RICHMOND, Ky. – Sixth-year softball head coach Rachel Lawson, who took over the program in July 2007, earned her 182nd win as UK’s head coach on Wednesday, becoming the all-time winningest head coach in program history.
UK’s 6-2 game-one win over EKU propelled Lawson into the UK record books. Kentucky is currently playing game two of its doubleheader with Eastern Kentucky in Richmond, Ky. A complete recap of both games will be released later.
In just over five-and-a-half seasons at Kentucky, Lawson has formulated a winning tradition in Lexington, earning 27 or more wins in each of the last five seasons, including the 2013 season. Lawson has directed the Wildcats to four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances – the only four appearances in school history – making UK one of just 27 schools to claim four straight NCAA Tournament berths. Moreover, Lawson’s 66 Southeastern Conference wins over the last six years are more than the program had overall from 1997-2007.
In her tenure at Kentucky, Lawson has not only played against some of the best teams in the nation, she has defeated the best teams in the nation. The head coach has 35 wins over ranked teams in her UK tenure, including 20 wins over top-10 teams and 12 over top-five teams. So far this season, Lawson and Co. have defeated four ranked teams in then-No. 3 Cal, then-No. 16 Washington, then-No. 20 Stanford and then-No. 25 North Carolina.
Currently, the Wildcats are ranked 19th in ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25 and 18th in USA Today/NFCA Top 25. The Wildcats started the season receiving votes in both polls before jumping into the top 25 the next week. Kentucky has been ranked in the top 25 since. UK has seven wins over teams that are currently ranked in both polls. The rankings came after Kentucky tied the best 18-game start in school history with a 15-3 mark. UK earned the record after going undefeated in consecutive non-conference tournaments for the first time in program history.
Kentucky is currently riding a six-game winning streak in SEC action, tying the school record for most consecutive SEC wins. The streak started with a sweep of Mississippi State a few weekends ago before UK swept South Carolina last weekend in Columbia. UK’s season-long winning streak of eight games earlier this season tied the longest in school history.
Lawson’s players have had great success this season under her and the tutelage of associate head coach Kristine Himes and assistant coach Molly Johnson. True freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley is a great example of Lawson’s ability to develop as Nunley is 18-4 this season with a 2.09 ERA this season. The 18 wins are the second most in a single season in school history after Nunley became the first player in school history to start a season 10-0 in the circle. Sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner is another example as the talented backstop leads the team in home runs and RBI this season, already surpassing her home run and RBI totals from last season.
Lawson’s players have been acknowledged for their successes, highlighted by the lone All-American in school history: Molly Johnson. The head coach has also led six players to an impressive nine NFCA All-Region Team honors, eight players to 19 All-SEC honors and eight players to 13 SEC Player of the Week honors. Off the field, an impressive 71 All-SEC Academic Honor Roll honors have rolled in under Lawson, while five players have been inducted into the Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honor Society and 10 into the Frank G. Ham Society of Character.
Kentucky capped the 2012 season with a 30-30 record, upsets of 12 ranked opponents, a Lawson-best fifth place finish in SEC action, a program-record six captured conference series and a senior class which became the first class in school history to tally a .500 record or better in each of their four seasons of play.
The end of the 2012 season also marked the conclusion of some of the best individual careers in UK history as Lawson helped pitcher Chanda Bell become the first player in school history to record 200-plus strikeouts all four seasons, while slugger Brittany Cervantes is the school's leading home run hitter. Pitcher/infielder Rachel Riley also excelled under Lawson, ranking top 10 in school history in fielding percentage and nearly every pitching category.
In 2011, Lawson directed the Wildcats to their first NCAA Super Regional appearance and UK finished the season ranked No.12 in the country. The 2011 team earned a 40-16 overall record to set a new single-season standard for wins in a season and appeared in the national rankings for a school-record 14 consecutive weeks
Furthermore, in the Wildcats late-season run, which included a seventh-inning rally to knock off No. 2 Michigan in Ann Arbor to advance to the Super Regionals, the Wildcats shattered 12 single-season UK records, including home runs (65), RBI (275) and batting average (.275). The Wildcats had a school-record five players earn NFCA All-Region honors in Meagan Aull, Cervantes, Kara Dill, Riley and Megan Yocke.
Following the end of the impressive 2011 season, Lawson was awarded a five-year contract extension keeping her at the helm of the Wildcat program through 2016.
In 2010, the Wildcats charted a 32-27 record and entered into the national rankings for the first time in school history, while also knocking off five top-seven ranked opponents on the year. Behind the pitching tandem of sophomores Riley and Bell, the Wildcats broke school records in nearly every pitching category. Kentucky's offense continued to make strides as well with improvements in batting average, home runs, RBI and sacrifice hits for the third consecutive season under the direction of Lawson.
Lawson led the Wildcats to their first NCAA Tournament appearance and charted the school's first postseason victories in 2009, just her second season with Kentucky. UK notched a 34-23 record and the first winning season in UK history in nearly 10 seasons. Kentucky upset three ranked opponents on the year, including No. 7 Georgia in a 2-0 victory in the SEC Tournament. Kentucky earned 13 victories in conference play, and finished sixth overall in league action.
In her first season at the helm, the Wildcats had numerous season highlights. Johnson blasted a two-run home run to knock off No. 6 Tennessee in extra innings, helping Lawson claim a victory in her first-career game in the SEC. Three players were named to All-SEC teams, including Johnson to the conference's second team while freshmen Aull and Yocke were tabbed All-Freshman team performers.
Lawson became just the third head coach in the history of the Kentucky softball program after spending three seasons at Western Kentucky. She also served as an assistant coach at Maryland from 1996-2002 and was the associate head coach of the Philadelphia Force professional team in 2006.
Lawson was a two-time all-conference player at Massachusetts, where she was part of a program that advanced to the 1992 Women's College World Series. During her four-year career at UMass, Lawson helped the Minutewomen post a combined record of 142-68 (67.6 percent) including a 39-3 (92.9 percent) Atlantic 10 mark. In addition to the 1992 WCWS appearance, she was a part of squads that also advanced to the NCAA Tournament her freshman season, won three A-10 Tournament titles and claimed the league regular-season championship four straight years.
A 1994 graduate of Massachusetts with a degree in exercise science, Lawson also earned her master's degree in sports management from UMass in 1998.
Lawson is the daughter of Elaine and Gerald Lawson and has 12 siblings.