When Rachel Lawson was named head coach of the University of Kentucky softball team in July 2007 she saw a program poised for success. She knew athletics director Mitch Barnhart and the rest of UK's administration would give her unwavering support and most importantly she knew the Big Blue Nation would provide the home-field advantage necessary for her team to compete in the Southeastern Conference.
Now entering her seventh season as UK's head coach, Lawson's vision for the UK softball program has started to become a realization. The winningest head coach in program history has not only lead UK to two NCAA Super Regionals the last three seasons, including a program-best 41 wins in 2013, but UK's administration come through on their promise and commitment to softball by providing Lawson with one of the nation's greatest collegiate softball facilities in the $9.5 million John Cropp Stadium.
Lawson and Co. made sure the beautiful stadium had a sparkling first season as UK earned the No. 12 national seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament - the school's first-ever national seed - and hosted a NCAA Regional for the first time ever. The stadium also hosted the 2013 SEC Tournament and broke the overall attendance record for the tournament as over 12,000 fans entered through the gates of John Cropp Stadium that weekend.
Although Lawson's 2013 team did not achieve its ultimate goal of winning the Women's College World Series, it was a banner year for Lawson and the Wildcats. Now sitting at 194-154 in her six seasons at Kentucky, Lawson is the winningest head coach in school history and already has more wins in SEC play than UK had all told as a program when she took over in 2007. UK also finished 2013 in the top 14 of both collegiate softball rankings for the second time in school history with nine wins over ranked teams.
The 2013 squad started the season 19-4 record, tying the best start in school history. The strong start came after UK won eight consecutive games, which also tied the longest winning streak in school history. Kentucky's success continued in conference play as UK posted a winning record in SEC action for the third straight year and fourth time in school history with a historic series win in Tuscaloosa, Ala., against the defending national champion Crimson Tide. It was not only UK's first ever win in Tuscaloosa, but the first time UK had ever won the series against the perennial national power.
Lawson's accomplishments stretch well beyond 2012 as UK has advanced to five consecutive NCAA Tournaments - one of 23 teams nationally to claim that honor. Lawson has directed the Wildcats to 30 or more victories in five-straight seasons, which also resonates as a program record. In her six years with Kentucky, Lawson has defeated 36 top-25 teams, including 13 wins against top-five teams and helped UK players earn 22 All-SEC honors and 16 SEC Player of the Week honors.
Lawson's impact on the UK program is obviously, but her ability to develop players sometimes gets overshadowed by her impressive credentials in handling the day-to-day running of a program. Lawson, who serves as the pitching coach for the Wildcats, has guided three different pitchers to throw no-hitters against top-25 teams in just the last two seasons alone. In all, UK has nine career no-hitters - all of which have come under Lawson's tenure - including two perfect games.
Kentucky's 2012 season was highlighted by an impressive second-half surge with upsets of 12 ranked opponents, a Lawson-best fifth place finish in SEC action, a program-record six captured conference series and a senior class who became the first class in school history to tally a .500 record or better in each of their four seasons of play.
The end of the 2012 season also marked the conclusion of some of the best individual careers in UK history as Lawson helped pitcher Chanda Bell become the first player in school history to record 200-plus strikeouts all four seasons, while slugger Brittany Cervantes is the school's leading home run hitter. Pitcher/infielder Rachel Riley also excelled under Lawson, ranking top 10 in school history in field percentage and nearly every pitching category. In 2011, Lawson directed the Wildcats to their first NCAA Super Regional appearance and finished the season ranked No.12 in the country.
The 2011 team earned a 40-16 overall record to set a new single-season standard for wins in a season before Lawson's 2013 team posted 41. UK appeared in the national rankings for a school-record 14 consecutive weeks, defeated 12 top-25 ranked opponents, captured five SEC series and became a national story with a dramatic postseason run which included a seventh-inning rally to knock off the nation's No. 2 team in Michigan in Ann Arbor to advance to Super Regionals.
The 2011 Wildcats shattered 12 single-season UK records, including home runs (65), RBI (275) and batting average (.275). Individually, the Wildcats had a school-record five players earn National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-Region honors in Meagan Aull, Cervantes, Kara Dill, Riley and Megan Yocke. Following the end of the impressive 2011 season, Lawson was rewarded with a five-year contract extension keeping her at the helm of the Wildcat program through 2016.
In 2010, the Wildcats charted a 32-27 record and entered into the national rankings for the first time in program history, while also knocking off five top-seven ranked opponents on the year. Behind the pitching tandem of sophomores Riley and Bell, the Wildcats broke school records in nearly every pitching category. Kentucky's offense continued to make strides as well with improvements in batting average, home runs, RBI and sacrifice hits for the third consecutive season under the direction of Lawson.
Lawson led the Wildcats to their first NCAA Tournament appearance and charted the school's first postseason victories in 2009, just her second season leading Kentucky. UK notched a 34-23 record and the first winning season in UK history in nearly 10 seasons. Kentucky upset three ranked opponents on the year, including No. 7 Georgia in a 2-0 victory in the SEC Tournament. Molly Johnson became the school's first All-America selection when she was voted to the second team in 2009. Kentucky earned 13 victories in conference play, and finished sixth overall in league action.
In her first season at the helm, the Wildcats had numerous season highlights. Johnson blasted a two-run home run to knock off No. 6 Tennessee in extra innings, helping Lawson claim a victory in her first career game in the Southeastern Conference. Three players were named to All-SEC teams, including Johnson to the conference's second team while freshmen Aull and Yocke were tabbed All-Freshman team performers.
Lawson's impact on the program was immediate as many Wildcats broke into the school record books under her tutelage. Pitcher Amber Matousek became the first pitcher in 10 years to record 10 or more strikeouts in a game when the sophomore right-hander achieved the feat three times in the season. Johnson set the school record for most doubles (20) in a season, while rocketing up the school charts for career home runs, doubles, batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage.
During the season the head coach also charted her 100th career victory in a 5-1 UK triumph over Eastern Illinois on March 1. Lawson became the winningest head coach in program history on April 10, 2013 with win No. 182 against Eastern Kentucky in Richmond, Ky.
Lawson became just the third head coach in the history of the Kentucky softball program after spending three seasons at Western Kentucky. She also served as an assistant coach at Maryland from 1996-2002 and was the associate head coach of the Philadelphia Force professional team in 2006.
Lawson tallied a record of 92-84 (.523) during her tenure with the Hilltoppers. In her first season at WKU, she led the Toppers to a spot in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship game. Picked to finish last in the preseason poll, WKU tied for second in the conference standings after setting a school record with 12 Sun Belt victories. The Billings, Mont., native led WKU to a 33-24 record in 2005 and reached the 30-win plateau again in 2007.
Lawson and the Hilltoppers battled nine NCAA Regional participants in 2006, including four teams ranked in the top 25, while finishing third in the Sun Belt regular-season play. She guided the squad to wins over perennial powers Long Beach State, South Florida, Mississippi Valley, as well as No. 13 Louisiana-Lafayette and No. 21 Louisville. In fact, then-freshman pitcher Ryan Rogge tossed the school's third no hitter against the Ragin' Cajuns in WKU's 8-0 victory.
The win handed UL its first run-rule defeat in an SBC contest. Three Hilltoppers - Lathrop, Rolfs and Rogge - each earned SBC Player- and Pitcher-of-the-Week honors throughout the season, as Rolfs and outfielder Alana Towns notched all-conference honors.
Lawson was a two-time all-conference player at Massachusetts, where she was part of a program that advanced to the 1992 Women's College World Series, and has seven years experience as an assistant coach at Maryland.
During her four-year career at UMass, Lawson helped the Minutewomen post a combined record of 142-68 (67.6 percent) including a 39-3 (92.9 percent) Atlantic 10 mark. In addition to the 1992 WCWS appearance, she was a part of squads that also advanced to the NCAA Tournament her freshman season, won three A-10 Tournament titles and claimed the league regular-season championship four straight years.
Lawson was honored individually for her accomplishments on and off the field. She was both an All-Conference and All-Atlantic 10 Tournament performer in 1992 and 1994, and was also named to the A-10 Academic all-conference squad following each of her final two seasons.
Lawson joined the Maryland staff in 1996 and helped the Terrapins post six winning seasons in her seven years in College Park. Her responsibilities included recruiting, scheduling, organizing practice and travel, as well as running camps and clinics. In 1999, Lawson and company were selected the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Mid-Atlantic Coaching Staff of the Year after leading the Terrapins to a 51-23 record, their first ACC regular-season title and the championship game of the NCAA Region II Tournament.
During her time at Maryland, Lawson helped eight individuals earn NFCA all-region accolades -- with an All-America honoree in 1999 -- and nine players collected all-conference honors.
A 1994 graduate of Massachusetts with a degree in exercise science, Lawson also earned her master's degree in sports management from UMass in 1998. She is the daughter of Elaine and Gerald Lawson and has 12 siblings.