UK Track & Field Emerging as National Power: A Notebook

By Jacob Most
May 27, 2015 -

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- As Kentucky track and field head coach Edrick Floréal enters the stretch run of his third season at the program's helm, the vision he articulated at the start of his tenure comes into clearer focus each day.

By any measure -- and on an accelerated timetable -- Kentucky has emerged as elite in college track and field.

National championships have been won individually, school records have fallen by the dozens, the University has hosted elite-level meets to rave reviews and most importantly the student-athletes have succeeded in the classroom.

Put another way, Floréal's program is relevant. Recent news has added evidence to support the claim.

Women's team ties school-record ranking at No. 3

Kentucky checked in at No. 3 in Tuesday's national computer rankings, released by the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.

The ranking is the team's highest-ever outdoor ranking. The Wildcats were also ranked a school-record third nationally in the penultimate rankings of the 2015 indoor season.

The USTFCCCA Computer Rankings use an algorithm to predict how many points each team will score at NCAAs. The rankings are a projection of the teams' finishing order, taking into account not just where athletes are on the national list, but the likelihood of each athlete finishing in scoring territory.

Indeed, the Wildcats enter this week's NCAA East Preliminary Championships looking to position themselves as contenders for the National Team Title.

The opportunity exists, according to the USTFCCCA computers. The percent margin between No. 3 Kentucky and top-ranked Southern California (256.93) is the fourth-closest in the history of the rankings.

But the field for the 2015 NCAA team title is deep. As deep as it's ever been. Eight teams are considered serious contenders in the most recent projections.

The tightness of the team race will be the story of the this week's Preliminary Championships, as teams across the nation look to maximize the number
of athletes they send to Eugene, Oregon and the NCAA Championship Finals.

Bryant, Dykstra and Harrison named Academic All-District

Kentucky's heavy hitters have taken the program to unprecedented success the past few years. The heaviest of those hitters: NCAA Champions Dezerea Bryant and Kendra Harrison and NCAA Silver Medalist Raymond Dykstra -- the three of them also SEC Champions -- have also led the Wildcats in the classroom.

The trio has embodied the holistic success Floréal demands, and they've recently begun to receive credit for their academic prowess. Bryant, Dykstra and Harrison were named to the 2014-15 first-team Capital One Academic All-District Track & Field/Cross Country Teams last week.

The Academic All-District teams recognize the nation's top student-athletes for their combined performances athletically and in the classroom.

First-team Academic All-District honorees advance to the Capital One Academic All-America Team ballot, where first-, second- and third-team All-America honorees will be announced in June.

• Bryant, who was Kentucky's first-ever women's sprinter National Champion when she won the NCAA 200 meters in 2014, is a SEC Champion and 10-time SEC Medalist to go along with 10 SEC Medals and 15 All-America honors. She is a USTFCCCA All-Academic and SEC Honor Roll selection, and has bumped up her GPA to above a 3.5 since coming to UK while developing into a NCAA-Champion athlete.

• Dykstra, the reigning NCAA Javelin Silver Medalist, is an SEC Champion and three-time All-American in addition to being the reigning Canadian National Champion. A multiple-times USTFCCCA All-Academic and SEC Honor Roll selection, he graduated earlier this month with a final GPA of 3.5. Dykstra was UK's 2015 men's nominee for the prestigious SEC McWhorter Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award. He was recently named "Mr. Wildcat" at the CATSPYs, the highest individual honor the UK Athletics Department can bestow.

• Harrison, the reigning NCAA 60m hurdles Champion, is a five-time SEC Champion and the third-fastest 60m hurdler and 100m hurdler in collegiate history. She was named to the 2014 USTFCCCA All-Academic team and to the SEC Honor Roll as she has become a 3.5 student at UK while going undefeated in SEC short hurdles races. She is also a 12-time All-American.

Women's Cross Country APR Award

Kentucky's women's cross country team received an award for its Academic Progress Rate score, the NCAA announced last week.

The Wildcats received the honor for placing in the top 10 percent of Division I schools in cross country. The APR provides a real-time look at a team's academic success by the progress of each student-athlete on scholarship. The APR scores are a four-year composite, covering the 2010-11 through 2013-14 school years, that measure eligibility, retention and graduation.

Women's cross country has won the award two years in a row.

"Our athletes continue to prioritize academic success, and this award highlights that," Floréal said. "Our CATS (Center for Academic and Tutorial Services) academic counselors, Passion Richardson and Mike Pirrman, have played a key role not just supporting and guiding our athletes, but preparing them for the NCAA model of going pro in something other than sports."

Indeed three of the top-four performing teams at UK in terms of APR are directed by Floreal: women's cross country (1,000), women's indoor track and field and women's outdoor track and field.

First-Time College Graduates

The honors and awards are nice. The team success is great. Producing potential Olympians? Fantastic. National Championships: glorious.

But the ultimate objective of college athletics is to provide young people with greater value to their college experience. In many cases college athletics provides a platform to attain degrees for those who otherwise would not.

And the UK track and field and cross country program has done so to great effect. In the women's cross country team's case, they've done it at an award-winning level.

And among the most special of such cases are the three Wildcats who became the first college graduates in their families when they walked across the stage in Rupp Arena at commencement earlier this month.

For those families, and indeed for those Wildcats, those degrees' value is immeasurable.

To-date accomplishments in the Floréal era

• Two NCAA Individual Championships
• 21 SEC Individual Championships
• Three school-record NCAA Championship finishes
• 42 All-America selections in two-plus years
• Two Track & Field News top-10 recruiting classes
• 34 USTFCCCA All-Academic Selections
• Three first-in-their-family college graduates
• Two NCAA APR Awards