UK had its share of injuries last season. Is everyone ready to go for this season? Not exactly. While many of the once-injured players have been cleared, they've been held out of specific drills to avoid re-injury, which has made for some creative practices. Center Eleia Roddy (four knee surgeries) is back at 100 percent, as is forward Victoria Dunlap (scoped knee). Carly Ormerod (foot) missed 16 games last season because of the injury but has been relatively pain-free, as has Amber Smith (knee surgery). Lydia Watkins is still battling a stress reaction in her tibia, but has returned to practice after sitting out a month of the pre-season.
With only 11 players on the active roster, will depth be a problem? If there are more injuries like last season, depth could definitely be an issue. Of the 11 active players, three saw less than eight minutes a game last year. If those players stay on the bench, UK has little depth at key positions, but Coach Matthew Mitchell said the team has enough versatility that UK should be fine.
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The team lost four seniors and brought in just one junior-college player in the off-season. Is there a problem with recruiting? Mitchell says no. "I could go out and sign a bunch of players to make us look like we're busy and on the ball, but as we got into some very competitive recruiting situations, what we ended up with was one player coming in and transfers we felt like could help us." He is excited about junior-college transfer Jackie Sanders and the addition of transfers Rebecca Gray (North Carolina) and Keyla Snowden (Akron), who will both be eligible next season. The next couple of years show some promise with verbal commitments from in-state stars like Iroquois' Adia Mathies (2009) as well as Lexington Christian's Sarah Beth Barnette and Nelson County's Samantha Drake (both 2010).
UK lost four starters and valuable leaders to graduation. Who will lead the team now? Mitchell swiped a concept from football coach Rich Brooks and had the team vote on a leadership council that will work with him. Mitchell had the team put forward four leaders to start the season. They are Ormerod, Roddy, Smith and Carly Morrow.
With so many losses to graduation, is this a rebuilding year? "Somebody on the outside may look at it that way," Mitchell said, but the coach, his staff and players do not. They see a wide-open SEC as well as a core group of returnees who could lift UK to the next level. There is no doubt with so much youth, though, that Kentucky could have some adversity along the way. "This team has amazing possibilities," Mitchell said. "I don't lack confidence at all."
How will Kentucky score points? UK lost its top two scorers in Samantha Mahoney and Sarah Elliott, but seven of its next eight scorers are back. Even with Elliott and Mahoney, UK was, as Mitchell called it, "challenged offensively" last season, ranking near the bottom of the SEC in every offensive statistical category. But injuries were a big problem last season. If the Cats can stay healthy, look for big point production from Ormerod, Roddy, Dunlap and Smith as well as a few others who have the potential to put up big numbers like Watkins, Amani Franklin and Sanders.
What will be the identity or calling card of this year's team? Mitchell teams, as well as Mickie DeMoss teams before them, pride themselves on defensive prowess as well as rebounding. UK was successful in both categories last year and finished fourth in the contentious SEC. The coach expects this team to have a similar pedigree, with many defensive stars and a lot of bulk and strength inside. He also called this UK team among the most athletic he's seen, which could mean more running and gunning.
Both Smith and Ormerod are back from injuries. Who will play point guard? If both remain healthy, look for Mitchell to try to put the guard duo on the floor together as much as possible. Most likely Smith will see big minutes at the point spot and Ormerod will move to shooting guard. Having two players on the floor at the same time who can run the offense and shoot with three-point accuracy can only help Kentucky this season.
Kentucky got two new assistant coaches in the off-season. What effect — if any — will they have on the team? Assistant coaches Kyra Elzy and Matt Insell have provided a fresh, new outlook and a new shot of energy. They have personalities that are similar to Mitchell's, which makes them mesh well with the coach. Assistant Wendy Palmer remained on the staff from last year. Mitchell was especially complimentary of Kentucky native Elzy, who also serves as recruiting coordinator. "I did not anticipate her being as good as she truly is," he said. "A lot of people over-promise and under-deliver, but she delivers."
Is UK really the seventh-best team in the SEC, as the media voted it in the pre-season? Your guess is as good as the media's, or Mitchell's for that matter. "There's more uncertainty surrounding this SEC season than any I can remember being involved in, and this is my eighth or ninth year through the conference," he said. The SEC appears to be wide open, with only two teams (Vanderbilt and Auburn) returning the bulk of their talent from last season. Teams like Tennessee and Louisiana State lost most of their starters and some subs and may not be pushing around everyone in the SEC this season, at least not right away. "It's a great year of opportunity," Mitchell said.