Vaught's Views: Top 10 UK Memories from 2019
Leah Edmond became UK's all-time leader in kills and coach Craig Skinner says she's the top player he's coached at Kentucky. (Vicky Graff Photo)
As we bring 2019 to a close, it really has been another remarkable year for the University of Kentucky athletics.
So many teams and individual athletes had sensational performances that UK fans won’t forget for quite a few years. We all had our favorite moments/memories, but here is my top 10 list — and while I tried to put them in order I am not truly certain I can really rank one above any other and there were several other quality memories I left out.
But here goes with my top 10 UK memories from 2019:
1. Punter Max Duffy wins the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s top punter after being voted to the all-Southeastern Conference second team by the SEC coaches. He was also named a first-team All-American by The Associated Press.
The Australian averaged 48.6 yards per punt and only nine of his 47 punts were returned. Twenty-four of his punts were downed inside the 20-yard line.
And don’t forget the touchdown-saving tackle he had against UT-Martin’s Terry Williams that was one of the best hits of the season.
2. Lynn Bowden moves from receiver to quarterback, shreds defenses with his runs, wins five games and is named the Paul Hornung Award winner as the nation’s most versatile player.
Bowden ran for 1,136 yards in seven games and ran for 100 or more yards in six games — the one game he didn’t he got 99 yards at Georgia. He set UK season and career rushing records for a quarterback and his 248 yards against Louisville set a single-game SEC rushing record for a quarterback.
He ranks eighth nationally in all-purpose yards even though UK didn’t risk injury by letting him return kicks and punts.
“You have to be very talented to change positions in the middle of the season, especially if you’re going to play quarterback. I think playing quarterback will help him in the draft. It shows he’s willing to play anywhere to help his team win,” Hornung, a former NFL MVP, said about Bowden.
3. Leah Edmond earns a second straight SEC Player of the Year honor and finishes her UK career as the all-time kills leader. She helped Kentucky win three straight SEC championships, something that had never been done, and go to four straight NCAA Tournaments.
“It’s hard to argue that she is not at the top as much as she has accomplished and the amount of winning we have done and her contributions to the whole game, not just scoring points,” Kentucky coach Craig Skinner said when asked about where Edmond ranks among the players he’s coached.
“Statistically she is at the top in kills and points as well. Just phenomenal athlete and fearless competitor.”
4. PJ Washington had a sensational senior season, overcame a late injury to help UK get to the Elite Eight and then had a remarkable start to his NBA rookie season when he got 27 points, the most ever by a Hornet in his career debut, to start the season.
He’s been so good that Charlotte NBA beat writers have called for Hornets to follow his example of playing tough after he got 13 free throws in a game against Atlanta, the most free throw attempts by a Hornet rookie in 10 years.
Washington had started every game before fracturing his finger and needing surgery in mid-December. He’s shot 41 percent from 3-point range and averaged 12.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.9 blocks per game.
Not bad for a player who I thought was never fully appreciated during his two years at UK.
5. Former UK quarterback Jared Lorenzen passes at age 38 and brings Big Blue Nation together in a way few players, coaches or events ever could.
Lorenzen had battled weight issues for years but no one was ready for his death in July and it touched the hearts of Big Blue Nation. A fund was started to raise money to pay for his children’s college education and soared over $100,000 in no time.
He threw for 10,354 yards and 78 touchdowns at Kentucky and later played with the New York Giants where he was on a team that won the Super Bowl. Giants quarterback Eli Manning was one of those who attended his funeral.
6. Kentucky coach John Calipari has a renewed zest for recruiting and signed six players in November that could be just what UK needs to win another national title.
Perhaps speculation that Duke had moved ahead of UK as the nation’s premier program motivated Calipari, but whatever it was he seemed to hit the recruiting trail harder than ever in 2019 and it paid off when he signed Brandon Boston, Terrence Clarke, Devin Askew, Cam’Ron Fletcher, Lance Ware and Isaiah Jackson in November.
7. Abbey Cheek finishes her softball career with another amazing season and is named national player of the year.
She ranked second nationally in 2019 with 64 walks and was third with a .602 on-base percentage and .908 slugging percentage. She hit .428 with 13 doubles, 20 home runs, 53 RBIs and 54 runs scored.
Cheek, who was also the SEC Player of the Year, shattered UK’s career home run and RBI records and also scored the most runs in program history with 163.
8. Rhyne Howard does things few freshmen basketball players have done at Kentucky and is named the consensus national freshman of the year after being honored by ESPN, Women’s Basketball Writer’s Association and U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association.
She averaged 16.4 points and 6.6 rebounds, both team highs, as a freshman and was also second on the team in steals and 3-pointers made. She was third in blocks and assists.
Howard was the first UK player — and just the sixth SEC player — to be named consensus national freshman of year to go with her SEC Freshman of the Year award.
This season she is again leading the team in scoring (20.2) and rebounding (5.5). She’s also first in steals and 3-pointers made and second in assists.
9. Junior offensive lineman Landon Young was recognized for all he does off the football field as well as on it by being named captain of the All-State Good Works Team.
Young regularly volunteers to visit at a Lexington nursing home, went on a mission trip to Ethiopia and is a frequent speaker at churches and schools.
“I was raised to believe that character mattered a lot more than what you did in athletics,” Young said. “I just always try to remember that.”
10. And who could forget Benny Snell become UK’s all-time leading rusher when he ran for 144 yards and two scores in the 27-24 upset win over Penn State in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1.
Snell had already announced he would bypass his senior season at UK to enter the NFL draft but he became UK’s all-time leading rusher on his 12-yard scoring run where he knelt in the end zone for a moment of reflection before being swarmed by his offensive linemen.
It was also only fitting that Snell basically ran out the clock for Kentucky with clutch run after clutch run, something he did so many times in his three years at UK.