All the University of Kentucky track team needed was a breath of fresh air.
In his three years as head coach, Edrick Floreal has turned the third-ranked UK women into one of the pre-eminent track and field teams in the nation.
UK sends 13 women's entries to the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore., this week, including Southeast Track Athlete of the Year Kendra Harrison and second-team All-Southeastern Conference performer Dezerea Bryant.
Under a new format, the women compete Thursday and Saturday. The men, including three from UK, are scheduled for Wednesday and Friday.
"It's a lot better than last year," said Floreal, who was named Southeast Region Coach of the Year this week. "I think as you walk into a championship feeling like you have a chance to win it's a lot more fun, a lot more exciting."
UK is one of six SEC teams in the top 10, with only host Oregon and Arkansas ahead of the Cats.
"It's funny," Harrison said. "In the past people saw Kentucky and didn't really think of much, but now when they see us they're thinking, 'OK, now we have to be on our A-game to beat Kentucky this year.'"
The biggest difference in this team from years past has been a focus on toughness. When opponents step up to the line, they know they have to give it their all because, as Harrison said, "we're giving it our 100 percent every time."
Harrison, a transfer from Clemson, has enjoyed a tremendous senior season. She won the 100-meter hurdles at the SEC Championships and took second place in the 400 hurdles.
She is the top seed in both events at the NCAA Championships.
"The year is pretty cool because she has been undefeated," Floreal said of Harrison's 100-meter events. "She hasn't lost a sprint/hurdle race yet. She's won everything indoor and everything outdoor. She's performing consistently at the highest level."
When an athlete wins a race and doesn't even feel as if she was running her best, you know you have something special, Floreal said.
"I don't know if many women have been undefeated," he added. "Even in rounds or preliminary rounds. She hasn't lost anything. It's good to go with that when you don't know how to lose, you find ways to win."
Floreal said he's not sure Harrison has tapped her full potential in the 400 hurdles.
"I think she's been going through the motions," he said. "Just doing enough to be competitive, but I think now she's understanding that she's going to have to put out a legitimate effort to win the NCAAs."
Floreal called Bryant, who will run the 100 and 200, his dark horse.
Bryant, who also transferred from Clemson, practiced with the men's team leading up to the championships.
"She did the workout with the guys, and they all threw up," Floreal said. "I think she is in the best shape of her life. I think people are going to be really shocked."
The 5-foot-1 sprinter has faced her share of trauma.
Her brother Antuan died in a car accident in 2012. Nine months later her brother Steve was shot to death.
Those events taught her to focus and fight through adversity.
"I've been faced with some injuries," Bryant said. "I've had to really tune in and focus on what I want to get done. Remaining calm, not pressing and not being so tense."
She hopes to be the surprise of the event.
"I plan to," she said. "I hope to get out there and execute my races. I know if I get out there and execute the best that I can, that I know I can, it's going to be special."
During the SEC Championships, Byrant broke the school record in the 200, which was the second-fastest NCAA qualifying time out of the East.
"She's going to light up the track," Floreal said. "I'll be very disappointed if it's not an absolutely fantastic performance. She's going to be the one who can turn the meet around for us."