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Softball Staff Named NFCA National Coaching Staff of the Year

Rachel Lawson is the winningest head coach in program history with 244 wins.

Rachel Lawson is the winningest head coach in program history with 244 wins.

June 25, 2014

LEXINGTON, Ky. – After the best season in school history, including the program’s first trip to the Women’s College World Series, head coach Rachel Lawson, associate head coach Kristine Himes, assistant coach Molly Johnson-Belcher and volunteer assistant coach Kara Dill have been named the 2014 National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division I National Coaching Staff of the Year, it was announced Wednesday.

"This is a really special moment for our program,” Lawson said. “What this award really means is that you are doing things the right way and have outstanding people in your program from top to bottom. Coach Himes and Coach Johnson-Belcher have been here at Kentucky with me every step of the way and Kara Dill has been a key part of our program the past five years as a player and now a coach. But, our student-athletes are the ones that have to bring it every day on and off the field and I am so grateful to all of them, past and present, for their hard work. Everybody in our program comes to work every day wanting to make sure we have a product the Big Blue Nation can be proud of and this honor tells me that we are definitely heading in the right direction."

Lawson and Co. led the Wildcats to a banner year in 2014, setting a program record for wins in a season with 50, marking the highest winning percentage in school history with a 50-19 record. The squad set several school records en route to the WCWS, including single-season records for runs scored (319), doubles (80), home runs (71), RBI (280), total bases (783), fielding percentage (.972), ERA (2.24), inning pitched (485.0) and strikeouts (403). The UK offense hit five home runs in a game in 2014 to tie the program record in that category, while the UK pitching staff recorded three no-hitters.

The season started with Kentucky winning its first 12 games for not only the best start to a season in program history, but also the longest winning streak in the program’s 18-year history. UK used the early momentum to earn its sixth straight appearance in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, advancing to the championship game for the first time in program history.

The postseason success didn’t stop there for UK, which earned the No. 14 national seed in the NCAA Tournament, marking the second straight year it had earned a national seed and hosted a NCAA Regional. The appearance in the NCAA Tournament was UK’s sixth straight, ranking one of just 21 schools nationally to claim that honor. The Wildcats defeated Ohio, James Madison and DePaul in the regional to advance to the NCAA Los Angeles Super Regional against No. 3 UCLA, winning the final two games of the three-game series against the 11-time national champions to punch their ticket to the 2014 WCWS.

In the WCWS, UK took down No. 6 Louisiana-Lafayette in the opening round for its 15th win over a top-25 team in 2014, which set a new program record. The Wildcats fell to Alabama – the eventual national runners-up – in the winner’s bracket before dropping an elimination game to highly ranked Baylor the following day to end its successful season.

The Kentucky staff, which also won the NFCA Southeast Region Coaching Staff of the Year honor, just completed its seventh year under Lawson, who is the winningest head coach in program history. Himes, who came to Kentucky with Lawson in 2008, and Johnson-Belcher, who made an easy transition from UK’s first All-America honoree in 2009 to assistant coach in 2011, have had an extraordinary impact on UK’s success, helping develop UK’s offense and defense, while Lawson handles the UK pitching staff. Dill, who exhausted her playing eligibility in the spring of 2013, made an immediate impact on the program as the volunteer assistant this season, helping mentor UK’s slap hitters and working closely with the full-time staff on scouting.

The staff took over a program seven years ago that had one winning season in 11 years and, after a 17-37 transition year in Lawson’s first season, the program has surged to become a national contender with five winning seasons in the last six years. Prior to Lawson, who holds a 244-172 record as UK’s head coach, Kentucky had never made the NCAA Tournament, but in the seven years under the new staff, UK has made six NCAA Tournaments, three Super Regionals and one WCWS.

The staff has not only coached some of the best players in the nation with 10 UK players earning 25 All-SEC honors, including three Wildcats named all-conference in 2014, but they have beaten the best teams in the nation with 55 wins over ranked teams the past seven years, including 30 over top-10 teams.

In the staff’s seven years at UK, the Wildcats have set single-season program records in games played, wins, highest winning percentage, consecutive wins, extra-inning wins, batting average, runs scored, doubles, home runs, RBI, total bases, walks, fielding percentage, putouts, ERA, opponent batting average, runs allowed, earned runs allowed, hits allowed, doubles and strikeouts.

This is the first ever NFCA honor received by the UK coaching staff in program history.
 
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