into the swing of training and school.

After a week of more swimming- concentrated practices and some competitive weight room sessions, it is time to welcome another group of recruits! Campus is booming as parents (it's parent's weekend!), recruits, and several alumni make their way into town. Midnight Madness, a football game against South Carolina, and a coach- created scavenger hunt around Lexington will all be a part of this weekend's itinerary. After this weekend, we will officially begin our FINAL dual meet season. Monday morning we will test run our events and line- up in the Blue and White meet. On Saturday, the entire team will prepare for our opening season meet against Indiana! We are so excited to see how the new lineup, the freshman class, and upperclassmen perform and kick off this season. The first meet is always full of surprises ... and it happens to be Gary's birthday this year too! We're off to train, practice cheers, and try to rig the rooming list so we can be "hotel roomies" for the fourth year in a row now. :)

Adios, Haleigh

October 10

A few weeks ago, we participated in Lexington's Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in memory of our former diving coach, Mike, who passed away in the spring after a tremendous two and a half year battle with cancer. (Coach Gary's blog gives great insight into how the race reminded us of who Mike was and what he's meant to this team, and I encourage you to read it if you haven't yet. We just wanted to add a few thoughts of our own about the man for whom we raced.)

Mike was diagnosed with cancer in the fall of our freshman year, so we didn't know him for very long before his battle began. But I think that his fighting spirit and true strength of character were never more evident than in the three short years that we were blessed to spend with him.

When Mike first started chemotherapy that fall, the entire men's team (and coaches!) shaved their heads in support of him. Compared to Mike's unwavering commitment to the team and his fervent desire to be on the pool deck in spite of his health, the gesture was small, but we wanted him to know that he wasn't alone in his battle -- that we'd be there fighting along side of him for however long it would take.

Year after year, Mike coached at SEC's, even when he was going through his worst moments. Our freshman year, he surprised the entire team, arriving in Knoxville despite intense chemo treatments just in time to watch his girls sweep the platform. This past year, he made the trip all the way to Tuscaloosa to be there for his divers and for the team as a whole. You see, whether girls, guys, swimmers or divers, we have always been one team. Mike not only recognized that but made it a point to be involved in the swimmers' lives as well, and that meant so much to us.

The impact he had on all of our lives is indescribable, and clearly we weren't the only ones. At last year's SEC's, he was recognized for his numerous coaching accomplishments and unmatched dedication to the sport, and as he approached the podium to be recognized, the entire natatorium got on their feet, applauding and chanting, "Iron Mike," in honor of an incredible coach and his courageous battle.

Saturday's race was bittersweet for those of us who had the privilege to run it with Mike two years ago. We were saddened by his absence, but we couldn't have been more honored to run in his memory. We can only hope that he knew how much he truly meant to us, both as a coach and as a member of the UK family.

This run's for you, Iron Mike. Your Wildcat Swimmers and Divers

September 18

Hey Cats Hey!

Things have really picked up here at UK since we last chatted.

We are now into our third week of voluntary workouts, and boy does it feel good to be getting back into shape! We kicked off our training Aug. 29 with pre-season testing in the weight room. Although the push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and vertical jumps left us all quite sore Labor Day weekend, it's always good to have that baseline testing so that we can evaluate how far we've come by the end of the year. The three-day weekend itself was a blast, mostly because we got to watch our beloved Cats SLAUGHTER the Cards in the Governor's Cup football game against Louisville... Ohhhhh C-A-T-S CATS CATS CATS!

Practice began the following Tuesday, and we hit the ground running (literally!) right away. For the first time in our UK careers, practice is taking place in the morning. Although it has taken a few adjustments to our sleep schedule, we actually like the new practice time, partly because we have the rest of the day to ourselves and partly because we've never felt so accomplished by 10 a.m. every day!

Practices have been split between time on land and time in the pool, so it's nice to be able to build back into things. Haleigh and most of the team hit weights with Coach Tracey while Leah and the distance group strengthen and condition with Coach John outside of the weight room. As for team dryland, the coaches have really mixed it up this year. Some days, we do a lot of core and stability work which is usually followed by a run, while other days we do dryland circuits out on the intramural fields. Or, you might find us on the practice football fields improving our speed and agility or at Nutter Field House tossing around medicine balls and jogging around the indoor track. This past Tuesday, we even hit up Commonwealth Stadium for the year's first "swimmer challenge," a race up and down the stairs of the football stadium. (This actually brings to mind another perk of morning workouts: low heat and humidity!) After dryland it's back to the pool, where we're starting to get into tougher sets and will continue to build up the yardage and intensity over the next few weeks.

Outside of training, we have officially begun recruiting season as well! This past Friday kicked off our first official recruiting weekend. Although the first weekend seems to come earlier and earlier every year, the Freshmen and Sophomores have adjusted very well and did quite a professional job hosting our eight special guests! The first day consisted of meeting and greeting, lunch with a couple of teammates, and a grand tour of the gorgeous UK Campus and our training facilities. The whole team gathered later Friday night to cheer on the Lady Cats Volleyball team to a hard fought victory over IU! We ended the night with a late night ice cream trip (always a must for recruiting weekends) and everyone parted ways to rest up for another activity filled day.

Saturday morning the sun rose, and so did the swim team. The recruits met the team at the pool mid-practice. They made it just in time to experience come serious cheering/rocking out (we love our practice playlists!) at the end of a tough set! After practice, the team captains (Haleigh, Joe Retrum, Shane Eliason and Anna Sirmon) got a chance to talk to the recruits and share their UK experience with them over lunch. Then came time for some intense UK Football!

The senior girls' house was scrubbed down in preparation for a pre-game team cookout, and much of the girls' team jumped on board to whip up some delicious goodies for the event! We split our time between eating and socializing at the tailgate and joining other UK athletes at the stadium to collect money and cans for God's Pantry, a local food bank. Then it was off to the game, and before we knew it... another VICTORY for the Cats! After the nail biting win against Middle Tennessee, it was back to the dorms for the recruits and their hosts to watch the Michael Phelps edition of Saturday Night Live! It is always exciting to meet the up and coming competitive swimmers that our coaches have been talking to, and overall, it was a winning weekend... Won the volleyball game, won the football game, and hopefully won over some new UK Swimmers! :)

All for now, but as the season picks up, so will our blogging... stay tuned!

Leah and Haleigh

August 28

Ahhhh we're finally back at UK!

While Leah made it back to Lexington in a quick eight hours, Haleigh, after spending Friday night at her future sister-in-law's bachelorette party, had to depart Alabama earlier than scheduled to escape the looming tropical storm Fay. It was a challenge getting out of the crazy weather in Mobile, but both she and junior Anna Sirmon made it to safety in Birmingham, where they spent the night before making the rest of the trip to Kentucky on Sunday. Thankfully they arrived at UK without any more trouble!

Here in Lexington, we live with three other senior UK swimmers: Kelly Rames, Keli Hnat, and Kristina Sledge. Living with five girls on the team has been an experience of a lifetime (there is NEVER a dull moment!), so we were very excited for Haleigh to get back and complete the "Fab Five" senior class!

By the time Haleigh arrived on Sunday, Leah and the other teammates in Lexington had all been hanging out and catching up over the past two days, but Haleigh jumped right into meeting all the new freshmen (there's over 20 of them!!) as soon as she got back. We invited everyone over for a big team get-together on Sunday, and it became increasingly obvious that the team chemistry this year is going to be amazing ... we absolutely LOVE our new friends!

We had our first meeting with the coaches and the entire team on Tuesday, so it was good to officially meet our teammates who hadn't been able to come over on Sunday. Gary discussed the upcoming year and training changes (we've now moved to morning workouts... more on that next time!) and we basically just got pumped up for a new season!

Classes started yesterday, so we don't have too much to say on that yet ... most of our teachers let us go early after handing out class information and schedules, so it wasn't a bad day at all!

We can't WAIT to get back into the pool on Tuesday. We've both been suffering a little withdrawal since the pool just recently finished being filled, and even though we've been running and working out at the Johnson Center, it's just not the same as being in the water! This weekend will be the last we will have to spend laying out and relaxing before Saturday morning workouts and Sunday sleep-in days creep up on us! We hope everyone has a wonderful and safe Labor Day holiday and we will soon be in touch with an update on the first weeks of training!

Go Cats!

Leah and Haleigh

July 25

Hey Wildcats,

This is Leah Harms and Haleigh Kerns of the Lady Cats Swim Team. We are well on our way to being seniors this coming year and more than excited to help lead the team into what we will call our final season! We both cover the middle distance to long distance swims (Leah opting for the longer, Haleigh opting for the middle), and are usually found training together and hanging out together even when we're not in the pool! Now that you know who we are, we thought we'd give a brief update on what we've been doing since last season ended and hopefully provide a little insight into what being a Wildcat swimmer is all about!

Wedding Photo
L-R: Leah Harms, Kelley Morrison, Lindsay Myhre (Beaudreau), John Brucato, Blair Barrett and Haleigh Kerns

Both of us decided to stay in Lexington for the beginning of the summer. Leah took up an internship in the Athletic Media Relations office, working some grueling hours in doors with our media guide makers and crew. Haleigh stayed to get an Accounting class out of the way during the four week session.

This was the first time either one of us stayed for any time in the summer, and we actually came to love it after adjusting to the new practice schedule and not so crowded Nicholasville Road . We practiced every morning with the team, had weights in the afternoons with Coach Tracey, and killed time lying out on our concrete backyard when the sun came to visit. We actually made it our own little oasis after a while, outfitted with mattresses and our music playing ... just call it a day at the beach minus the sand!

Other than that, we we're working, cooking out with other teammates who were around for the summer, or taking sometimes daily trips to visit Chatham Penrod working at a local ice cream shop, which is delicious! (Gotta get your calcium!). We also had a new dog in the house that Jenna Newsome so kindly "adopted" for a month. Teaching him how to sit, shake and use the bathroom outside became somewhat of an obsession for us all! After our work and class ended, we stayed around for a little while longer and got to send our teammates off to Omaha for Olympic Trials. It was so much fun to watch them swim online, and we were so proud of their success! Leaving Lexington was bittersweet. We had to say goodbye to everyone that we wouldn't see again until August, but we were both anxious for our 8 and 10 hour drives to home sweet home!

Two weeks after we left Lexington , we both flew out to Denver for a mile high wedding! Our good friend and former Wildcat breaststroker, Lindsay Myhre (Beaudreau!), got married on July 12, and we had an absolute blast celebrating with her. Two of our other former teammates, Kelley Morrison and Blair Barrett, were part of the bridal party, and even Coach John (Brucato) made it all the way out to Colorado for the big day, so it turned into quite the reunion weekend for us all. We stayed at Lindsay's house, and as the "bride's groupies," we pretty much tagged along to wherever she went- from the nail salon to the rehearsal and everywhere in between! However, we did manage to leave her side on the big day to do some shopping for the wedding gift (nothing like the last minute!), and after sending the Beaudreaus off on their honeymoon, we took an extra day in Denver to do some downtown exploring. All in all, it was probably the best weekend of the summer thus far and we were SO not ready to leave when Lindsay's dad dropped us off at the airport!

But we're both back home now (Haleigh in Alabama, Leah in Virginia) and have been mostly just staying in shape in the pool and teaching a few swim lessons here and there. We've also been lacing up our running shoes (when it's not too unbearably hot!) and hitting the road in preparation for some intense pre-season dryland workouts. Of course it's not all hard training, though; because we've also been hitting the beaches with surfboards in tow when the waves are good . . . we like to call it cross-training. :)

As much as we love being home, we are definitely PUMPED to get back to Kentucky in a month! We can't believe we're already seniors, but we are so excited for this season because we know it has definite potential to be the best year ever. We have an amazing incoming class of freshmen, so we're really looking forward to meeting them and reuniting with all our teammates that we have dearly missed this summer! So keep checking back with us. I'm sure we'll have tons of good stories to share once we're back at school!

Go Cats!

Haleigh and Leah