By Boyd Hayes | @KernelHayes
It has been a good year to be a female athlete. On a global level, Sarah Attar was the first female to compete for Saudi Arabia in the Olympics in June.
Nationally, the sporting world celebrated the 40th anniversary of Title IX, landmark legislation that looked to stop gender discrimination in all education matters, including athletics.
And here in Lexington, Matthew Mitchell and UK Hoops are cooking up an exciting season that kicks off on Friday with Big Blue Madness.
Released at the beginning of month, Lindy’s Sports Magazine and Athlon Sports Magazine both have UK ranked as a top-10 preseason team.
Beyond predictions, Mitchell has another strong roster to work with, despite losing stars Victoria Dunlap and Keyla Snowden in recent seasons.
This season’s squad will be led by senior guard A’dia Mathies. Selected as the 2012 SEC Player of the Year, among a slew of other achievements, Mathies is set to close out her college career as one of the most decorated players in recent UK history. In fact, she is already No. 12 on the all-time scoring list (1,435 points) and No. 6 on the career steals list (251). The Louisville native is also one of 25 players nationwide named on the preseason “Wade Watch” list, and is included in several preseason All-American lists.
New faces on the court this season will be transfers Jelleah Sidney and DeNesha Stallworth (All-Pac-10), freshman McDonald’s All-American Janee Thompson, and sophomore guard Jennifer O’Neill. O’Neill sat out last season with an injury, but was selected to play for the Puerto Rican national team in Olympic qualifiers over the summer.
Also set to impress in blue and white this season is 2012 SEC Freshman of the Year, sophomore guard Bria Goss. She was named to the SEC All-Freshman team and was AP All-SEC honorable mention last season. Averaging 11 points per game, Goss is the second-leading returning scorer for UK behind Mathies.
Rome, however, was not built in one day.
This season has been a long time in the making, starting with the hiring of Mitchell as head coach prior to the 2007-08 season. After struggling to records of 17-16 and 16-16 in 2008 and 2009, respectively, the coach and his team have since gained their footing.
When looking back on the past three seasons, the accolades pile up quickly: three-straight NCAA Tournament appearances (making it to the Elite Eight in 2010 and 2012) for the first time in school history; 2010 and 2012 SEC Coach of the Year (Mitchell); three straight SEC Player of the Year awards (Dunlap in 2010 and 2011; Mathies in 2012); 2010 and 2012 SEC Freshman of the Year (Mathies and Goss, respectively); 2012 SEC Sixth Woman of the Year (Snowden); and winning the regular season SEC title for the first time since 1981-82.
There also have been big wins over major rivals and highly ranked opponents such as Duke, Louisville, Tennessee, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.
A list to turn heads, no doubt, but fans want more. UK computer science junior Joey Simpson wants to see UK Hoops receive more time in the limelight.
“UK students need to see the women’s basketball players for the stars they are. They work hard, win games and put dedication into their education,” Simpson said. “They’re basically the unsung heroes of UK.”
UK fans will get a chance to see the women’s team as well as the men’s when the seats are filled in Rupp Arena on Friday night for Big Blue Madness.
The opportunity to see both men’s and women’s teams is a prospect that has many excited.
“Everyone is excited to see the men’s team because they won the national championship last year, but I’m glad that the women’s team is going to be there, too, because they are so good and I don’t want that to get looked over,” said Julie Hays, an elementary education sophomore and longtime UK Hoops fan.
“There’s definitely an energy left over from the men’s season that can inspire our new men’s team, but I think it will also help our women’s team do even better than last year.”
In this year, which we’ve been reminded of the struggle women have faced in gaining acceptance in the world of sports, we have also been reminded of their triumph.
Along with Title IX and Attar, audiences saw Baylor’s Brittney Griner explode onto the sports scene in a way women’s college basketball players rarely do, shedding a little more spotlight on the sport as a whole.
After all, basketball was ruled too strenuous a sport for women at UK for the 50 years between 1924 and 1974.
Now a team in full force, UK Hoops will look to carry not only its own momentum, but the gravity of women’s sports in 2012 into this coming season, hoping to generate a greater presence in the public eye and prove that it is indeed a very good year to be a female athlete.