By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Whomever said that there’s “No Place Like Home” must have had the 2013 University of Kentucky softball team in mind.
The Wildcats are preparing to move into a brand-new $9.5 million stadium – and just in time. Kentucky will serve as host of the 2013 Southeastern Conference Softball Tournament May 8-11, giving the Wildcats the opportunity to showcase a state-of-the-art venue in conjunction with some of the finest competition in the country.
Kentucky, which has appeared in four consecutive NCAA Tournaments and hosted a Super Regional in its 500-seat facility two years ago, is looking forward to the opportunity to host the upcoming league tournament in what is now one of the nation’s top venues.
“The Lexington community has just been awesome,” Kentucky head coach Rachel Lawson said. “When we hosted the Super Regional two years ago, fans came out in droves. It just goes to show you that softball has become an awesome spectator sport across the country. It means a lot to our program to have our venue on the national stage with all of the great teams of the SEC coming in.”
The new 1,500-seat UK Softball Complex includes new dugouts and grandstands, complete with chair-back seating, but also includes a number of first-class amenities, including new locker room and lounge facilities, additional bleacher seating along both lines and a new press box.
“We were really fortunate to be able to learn from all the amazing facilities in the SEC, take good ideas and combine them with a lot of our own,” Lawson said. “We designed it with three things in mind: First and foremost our student-athletes, secondly we made it for TV so we could have great events like the SEC and NCAA Tournaments, and we also made it for the fans. We have had an unbelievable fan base the last two years. For people who have been coming out for standing room only to be able to sit in our brand new stadium means the world to me.”
Outside of what the fans might see, the UK Softball Complex also will feature a hitting pavilion, an indoor infield and bullpens, ensuring the ability to perform a complete practice no matter the weather.
“We have a full infield inside and four long cages,” Lawson said. “We also have two cubed areas and mounds have been built in the ground. This gives us the ability to hit live and field infield practice in depth. This has all been taken into consideration so that we can work out if it’s raining or a little bit colder. We wanted to make sure we did all of those things.”
Lawson, who is 153-133 in five years at the helm including 102 wins the past three seasons combined, credits Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart for his support and commitment to helping the UK softball program in its quest to join the nation’s elite.
“Since Mitch has been here, there has been an unbelievable commitment to softball,” Lawson said. “We have always been able to travel to any tournament across the country and provide for our student-athletes at the highest level possible. A program needs continuity to be successful and he has made a huge commitment to me, our assistant coaches and other staff around us. He knows all of the players and what they’re going through. The athletes feed off that and that’s one of the reasons we have been so successful the last five years.”
The rise of Kentucky’s program, Lawson believes, has coincided with a golden age for the sport nationally in terms of interest and popularity. The SEC Softball Tournament alone features all games on the ESPN family of networks, including the championship game being aired on ESPN.
“Softball around the country has become such a big deal and you can see that with the facilities in the SEC – they are unbelievable venues to play in,” she said. “The sport of softball has really benefitted from work put in by conferences like ours and with ESPN putting so many games on television. Words can’t even describe how awesome our new facilities have been.”