On Monday evening, the University of Kentucky, held its annual awards to highlight the on and off the field of success of its student-athletes. The 16th annual CATSPYs were held at Memorial Coliseum which is fittingly located on the Avenue of Champions in the middle of the UK campus. ESPN personality Sean Farnham and former ESPN and current CNN personality Kaylee Hartung emceed the event for the second consecutive year. UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart kicked off the festivities with an impassioned speech that laid out his vision for the athletic department by asking everyone what is our north star?
Barnhart explained that the mission for Kentucky Athletics is to not only succeed on the field, but to have a positive impact off the field. The UK Athletics Directory highlighted football player Courtney Love, the 2017 winner of the Danny Wuerffel Trophy, which is awarded to the college football player who “best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement.” Honoring Love was just the beginning of a night of recognizing the impact of the Wildcat student-athletes.
The big winner of the night was freshman Henrik Larsen of the Rifle team. Not only did the Rifle team win the 2018 NCAA title, Larsen was the Male Rookie of the Year and tied for the Male Performance of the Year (with Benny Snell, Jr and Tim Duckworth) and also tied for Male Athlete of the Year (with baseball’s Evan White and Sean Hjelle). The Rifle team was the Team of the Year and head coach Harry Mullins was the Coach of the Year.
The Big Blue Nation cares about its teams and the players and it was clear that the athletes care about the university and the BBN in return. Stephen Johnson, the senior quarterback, won the Heart of a Wildcat award for his play in leading the Cats to their second consecutive bowl and a rare win over Tennessee while playing through various injuries. Head coaches Nick Mangione (baseball), Craig Skinner (volleyball), Rachel Lawson (softball) and Ian Carry (women’s soccer) took to the stage to honor five Wildcats with the Blue Heart Award. The award is for student-athletes that have overcome injuries to return to the field and, most importantly, to their teammates. The winners were: Ashley Dusek (volleyball), Erin Rethlake (softball), Payton Atkins (women’s soccer), Brett Marshall (baseball) and TJ Collett (baseball).
For some reason, the narrative that the Kentucky Wildcats are simply men’s basketball and nothing else continues to persist. UK finished ranked #10 in the Director’s Cup Standings (for 2016-17 school year) which lists the best overall athletic departments in the country. Since Mitch Barnhart has taken over in Lexington, he has been committed to making the UK athletic department a Top 25 program and it has been, consistently in the top 15 for the last 6 years.
Every coach and every winner that graced the stage thanked the fans and expressed what it meant to them to be a part of the Big Blue Nation. Not only was the night about highlighting and honoring the athletes, but it was a reminder of how special the BBN really is. Every athlete, from Female Athlete of the Year, Leah Edmond (volleyball) and Asia Seidt (swimming and diving) to Female Rookie of the Year, Sydney McLaughlin (track and field) to Jeff Poole, winner of the Bill Keightley Assist Award to Enrique Facusse (men’s soccer) and Bailey Vick (softball), winners of the Scratch Award, all athletes and coaches and support staff showed how special it is to wear the Blue and White.
Championships are nice and we all enjoy winning. The Wildcat athletic teams have done plenty of that this year, highlighted the volleyball team winning the SEC title for the first time in 30 years and the gymnastics team reaching the NCAA championship round for the first time ever and track and field’s women’s 4 x 100 relay team winning NCAA gold. The NCAA proudly says that not all of the student-athletes will go on to play their sport professionally, most will “go pro in something else.” That’s certainly the case at UK, but I can’t think of better group of young men and women to represent my alma mater when they do head out into the world. Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat.