Quotes from the Softball Team Regarding Their NCAA Selection

May 13, 2009

Head coach Rachel Lawson

What was going through your head when you saw your name up on the television screen?
“The first thing that went through my mind was I wanted to see all the looks on their faces because I'm so proud of everything they've done this year. They deserve it. They work hard and just for them to feel this moment for the first time is very special.”

You said at the beginning of the year that anything less than the postseason was a disappointment. What did you see at the beginning of the year?
“When we came out the first weekend, I really didn't expect us to do as well as we did. What I expected early because we're so young was to kind of struggle early and learn the game. If I could keep them together, I felt like that was my job, then we'd be OK for SEC play. We actually came out much faster than I ever would have expected and we never looked back. We had some games where we definitely could have played better, but we never had huge stretches where we didn't play well. Once that started to happen and I saw how steady we were and how mature we were, I knew we would be OK.”

When you started winning those early games, did that steadily build confidence in your team?
“At first when they'd win a big game, they didn't know what to do. And then they would win a second one and a third one, and then after about the end of February, beginning of March, they started to understand that, that was who they were. From then out it was just a matter of learning how to beat SEC teams, which we did a pretty good job of that.”

You've been building toward this point, but just seeing your name up on the TV screen, what does that do for your program?
“It's huge for the program because now they finally understand they're on the big stage. That was one of the coolest things about being at the SEC Tournament because I heard one of the players say ‘We're a big deal.' I don't think they understood until they were sitting on the field in Knoxville this weekend that they were a big deal. Now they understand that they are a big deal and now it's just a matter of winning softball games and they don't worry about anything else.”

Were you nervous at all when you didn't see Kentucky after the first 32 teams were announced?
“I wasn't nervous because I saw the teams that we'd beat, although I was nervous to see where we were going to go. I hadn't see Ohio State's name go on the board yet so I was hopeful that would happen. With how they pick teams geographically, that one makes sense.”

What do you think of the draw?
“I think it's great because we're close to Lexington. Ohio is a good state for us anyway because we have a lot of family there. Ohio State is a very good team. We're going to have to play well to beat them, but before we get to them we have to play BYU. They've been in the tournament so many times and they really are a good team too. We're going to have our hands full but thankfully we've played such a good schedule that I feel like once we get out there and we start playing we'll be OK.”

Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart

Just talk about making the tournament for the first time in school history.
“Rachel and this group have done a remarkable job. We're really proud of them. It's the first time in school history. With the schedule she took on, I don't even think she knew what she was taking on at the beginning of the year. It turned out to be one of the top-five schedules in the country. At one time it was ranked No. 1 in the country. To do what they've done with a very, very young team, and I know that she doesn't like to talk about that, but it is a very youthful team, so I'm very proud of them.”

The program has been building toward this point, but just seeing Kentucky on the TV screen, what does that do for the program?
“I think it does remarkable things. I think it confirms that they can compete with anybody. They have beaten some of the best teams in America. From early on in the season when people don't know much about you to late in the season to beat Georgia at the SEC Tournament and take Alabama to the wire is remarkable. A lot of times when young teams get started they win early because people don't know much but as people figure each other out, you struggle late. This team not only succeeded early – they lost a very talented pitcher (Chanda Bell) to an injury – they still found a way to manufacture runs and to pitch and compete and play well throughout the season in one of the most difficult leagues. (The SEC) has nine teams in the tournament and to finish sixth in the regular season and get to the (tournament) semifinals, it's remarkable what they've done. Rachel has kept them loose the whole time and allowed them to compete at a high level.”

We asked Rachel what she saw in this team that had her convinced before the season that they were going to do well. What did you see in Rachel when you hired her that you knew she was going to do this?
“You always hope to find in your coaches people that have a great competitive desire, great balance in the way they approach it and she does all that. She's got a tremendous knowledge of the game. Her approach to the game is fundamentally sound. She likes to create runs and offense which I think is imperative in the game. I think to try and win everything 1-0 or 2-1 is very, very difficult. She's created an offense that allows us to score runs. Clearly what goes on in the circle is important. If you don't have somebody in the circle, you can't win. That's been a struggle for us. She's found a couple of young ladies who have actually competed for us in the circle and that gives us a chance. They're very young and that's encouraging for Kentucky softball going forward. Rachel is a tremendous, tremendous competitor. One thing I really like about her is there really are no obstacles. She doesn't see things as obstacles. She just sees them as opportunities. She doesn't talk about youthfulness, she doesn't talk about weather, she doesn't talk about stadium size, she doesn't talk about the conference we're in. She just sees it as an opportunity. We talked about a week ago and I said, ‘Do you think we're in?' She said ‘I hope we're in. We're going to have a little get-together. Is that a mistake?' I said ‘I don't know, you tell me.' She said ‘It's an It's an opportunity to learn.' She always talks about the opportunity to learn. You learn from everything you do. I think these girls have learned from everything that Rachel has taught them and continues to teach them. She's a great teacher as much as she is a great coach.”

Were you nervous once they got to the bottom half of the bracket and Kentucky hadn't showed up yet?
“You get down to the last sets of eight and you start going ‘Oh, my goodness.' We've seen this before with a couple of our teams before. When we saw the teams that were in there ahead of us, it was like if they got in, there is no way we didn't get in. We just hoped it would have happened sooner rather than later and not have to wait so long. I'm just thrilled for them. They've done a great job and she's done a remarkable job in two years.”

Junior shortstop Molly Johnson

Just talk about the excitement of getting into the tournament for the first time in school history.
”It was really exciting. It's the first time in my three years here (that we've made it). I'm just really happy for the team. There is a lot of excitement. When the first couple of pages went up we were a little nervous, but as soon as we saw Mississippi State go up, we had a pretty good idea.”

You had to go through two tough seasons in your first two years at UK. Did you ever see this point coming?
“When I first came in, I knew it was going to happen at some point. I don't know if I expected it to happen this year, but I guess all our hard work is finally paying off.”

Talk a little bit about the confidence of this team after a big weekend at the SEC Tournament.
“After the SEC Tournament I think our confidence is soaring. The win against Georgia really helped and taking Alabama to extra innings, I think a win would have been better, but extra innings against a top-five team like Alabama totally helped a young team like ourselves, so I think our confidence is really high going into this weekend.”

What did you see in this team early on that you knew you all were going to be much improved this year?
“We never gave up. Even if we were losing there was still a lot of fight. I think that really showed in our first (conference) weekend against LSU. I think we were down 5-0 and we came back to win that game. There is a lot fight and tenacity in our team, so I think that really pays off.”

Junior second baseman Natalie Smith

Just talk about the excitement of getting into the tournament for the first time in school history.
“All the hard work has finally paid off. We're really excited to go to Ohio State. It's near Kentucky so a lot of people can travel and we think we're going to get a lot of fans. It's definitely a regional we think we have a good shot of winning.”

You had to go through two tough seasons in your first two years at UK. Did you ever see this point coming?
“These freshmen have no idea how big of a deal this is because they haven't had to go through the past two years of losing seasons, ups and downs and coaching changes, but it's all worth it right now and any problems that we've had in the past, everything has just kind of melted away.”

What do you think about the draw?
“I'm psyched. I think we can win it, knock on wood. I'm not superstitious, but I think we have a really good shot of going to Supers.”

What do you think about this huge gathering with friends, family, Mitch Barnhart and Coach Calipari?
“We were just told to be at B-dub's at 9 o'clock so I thought it was just going to be the team. And then I walk in and the girls were all with their families and then everyone was whispering, ‘Coach Cal is here, Coach Cal is here.' Mr. Barnhart and all the athletic people, our media crew, academics, strength and conditioning, it just shows what a family UK Athletics is. It's just really awesome to have that support system around us.”

Sophomore catcher Megan Yocke

What was it like for you experiencing this?
“Honestly, I didn't even know what was going on really. I've heard of selection weekend but I've never really watched it, so it was a new experience for me and it was a lot of fun. It was nerve-wracking because we didn't know when we'd get picked or if we'd get picked for sure, but it was fun to be here with the team and then have the administration and everyone around too.”

Can you put your finger on how you were able to turn the program around so quickly?
”You know it surprised me too because I didn't expect it to be this quick. I expected it to come but I didn't expect it to be in a year. I think a lot of our experience helped and then our freshmen stepped up real quick. They got thrown into the fire as soon as they got here and they handled it extremely well. They're gaining experience as we go, which is huge in postseason, and the returners have gained a lot of experience just getting at-bats.”

After beating Georgia in the SEC Tournament, how do you all feel going into the NCAA Tournament?
“We're extremely confident right now. We think that we can pretty much take on anyone. We've faced a lot of top-25 competition earlier this season and we played extremely well against them, and we've gotten better throughout the season. I think if we faced those same teams again we could have an even better run.”