LEXINGTON — When Edrick Floreal was hired to coach University of Kentucky track and field two years ago, he said his immediate goal was to make the program “relevant” again.
It’s safe to say, already, mission accomplished.
“I think relevant is the word I used two years ago, and I think we’re moving in the right direction, with the bodies we have and the way our kids are performing,” Floreal said Wednesday as he gazed out over the new UK track facility, site of the Southeastern Conference outdoor championships Thursday through Sunday.
The UK women are ranked No. 6 nationally, with the men No. 19.
Leading Kentucky into the talent-laden SEC meet is junior sprinter Dezerea Bryant, an off-season transfer from Clemson.
Floreal refers to Bryant as “the fastest woman in the world.”
Bryant and junior hurdler/sprinter Kendra Harrison are both on The Bowerman Watch List, which is track and field’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.
Bryant recently ran a time of 10.96 in the 100 meters — tops in the world this year.
Bryant won the NCAA 200 meters indoors with a time of 22.69.
Harrison is the collegiate leader and No. 4 in the world in the 100-meter hurdles with a 12.68 time. She’s No. 3 collegiately and No. 12 in the world in the 400-meter hurdles with a 56.60 clocking.
Senior Cally Macumber is national caliber in both the 10,000 meters and 5,000. Macumber won the 5K title at the recent Penn Relays in 16:07.21.
The Wildcat men also are on the national map, led by senior discus thrower Andrew Evans and junior javelin thrower Raymond Dykstra.
Evans is also on The Bowerman Watch list. He recently produced the fifth-farthest discus throw in college history with a throw of 217 feet, 9 inches. That puts Evans No. 3 in the world and more than four feet ahead of defending NCAA champ Julian Wruck of UCLA.
Dykstra shattered his own school record recently in the javelin with a throw of 250 feet, one inch.
Floreal said those are just a few of the names already on the national map, with many others knocking on the door.
“There’s a bunch of kids on this team that you have probably never heard about that you are going to see this weekend that are going to shock the heck out of you,” Floreal said.
“All of that is important,” he added, referring to his team’s versatility. “We don’t just want to do it in sprints, or in throws ... we want to do it all. In the long run, that’s what’s going to be good for us is to be a complete team.”
Floreal said freshman sprinter Alisha Adair, a Western Hills graduate, will not be competing in the SEC meet, however.
“She’s not there yet,” Floreal said of Adair. “We’ve got a little more work to do with her.”
The rise of UK track and field makes Floreal doubly excited about hosting the SEC meet.
And make no mistake about it, you won’t see a better track and field competition at the college level outside of the NCAA finals.
“You look at the number of teams in the SEC that are ranked in the top 25 in the country (nine), and that says it all,” Floreal said. “It’s a tough conference to be good, but that’s sort of our signature. If you can be good here (in the SEC), you are truly good.”
Despite his enthusiasm for the here and now, Floreal said that Kentucky track and field is not where he wants it to be.
“Not even close,” he said. “We have planted the seed and broke ground. And we’re excited about that, but in my wildest dreams, I want to run out of trophy space. I want to let people know that this university has a great track team that is noted by all the other SEC schools. I want to have a chance to win every time we compete.”
The SEC meets starts today at noon with competition in the heptathlon, decathlon and women’s hammer throw. Admission is free for Thursday’s action.
All session tickets for Friday-Sunday are $20 for adults and $10 for kids and seniors. Single session tickets are $5 for kids and $10 for adults.