You could almost sense a quiet confidence exhibited by Mitch Barnhart when talking about his athletic program last month. This, even after a disappointing fall sports campaign that saw zero teams participate in post-season play.
Perhaps now we know why.
In desperate need of some positive momentum, the athletic program has finally started to reap the benefits of its newfound commitment to so called, "other sports," while also starring in their regular winter passions on the hardwood.
Men's Basketball, always the banner holder this time of year, currently boasts a #9 national ranking. Tubby's Cats have gotten off to a hot-start at 12-2 and 3-0 in the SEC. With an extremely weak conference slate this season, the men's basketball team should conclude 2005 as a top 3 seed in the tournament.
Women's Basketball has finally started seeing the results expected out of a stellar recruiting class of a year ago. Coach DeMoss and her Wildcats are now 13-5 and on the brink of the Top 25 for the first time since her arrival two years ago. The 'Cats recently knocked off nationally ranked Georgia and moved there undefeated home record to 10-0. Had it not been for a rediculous foul call against Alabama on the road, the Wildcats would be 3-0 in SEC play.
Gymnastics is one of the biggest surprises in the country right now, starting off 2005 as the 10th-ranked program in the country. That's right, your University of Kentucky Wildcats currently boast a top 10 ranking and although they had a minor slip up against #13 Arkansas this past weekend, look to head to the NCAA Championships for the first time in years.
Men's Swimming & Diving, unlike Gymnastics, was supposed to be one of the top programs in the country this season. Returning All-American Daniel Cruz and a host of newcomers, the UK Men's Swimming and Diving program is #12 in the country at 6-1 and 3-1 in the SEC. Expect them to give UK its best run at a national championship in a sport other then basketball this year.
Rifle currently boasts a #9 national ranking. Although they have sputtered to a 5-3 record, Mullins' Rifle squad continues to find ways to be a national contender.
Women's Swimming & Diving currently holds a 4-3 record and a 2-2 record in SEC play. The women are expected to have a rebuilding year, but will score some Sears Cup points for the 'Cats in the new standings based on individual scores.
All together, UK's sports programs have received a vote in 5 of 6 winter sports programs UK currently participates in. They boast of top 15 rankings in 4 of the 6 and quite possibly could be the most improved athletic program in the SEC at this point.
Much more is set to come in the spring sports, where the Cats already anticipate big things from pre-season top ten ranked Men's Golf (#6/#7) and nationally ranked Men's & Women's Tennis at #13 and #14 respectively.
Plain and simple, Barnhart's getting it done, slowly but surely. By this time next year, there is no telling what the program might boast of next.