Opening statement... "I was asking Gary (Henderson) what I should say and I want to give you guys something to write about and he told me to tell them how much I love the baseball coach, so you can start with that and I'm sure his wife will appreciate that. First I want to thank UK for allowing us to be here today and I want to thank baseball and I think this is a pretty cool event because I love the Big Blue Nation but nothing is more exciting than the start of softball and baseball season for us. Our team, we are going through where we have pretty much had a core group for the previous four seasons and this is going to be a really exciting year for us because we have eight new kids and quite a few of them will start and the ones that don't start I expect to get significant playing time right off the bat. We also have a good core returning, so I think this is a really exciting time for us because you are going to see a new look. In addition, we are opening an unbelievable stadium thanks to Mitch Barnhart and everybody who supported us through that. So I think it's a really good time to be involved with UK Softball."
On the new stadium... "What is not better? Well first of all when you all come out to a game, because I know the media has been waiting to get out there for a lot of things. The press box is going to be unbelievable. It is going to be state-of-the-art. So in the past the radio people had to share the same chair and the same microphone and all that sort of stuff. So anyway it is going to be unbelievable for that. The stadium was made with a couple of things in mind. Number one, first and foremost it is for the student athletes. It is going to provide us with an opportunity to train at the highest level possible. There are certainly unbelievable stadiums in the SEC, but nobody is going to have a better set up when you take the stadium and new indoor facility into consideration. It is going to allow us to prepare and it is also going to provide them an opportunity to be more efficient with their time so we continue to have a high GPA and all those things, which is why these athletes still go to school so they can get a degree and get a great job and donate back to the university. That's going to be unbelievable, so it's for them and it's also going to be great for recruiting. Finally, for our fans, we have had an unbelievable fan base the past few years and they have come out in droves and we have been putting up temporary bleachers and all sorts of things so now we have a stadium that matches the people that work here and the fans that come out and watch us play every day. So I am very excited we are entering this time period."
UK head coach Rachel Lawson is in her sixth season with the Wildcats.
On newcomers... "I think they're all going to make an impact. I think that athletically, this is certainly, top to bottom, the most gifted class we've brought in. You certainly have to look at Sylver Samuel. She is by far the fastest person I've ever coached. Other than Nikki Jones, who I didn't have an opportunity to see live, I think she'll be the fastest player that ever played here. Along with Darington Richardson, who is also incredibly fast so I think we're going to add some speed to compliment Kara Dill and our aggressive base-running style so I think that's awesome. Then you have to look at our infield, who has certainly gone through transformations. Three or four of them are gone now. Christian Stokes is probably one of the best softball players I've ever seen athletically, Maisie Steed is incredibly heads up, Nikki Sagermann is probably one of the best young hitters I've ever seen. You have to look at Ansley Smith. She can do it all. She's a great middle infielder, she's a great hitter and then you have to look at our pitchers. We have two outstanding pitchers who came in as freshman. So I think once they figure out how to do things and they learn a little bit from Lauren (Cumbess) and Ellen (Weaver), I think they're going to be able to solidify us. I think we've got it all covered in the infield and outfield with this group. I'm not sure who's going to start opening day but I anticipate there will be four or five new kids in the starting lineup on day one."
On pitchers following Chanda Bell... "Well you certainly can't discredit everything that Chanda Bell did here. She changed Kentucky softball forever, which was very cool. Lauren is awesome and she's probably one of the best athletes I've ever coached and I've got a great story on her. I remember when I was recruiting Lauren and she was probably the easiest going player I've ever met. She's like `I just want to pitch in college and that's what everyone thinks I'm going to do' and I remember I was like `Yeah, you're a great pitcher.' I would tell her anything she wanted for her to come here. So I'm like, `If you want to pitch, you can pitch. Go for it.' Then I remember her senior year, I went out to a high school game and I pulled up to the field and there she is batting third and the first pitch she took over the wall. Then the second pitch she took, it was a changeup, and she took it to the centerfield fence. I was like `Why don't you want to hit in college,' and she told me, `I don't know. People told me I wouldn't have enough time.' It's funny because she is probably one of the best athletes that has ever come through here. What gives me confidence is not only that she's a superior athlete but that she's proven she could do it on a national stage last year. I would argue that at the beginning of the season she was our top pitcher and then she certainly showed it when we played Georgia when she no hit them. That's a very rare thing. Once she's had her opportunities to get in there, she's been outstanding. She's such a good first baseman and we had such a good pitching staff before that we've kept her on the field so actually she's a pretty well-kept secret."
On the goals for the season... "Two years ago, we were one game away from the World Series, so for us there's really only one place to go which is the World Series. Like other teams at Kentucky, we want to win the SEC Championship, but it's actually a lot harder to win the SEC Championship than it would be to go to the World Series, as is proven by how many SEC teams go to the World Series. I think those are our two ultimate goals. Where I think we are, we've made it to four straight postseasons and if I would've made a different decision that one day, I think we would've been in the World Series already. I think we're certainly up there and I think we can do it again. I just think that right now, at the beginning of the season, we can schedule really hard games right off the get go to see where we're at. From there, I think we can really come up with a good game plan and assuming we keep our confidence up and our wits about us, I think we'll be right there in the postseason again, knocking on the door for the World Series."
On travelling on the road... "You never want to go on the road for the first 20 games. First of all, it's nice sleeping in your own bed and second of all, we do have an unbelievable fan base which you can start to see that the SEC home field advantage is really starting to take effect in the last couple of years in the sport of softball. That's also why I'm excited about the new stadium because we'll be able to host. Next year, you'll see our schedule is going to be a little different in that we can host a couple of tournaments at our own field. With that said, softball players, we don't know anything but travelling so it's going to be difficult, but it's a lot of fun. It's 70 degrees in Arizona and I'm pretty sure I was freezing when I was driving here. We're going to love being in the weather and our team is so easy to travel with and easy to get along with. We'll just have to take care of our bodies and keep our minds right, but we're pretty excited and we'll be really excited to get back here March 6."
On working on athleticism... "It has been a conscious effort for us. First of all, I think that Coach (Kristine) Himes is an unbelievable offensive coach and yes she understands hitting skills and mechanics, but I think when you're talking about offense, you have to talk about the whole thing in terms of base running and situational hitting. If we can go out and recruit more athletic people, then we're able to do more things offensively. I believe in the past, we are really good at keeping the runs down, or we have in the past, but if all of our games are within a run or two then that's giving me a heart attack. In order to have a more impactful offense, we definitely had to bring in more speed and we had to bring in more power and just athletic people in general. That was a focus of ours when we went out recruiting and I think you can see the results of those recruiting efforts with this freshmen class."
On the importance of preparing for postseason... "Well it's really important for a couple of reasons. Number one, those of you who followed us last year, I don't know if you realize this, but we had to win the very last game of our season to be eligible for postseason play because you have to have a .500 record. Chanda Bell, on senior day, threw a no-hitter against LSU and Brittany Cervantes had an unbelievable offensive weekend to get that done so that is nerve racking. First and foremost, you have to make sure for postseason play, we had a very high RPI but you have to make sure you have a .500 record. That's something that you're always pushing for when you play in a conference like the SEC. I don't think that a lot of people understand that that's the goal because our RPI is really high. Anytime you put your neck on the line against a Cal or a Washington or an Oklahoma, you're putting that at risk. It certainly would be easier for us to schedule a little bit lighter but if that were to happen, I don't think we would be ready for Alabama , Florida and LSU. It's important to us, number one, we have one team goal and that's to win softball games and number two, we've got to make sure we have a .500 record at the end of the year. Most importantly, we've got to get ready for the SEC. We're hosting the SEC tournament and we would like to be a high seed in that tournament."
On having leadership on the team... "I believe we have an entire team full of leadership. I do believe that our captains are outstanding captains. We have three in Lauren Cumbess, Kara Dill and Alice O'Brien. With that said, I believe there are a number of people on our team that step up in different situations. I think that Ginny Carroll has provided awesome leadership for us. I think that Emily Jolly, who made the switch to outfield this year, has done a nice job of solidifying the outfield. I think that we have great leadership. I'm pretty fortunate that in this program, we year-in and year-out have brilliant student-athletes. They're good in the classroom, they're good on the field and they're blue-collar, level-headed people. So even the ones that are sophomores like Griffin Joiner, are very mature for their age and provide leadership for things that they're good at. I'm not worried from the standpoint that we have two seniors because what everybody provides collectively is pretty special."
On how she thinks this year's team compares to last year's team... "I think we have a lot more depth this year. With the freshman class that we did bring in, defensive-wise, we have depth and it makes it easier for the people who are playing to know you're not the only one, like you have backup who is just as good. It makes practices a lot better, very competitive with one another, that you want to beat that other person but at the end of the day, we are teammates so we did make each other better. Offensive-wise, I think last year it was easy to pick us apart. We were very individuals. We were hitters and base runners but we weren't like collectively an offense. This year I think we have that. We have a lot of the puzzle pieces fitting together and it's going to be a lot harder for opponents to defend us so I think at this point we're in a lot better shape than I felt we were last year."
Senior infielder Kara Dill talks about her final season with UK.
On what she considers her strengths to be... "What I do best I think I'm more of an action-based leader. I don't typically say too much. I think I had to step into that role this year. With the senior class that we lost, there were so many of them that made such a big impact. There's only two of us so we have to make a bigger impact with what we have. But, I think I am more of an action-based leader. I work hard every day. I try to get better every day. There's something that I pick out that I want to get better at. I know I have to get better, especially defensive-wise. Offensively, I have to get on base if nobody's on base. I have to score people if people are on base and I know that's what my role is so that's what I'm trying to accomplish."
On whether the new stadium and hosting SEC's provides more excitement than usual... "Yeah, we got to practice on it last week and the first time that we went out there, and it's not even done yet, we just stood there and were all smiling at it. It was unbelievable going from, when you're on the field you can see everything behind you, to having a stadium there. I don't even know how to explain it. It was the coolest thing. So, we got to practice on it. Everybody is so excited for that first home game March 6. But, I mean we are really excited for this weekend to go out and play Cal, who has beaten us in the past, but they're a good team. We have a really tough schedule so that is really exciting."
Junior pitcher Lauren Cumbess talking to the media Monday during media day.
On what she is excited for this season... "I am excited for the stadium. We were out there a couple of times this year when it was warm enough. I think Coach (Rachel) Lawson already mentioned this but I could not stop smiling looking at it. Everyone is really grateful for it and we are just excited to have a nice area for all of the fans to sit in."
On what it means to her to be named team captain... "I don't really look at it in a certain way. I think everybody, coach says, has a certain leadership role. It is fun to be put in that position. I have always liked being in leadership positions anyways. I think it will be fun with Kara (Dill) and Alice (O'Brien)."
On how in the off season she tried to improve her game and become a better pitcher... "It was more about fine tuning my skills and working every day. I would work on different pitches every day. I would try to become stronger and feel more comfortable with a wider range of pitches. In the summer, I stayed here with eight of us from the team and we all worked out in the morning and then we would practice in the afternoon. We just pushed each other all summer. This fall we had a lot of fall games and practices and just everyday working on something to get better at."