By LARRY VAUGHT
Brittany Cervantes, the all-time home run leader for Kentucky, has not been surprised by the success the UK softball program has had under coach Rachel Lawson since she graduated in 2012.
“She is a very smart person. Every day she is learning something new, trying to implement something new into practice,” said Cervantes, Lawson’s first recruit at Kentucky. “I think our recruiting class helped jump-start the program (with four straight NCAA Tournament berths) and I am very thankful I was part of that.
“I wanted to make a difference and make a change in the program that is still continuing. Now the team expects to win and I am glad we helped set that level. The national recognition, nice stadium and other things associated with the program are nice to see.”
Now Cervantes is back at Kentucky as a graduate assistant after a professional softball career and hoping to help continue those winning ways Lawson has made the norm. Kentucky has most of its key players back from a team that reached the Super Regional again last year and is aiming to make a run to the College World Series this year.
“You always want to say we are going to go to the World Series. As long as the girls believe it, it could happen,” Cervantes said. “We have a lot of freshmen this year but at the same time we have it where everybody has to compete and that’s fun to see how players respond.”
Cervantes coached at Loyola (Chicago) for 2 1/2 years before a chance to play professionally in Japan ended her coaching time there.
“I could not pass up that opportunity in Japan,” the new UK grad assistant said. “I loved playing in Japan. You had to go with an open mind and accept the culture outside of softball. Their softball culture is intense, though. I had one day off each week and we practiced from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. They live and breath softball. Each team is allowed two foreigners and it is a big commitment to make for six or seven months. You don’t get to see your family and communication is not easy but I loved every second of that experience.”
Cervantes always wanted to get her Master’s degree and felt the timing was “right” to join Lawson’s staff this season.
“I just never put my foot down and said I was going to get that Master’s. If I was going to do it, what better place than Kentucky? I want to have a purpose for what I am doing and coach Lawson said I would be silly not to come back here and help out. I always take her advice to heart, so here I am back in Lexington,” Cervantes said.
Cervantes was a volunteer coach at UK the season after her playing career ended but admits that was a “difficult transition” because she still had friends playing on the team.
“Once I got past that it was just nice to learn the other side of what coaches do,” Cervantes said.
She’s not sure about coaching in the future but knows she wants to stay involved in college athletics.
“I would love to stay in softball and it could be as an administrator or maybe marketing,” Cervantes, an all-SEC pick her senior season and still the only UK player to hit 10 or more homers each year she was in school, said.
She did wonder if she might be the oldest student in her graduate classes, but quickly learned there were other students her age — or older.
“So I can’t complain about classes because there are students older than me and some of them even have kids,” Cervantes said.
She was an undergrad broadcast journalism major at UK and worked as a student news reporter and production assistant for the UK news station where her jobs included operating cameras on set, reporting the weather and running a teleprompter.
“We rotated weather to sports reporter to anchor to co-anchor,” she said. “We all did camera work. I enjoyed it all because it put me out of my comfort zone. It helped me appreciate that the news media does.”
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If you would like to meet Cervantes — or other UK coaches or players — the annual UK Softball/Baseball Fan Day will be Sunday from 4-7 p.m.