For many University of Kentucky sports fans, the 2014-15 school year will always be defined by two things:
1. The exhilaration of the men's basketball team winning its first 38 games of the season; 2. the crushing deflation when the Cats' bid for an unbeaten national championship was ended by Wisconsin in the Final Four.
Yet history will show that the best finish by a team representing UK this year had nothing to do with the Men of Calipari. Instead, the top result by a UK squad came last weekend when the women's track and field team finished as runner-up in the 2015 NCAA outdoor championship meet.
In a sense, this was fitting. The epic men's hoops season notwithstanding, 2014-15 in UK athletics should be remembered as The Year of the Woman.
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With only the NCAA baseball championship still to be decided, Kentucky sits 22nd in the Learfield Sports Directors' Cup standings. Those ratings measure overall strength of athletics departments by assigning points based on how schools perform in NCAA championship competition across all sports.
Of UK's 794.5 Directors' Cup points, a whopping 70.8 percent (563) has been scored by Kentucky's women's teams — and that does not include the 64 points accumulated by the coed rifle team.
The Kentucky women have produced team breakthroughs. The track and field finish of second in the outdoor championships is the best in school history. The soccer team advanced to the NCAA Tournament round of 16 for the first time ever.
After a difficult conclusion to its regular season, UK softball went to its third-straight NCAA tourney super-regional, an unprecedented level of sustained success for Kentucky. Women's tennis made a second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time since 2008-09.
UK female athletes have shattered barriers. Swimmer Christina Bechtel won the silver medal in the NCAA 200-meter butterfly championship, the highest finish in school history. Golfer Isabelle Johnson became the first Kentucky woman to qualify for the NCAA championships as an individual since 1998. Gymnast Sydney Waltz was the first Wildcat to qualify for the NCAA championships as an all-around competitor since 2002.
Soccer star Arin Gilliland was not only the first Kentucky player ever drafted by the Women's Professional Soccer League, she went No. 8 overall to Chicago. Basketball standout Jennifer O'Neill made the roster of the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx as an undrafted free agent.
Track and field stars Kendra Harrison and Dezerea Bryant, both transfers from Clemson, almost by themselves made UK nationally relevant in their sport.
Harrison, a senior hurdler from Clayton, N.C., won NCAA championships indoors (60-meter hurdles) and outdoors (100 hurdles) this season. She came agonizingly close to becoming only the second woman to win the 100 and 400 hurdles in the NCAA outdoor championships, finishing second in the 400. The track coaches' association just named Harrison its National Female Track Athlete of the Year.
Bryant, a senior sprinter from Milwaukee, shook off early-season injuries to win the 200-meter dash in the NCAA outdoors, running the second-fastest wind-legal time (:22.18) in NCAA history.
A nice component of UK's Year of the Woman is that home-grown athletes have played substantial roles.
West Jessamine's Gilliland became the first UK woman ever named All-America (second team) by the national soccer coaches' association. SEC Diver of the Year Rebecca Hamperian went to Lafayette. Heather Kirby, a Shelby County product, was named first team All-American in air rifle by the NRA.
Softball standout and UK NCAA Tournament hero Griffin Joiner is from Christian County. Marion County's Makayla Epps became a star-caliber basketball player as a sophomore. In volleyball, SEC Libero of the Year Jackie Napper is from Assumption in Louisville.
Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart deserves ample credit for investing in women's sports to a degree that has allowed Wildcats women's teams and their athletes to succeed at lofty levels.
The challenge for UK now is to get the men's programs — basketball excepted — up to the high roads that Kentucky women traverse.