2018 Softball Media Day Quotes
RACHEL LAWSON: Well, I want to thank everybody for being here. This is pretty cool because there's a lot more people here today than there have been in the past. I remember the first time we did media day, there were two people and one of them was Shoals and he was a freshman and he had his iPhone out there asking me questions. It's really cool to see how much softball and baseball have grown, particularly all the excitement that's been around softball for a while, and baseball had just such a tremendous year last year, so I'm really excited for that.
As far as softball is concerned, I think something that's great that's new on the horizon is as we're building our brand new baseball stadium, super excited about that, we've also had an opportunity to enhance softball, and this year we've added a berm to us, so when the weather finally turns, you'll get to see the green grass, and it's going to be something. And the reason this is so special to me is because it shows a continued commitment by the athletic department to enhance the softball program. I mean, it's a very expensive thing that we weren't counting on and budgeting for the season, so the fact that our athletic department was willing to chip in and do this is incredible.
It's also a big deal because we have had the opportunity to host either a regional or a super regional five times since 2011. Our team is a mainstay now in regionals and super regionals. We've been in super regionals several times the past few years. We have had an appearance in the Women's College World Series recently. So we are definitely a team that the Big Blue Nation can get behind, so I'm very excited about this commitment.
You know, our team is very interesting. We are returning some unbelievable players. We have great strength in our position players that are coming back. Our outfield right now is probably the best it's ever been with returning Vick, Henson, Rainwater -- who am I forgetting? Oh, Brooklin, our senior, yes, Brooklin, who is an amazing person. We have also added Lauren Johnson, who's been incredible. She's fast. She's a freshman. Offensively she hit over .400 in our scrimmages, so she's going to add a lot to pop to the lineup. So I feel incredible things are on the horizon for our outfield.
Our infield, also, returning some tremendous players. On the left side, we have Abbey Cheek and Katie Reed coming back, who in my opinion are probably one of the strongest left sides in the entire country. We have Alex Martens coming back on the right side right now. She's at second base, and she is doing incredible. My hope was to move her to first base because I believe she would be one of the best first basemen in the country. But she seems to not be getting beat out at second base. So that really says a lot about her work ethic and her commitment to her speed.
The one position that we're not sure right now what we're going to do, I think we have a really solid plan at the beginning right now, Mallory Peyton has done an exceptional job there. Autumn Humes, who's a transfer, also, has done a good job there, and one of the reasons we have a little bit of a hole at first base is because we anticipate that Erin Rethlake will have a much bigger role on the mound than she's had in the past. Last year was really a coming-out party for her. She did an exceptional job.
And I'll tell you, I was so impressed at the work she did in regionals and in super regionals. To be able to pitch in those games and to have that big-game experience coming back is something that our program has always had as a cornerstone, and we believe that Erin is going to be able to take that, and along with our pitching staff, the rest of them is a little bit unknown, but I feel really good about where they're at.
Autumn Humes came in. She is my first-ever transfer at the University of Kentucky, and I feel really great about this being my first transfer. She is an incredible pitcher. She's incredibly strong, and she has a big, big, big personality that she is just starting to understand. I think that once she gets some big-game experience at the Division I level, she is going to be a force to reckon with.
Grace Baalman, also somebody over the past, I would say over the past four or five months, is a completely different pitcher. She's throwing consistently 65, 66 miles an hour with spin, and for a freshman to be able to do that is tremendous. So I feel great about where they're at.
Also returning is Larissa Spellman, and I'll tell you, Larissa Spellman is somebody that could really shock some people. She had her best game last year against Mississippi State. I missed it because I got ejected, but you know, it's something that we still talk about. And what I loved about that appearance is we were in a really bad place during that game, and here's somebody who's barely warm, came in, put the team on her back and carried them. So that really showed us what she could do, and she's just a sophomore. And then of course we have Bethany Todd, who's from down the road, that can really spin the ball.
Another player that I'm super excited about who has just recently really started to show the type of player that she is is Ashley Ruiz. She has done an exceptional job defensively. She also adds depth to the pitching staff and is really starting to hit the ball well. So those players -- I'm probably for getting a couple, but right now those are the ones that seem to be standing out in our team scrimmages and putting up tons of numbers.
And as the other players continue to develop, I think we have a very deep team going into 2018.
Q. You talked about your stadium, and obviously people driving by can see it, and it makes an impression, but how vital has the hitting facility been for the development of your program over the last two or three years?
RACHEL LAWSON: Well, our facility is amazing for a lot of reasons. So what the country sees is they see it's really blue, and that was something that we wanted when we designed it, and the hitting building is the largest for softball only in the country. And I think for the Big Blue Nation to say that they can do that and support women's athletics on that level really says a lot about this administration.
With that said, the real value in the hitting building is that our players can come and go and work on their own, and the reason that that's essential is because our team GPA, which is things that really don't get talked about, it's been over a 3.4 over the last 11 semesters. In fact, the three women sitting in this room right now all have a 4.0. That's not why they were picked. They were picked because they're good softball players. But they also happen to be outstanding students.
And the only way that you can be an outstanding student and be able to compete at such a high level is if you have the support of your athletic department, not only in our incredible Cats but also we have the athletic facilities so that they can work their class schedules the way that they need to, and they can get their work in.
The other reason it's essential is because in today's day and age with all the new rules that the NCAA has out there, it kind of puts people who are not very self-motivated at a disadvantage. So if I can go out there and I can recruit individuals who are incredibly self-motivated, are self-starters, that you can tell them what they need to practice, then they'll go out there and they'll do it on their own, and that is probably the secret of Kentucky softball. As great as our facilities is, it always comes down to the people, and I've been so lucky to have tremendous people who are willing to work hard, work at their craft and continue to improve all the years, and it says a lot about them, and it says a lot about the administration.
Q. Could you talk about why you only had just one transfer? Has that been a policy or just the way it worked out?
RACHEL LAWSON: Well, it's not a policy of mine. I think in today's day and age, you start to see people in and out. I think the most important thing in an individual's career is playing time. I know a lot of people see the awesome Nike Swoosh and they see the awesome Big Blue and they see all those things, but all those things are tremendous, but they're even more important if you're the person between the white lines. And I think that Kentucky is such a cool, cool place that it's really, really hard to leave. And so I think that that doesn't create a lot of room on that end.
With that said, I think I've been really fortunate in that I've had a lot of players that have been willing to get in there as freshmen and continue to develop and get better and better and better, so they've been really hard to beat out. So we just have -- it's a program that you just don't have to insert quick things. It's something that has a lot of continuation.
So I think that has a lot to do with the transfer. So I'm certainly open to it, but if the players are willing to put in the work and they're willing to develop, we've had a lot of luck with that system.
Q. You had a lot more speed last year, but on-base percentage was last in the SEC, I think.
RACHEL LAWSON: Well, there's a couple of reasons for our offensive numbers, and one of them is I would have to change my philosophy. So when you have 56 games -- I can go about my wins one of two ways. I can either go out there and create a schedule where we can beat the heck out of every single team that we play until we get into conference play, and we can score a lot of runs and do things, or I can put together a schedule that is tough, and if we get some of those big wins, then we're able to become a national host. And when you do that, it's in your non-conference games that you boost all of your offensive stats. So some of the reasons the offensive stats are low is because I'm chasing a national seed, because we are the University of Kentucky, our goal is to win championships. The goal is just not for me to go out there and pump up our stats.
So if I keep the schedule the way I keep it, I don't expect that our overall stats will ever be leading in the country. I think our weather has something to do with that, as well, because we play the first 15, 20 games on the road. And I think that's really tough.
With that said, we do have to get better offensively, and I think what we've done to enhance that is, number one, we are returning our six top hitters, so I think that's great. We have a lot of speed, but when they would get on base, we weren't knocking them in. I think now that Alex Martens is a year older, I think Abbey Cheek has hit a new level, and she's one of the most exciting players. I think Brooklin Hinz, also. She's a big RBI hitter who's done a great job in the postseason. We're hoping she takes a leadership role and does that throughout the entire time.
Mallory Peyton, who is a freshman, led us in hitting this fall. So I think we have a lot of players who can do that. Katie Reed is significantly better now this year than she was at this point in time last year or even when she was a freshman. So I think that we have a lot of offensive players that are going to be able to drive in runs.
So I think when you can couple that, I think you'll do well.
The other thing I would say if you look at our SEC only stats, we are very good. Katie Reed was one of the top hitters in the SEC, when you take SEC-only stats.
So when you're looking at stats as a whole, they can be misleading depending on what your team goals are.
Q. How do you feel about your catching this year?
RACHEL LAWSON: Those are the two I didn't mention. I love my catching. Okay, so Jenny Schaper I think is tremendous. She is a junior. She's been starting since she was a freshman. And one of the reasons I think Jenny Schaper is so great is because we've added leadership training to our program. Last year she was part of -- just the captains did it, but this year our entire team did it, and I think where she adds to our team is she has a steadiness and she has a calm. I've never seen a championship caliber team without a great catcher. So I think she does an unbelievable job with the battery in keeping them calm, and she has to handle a lot of different types of pitchers, and they're all a little wild right now. So I think that she does it so well is a strength of ours.
Rachel Metzger also has really stepped up her game this year. She's done a much better job handling the battery, and when she's not behind the dish, she's also played first base for us last year.
So I feel great about our battery as a whole, and especially as our catching. Our catching is one of those positions that have -- we have led the -- we have been one of the best in the SEC over the last 10 years behind the dish.
One thing I forgot to mention is we had fan day last week, and I know a lot of you guys were out there, and it was exceptional. But one of the things that I noticed is I had not seen the baseball team in a year. I had not seen them in uniform. I had not seen them -- I mean, I see them come and go in the weight room, but I hadn't seen them very often, and I looked at them, like wow, they are really strong. And then I looked over at our team, and I went, wow, they're really strong. And then I started thinking about it, and both of us have the same strength staff and the same nutritionist. So I wanted to make sure I would be remiss if I didn't mention that because I think that our athletic department, one of our strengths at UK is our commitment to that part of the game, and I think both of us definitely excel in that level.
Q. Is there any boost to the department as a whole, this kind of south campus athletic village built with the new baseball stadium and soccer?
RACHEL LAWSON: Yes, I think the boost is twofold. One, I think we have been winning for a little bit, but this year we're on national TV 12 times. Not just the network, which our school does a great job, our video department does an awesome job putting all of our games on that platform, but the fact that we're on national TV 12 times is unbelievable.
Then when you add the excitement of the baseball team doing so well last year, so you had two teams who are really, really getting it done on the ballfield and adding some excitement to the group, and then as you add soccer in the middle, now we can actually see the construction when we're coming in on Alumni, it adds to the overall feeling of what an unbelievable athletic department. And last year the fact that we finished 10th overall nationally also gave a big boost to us. But we would not have finished 10th overall if softball and baseball hadn't closed the deal, along with track, at the end of the year.
So I think that there's a big buzz right now. Now, though, the hard part is, we've all done this, what's next. And I think that's the key for softball, at least. We're thinking about what's next. We've been to super regionals several times. We've been to the World Series. We're on to what's next, and I think to continue to strive to be the best is what really drives this athletic department.
#8 Erin Rethlake, Sr.
On getting the ball in the circle more this season …
“I’m honestly really excited. I’ve had a different role the past three years and it’s been different each year. This year, the way they’ve talked about it, I would be throwing a lot more. I know we have a really good incoming class of pitchers. As a staff, we’re really strong. I’m just excited to do whatever the job is needed that day.”
On what’s next for the program …
“It’s been really exciting that we’ve been to Supers, we’ve won Regionals, we’ve been doing these things year after year and we always are that one step short. Coach always talks about it’s a game of inches, and it always is to us. So we’ve been adding depth, and the amount we’ve added this year is something we’re really looking forward to and hopefully (we’ll) end up in (Oklahoma City), which is our overall team goal.”
On her improved hitting last season …
“Last year, we were out west for a series and we were in the middle of a game and coach said ‘hey, why don’t you slap’ and I had never done that before. When she asked, I tried it in a game and we kind of just built off of that. I could see the ball a lot better, I was a lot more confident, just because it was something new. We ended up working on that and it just changed the entire game for me last year in the box.”
On taking on the legacy of UK pitchers …
“I welcome it, very much. It’s been an honor of mine to get to learn behind the girls that have been before me. Kelsey Nunley my freshman and sophomore year, Meghan Prince last year, Shannon Smith. Getting to throw behind them has been something that I get to sit back and learn from day in and day out and I think that only helps me more this year as I step into this different role.”
“I feel confident in both aspects (pitching and hitting). I try to separate the offense and defense. I think that’s really crucial.”
#23 Katie Reed, Jr.
On UK Softball being underrated …
“I think the country kind of views Kentucky softball as the underdog. Some of the other SEC teams that have historically been in the World Series, been at the top, I feel like some people don’t expect us to be there. But we believe in ourselves, we believe in our training and hard work and passion for the game and I think that’s what’s going to separate us this year.”
On developing her legacy with UK Softball …
“I think I’ve always had high goals for myself and that started with my parents. They set high goals for me when I was younger. When I got here, my coaches and teammates believed in me and believed that I could do these things that, I don’t know that if I believed I could do those. But once I had their support, I set the goals higher.”
On her developing self-confidence …
“I think that coming to college, being away from home, having to do things more on my own, that kind of forced me to grow up a little more and be more confident in myself. Being shortstop last year, I think I had to take more of a leadership role and I think that helped me develop more confidence.”
On taking on even more of a leadership role …
“Yeah, I think we’ll have a couple of freshmen who will be impact players for us. And we have some really great sophomores as well, and I think they kind of look up to the upperclassmen, especially in times of adversity in games. I know when I was a freshman, I did the same thing.”
#2 Bailey Vick, So.
On being SEC All-Freshman and All-Defense ...
“It’s incredible to get recognized like that. I could have never dreamed. I used to tell my dad – I remember in middle school – Coach Lawson would come to a tournament and I would say ‘if I could just have a Kentucky uniform on. I’ll be the bat girl. I just want Kentucky across my chest. I’ll do anything.’ Really, that’s been my dream and the fact that I get to play on the field and represent Kentucky is just incredible. Just being recognized for working hard, for putting in time, I couldn’t ask for more.”
On the outfield this year ...
“I feel a lot more comfortable in the outfield this year. Knowing that I kind of feel like I belong there. Last year I was a freshman; I wasn’t really comfortable. Now, I just feel like I can call balls more, I belong out there. I think our communication is a lot better out there and we trust each other more. It’s all around a lot better.”
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