With things slowing down just a bit over the holidays, I’ve had some time for reflection. I’ve thought about where we are and where we’re going. I’ve thought about what we have accomplished and what we are working to accomplish in the future. I’ve thought about all the people that make this place so special, from fans to student-athletes to coaches to staff.
As we close 2014 and move into 2015, I want to share a few of those thoughts with you, first by looking back.
We began this year by capping a record 11th-place Directors’ Cup finish for the 2013-14 season. But as we did that, I challenged everyone involved with UK Athletics to seize that momentum and pursue even greater things. So far, that challenge has been accepted.
Thanks to the work of our student-athletes and coaches, our fall sports got us off to a good start. Led by Jon Lipsitz, our women’s soccer team turned an incredible finish to the regular season into our first NCAA Tournament national seed and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time ever. Our volleyball team reached the NCAA Tournament yet again, making it 10 straight postseason berths with Craig Skinner as head coach. Our men’s soccer team reached the NCAA Tournament as well in spite of relying almost exclusively on underclassmen in Johan Cedergren’s third year. Football fell short of the bowl berth we all wanted, but the progress of our program under Mark Stoops is unmistakable.
Our winter sports have kept the ball rolling, led of course by our top-ranked men’s basketball team. John Calipari’s group has been truly a pleasure to watch so far this season with its unselfishness, talent and commitment to defense and I only expect to have more fun through conference and postseason play. Our women’s basketball and rifle teams, as usual, have given us plenty to be excited about as well and I look forward to the schedule heating up for all our teams in 2015.
I also want to make sure I recognize some of the standout individual performances we’ve seen this year, because there have been plenty. Bud Dupree is the first player who comes to mind. Watching him develop into the player and leader he is today has been so special and we’re thankful for everything he’s done for our program. We wish him the best as he prepares for the NFL Draft and congratulate him on being named to the All-SEC First Team, where he was joined by Austin MacGinnis.
Arin Gilliland has made a similar impact on our women’s soccer program. After she was honored with the Honda Inspiration Award this summer, she had the best season of her decorated Kentucky career, earning All-America and SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors in the process. I know she will continue to represent UK well as she moves on to a professional and international playing career.
Fortunately, we have a year left with Morgan Bergren and Callum Irving, who had great seasons for our volleyball and men’s soccer teams. Morgan was named an All-American, while Callum nearly swept Conference USA postseason awards.
Our student-athletes continue to make us proud off the field as well, starting with our cumulative GPA of 3.112 for the fall semester, our fifth straight semester with a GPA of better than 3.0. We are lucky to have so many positive role models on our campus, like AFCA Good Works Team member Max Godby from our football team and Good Works Team nominee Bria Goss from our women’s basketball team. Balancing practice and game schedules, class and life is a challenge, but our Wildcats do it well.
I’d like to close by expressing my heartfelt appreciation to our fans. Thanks to your feedback, your passion and the work of my staff, BBN First has helped make game day at Commonwealth Stadium and all of our events that much more special this season. We know we have work ahead of us – and I’ll talk more about that next week when I look ahead to 2015 – but the atmosphere at games like our win over South Carolina tells me we are headed in the right direction.
Your support means so much to us, and it’s about much more than what happens on game day. Take Alex Poythress as an example. After he suffered a season-ending injury earlier this month, the outpouring from the Big Blue Nation was incredible to watch and I know it uplifted him at a difficult time. I want to thank you for that and ask that you continue to show that kind of care for student-athletes from all 22 of our sports. It means more than you know.
I’ll be back later this week to talk about what’s on the horizon for UK Athletics in 2015. In the meantime, I hope you get to ring in the New Year with family and friends.
‘Til the Battle is Won,