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When Edrick Floreal left Stanford, one of the nation’s top track and field programs, to lead UK, he did not mince words when describing his goals.
“A friend of mine said, ‘sucking is not something I want to ease out of.’ I’m not interested in easing out of what we are at UK,” he said during his introductory news conference in August.
Now, after his first season on the job, Floreal has already shown signs of improvement in the program with 10 Wildcats set to participate in the NCAA National Championship Meet starting Wednesday in Eugene, Ore.
He inherited a program that saw the men finish seventh and the women finish 12th in the Southeastern Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships the prior season. The Wildcats made slight improvements in those finishes this season with the men and women finishing seventh.
“I think we’ve made pretty good strides in getting them to improve (former coach) Don Weber‘s program a little bit,” Floreal said before his team traveled to Eugene. “I think that the ground work was pretty good, the basement was pretty much well built. I think we’ve done pretty well in building that. But for my expectations? We’re probably not there yet. I think we’ve got a little bit more work to do.”
Six men — Andrew Evans (discus), Raymond Dykstra (javelin), Bradley Szypka (shot put), Luis Orta (3,000-meter steeplechase), Matt Hillenbrand (1,500 meters) and Keith Hayes (110-meter hurdles) — will participate in the NCAA Championships for UK this week. They will be joined by UK women Chelsea Oswald (5,000 meters and 10,000 meters), Rebecca Famurewa (discus), Keilah Tyson (100 meters) and Kayla Parker (100-meter hurdles).
One year after sending just three athletes to the NCAA National Championships, UK team members credit the new coaching staff for much of the improvement.
“It’s completely different,” Orta said. “Now it’s all about winning, performing well, doing good, running fast, running more. You can see the change now. We’re all doing way better than last year. We’re doing more miles, we’re working harder, we’re training twice a day and stuff like that, things that we were not doing last year.”
“They wanted to win, they wanted everyone to do really well, so they real pushed everyone a lot harder than the old guys did, I think,” Dykstra said. “Basically, I think the whole team atmosphere in general has just been boosted.”
“They definitely help for a race,” she said. “They give you a goal, what they think you can do. I think that helps a lot because I’m very goal-oriented. Going into the race, having a plan, I think that helps a lot.”
Floreal says involving the athletes in setting their own goals has helped increase the focus on winning as a program. He knows any success the team has in Oregon this week will only help in the future.
“I think when you bring in that many freshmen, you need people who have been there, done that so they can teach them what we’re trying to do,” he said. “If we have nobody in the NCAAs, it’s very difficult to tell a freshman what we’re trying to get accomplished…For us, it’s just to have enough people in that group that can tell the freshmen, ‘Last year I came really close,’ or ‘Last year, I made it and I was All-American and this is what coach is talking about.’”
While Floreal is quick to note his program still has plenty of work to do, he is not focused on telling his athletes they should leave Oregon with championships.
“I think to tell the kids they have to do something special at the NCAA, that’s not the way to build a team because they walk away disappointed with a great performance,” he said. “I’ve told all of them, ‘Just do what you’re capable of doing and let God sort out the rest.’”