Monday, August 5, 2013

1-on-1 with Rachel Riley

It took an unusual method to get in touch with today's interviewee, but it was totally worth it! Kentucky Wildcat  fans will definitely remember Rachel Riley, as should fans of just SEC softball in general. When the time comes to feature the Wildcats in our "Hall of Fame" series, you can bet Rachel's name will be in the discussion.

Rachel has some of the best raw talent I've seen. She totally dominated in both the pitching circle and at the plate, especially during the final two seasons of her career. Rachel led Greenwood High School to back-to-back state championships in her junior and senior seasons of high school, batting .476 over those two seasons.

Rachel was named to the All-SEC Academic team twice, and the Capital One Academic All-District team in her senior year. She was one of fifty named to the USA Softball Player of the Year watch list prior to her senior season, and led her team to their second-straight NCAA tournament.

Her best season statistically was her junior year in 2011, when she was named to the NFCA All-Region 1st team. She hit .354 that season, with eight home runs helping her to a .611 slugging percentage. She posted a very respectable 2.56 ERA in twenty-two appearances, with a nearly 2:1 SO/BB ratio.

Since her playing career ended, Rachel has been working towards a career in dentistry. In the interview below, she talks about being a Wildcat; how she got started playing ball; her future plans; and more!

Q: How did you get your start playing softball?
A: I started playing ball when I was 5. I just remember asking my parents one day if they'd sign me up to play softball. I thought it would be fun. The first practice I was scared and didn't want to go, so I sat on my dad's knee and cried through the entire practice. But after that first day I loved every second.

Q: What aspect of the game of softball really drew you in and caught your interest?
A: I'm not really sure one thing caught my interest. I loved every part of the game. As a kid I loved hitting and sliding. I also liked playing defense and getting ground balls. When I was older, I started pitching and I loved the challenge of trying to get people out.

Q: What does being a Wildcat mean to you?
A: I'm very proud to be a Wildcat. Even though I grew up in Kentucky, I was never a big UK fan. I never realized how cool it was to be a part of the University of Kentucky until I moved to Lexington and experienced it firsthand. The fan base here is incredible. The support for the Wildcats is unlike anything I've ever seen. The tailgating, the camping out for days to get tickets to Big Blue Madness, it is all very cool, and I'm so thankful that I got to have the experience.

Q: You had both incredible athletic and academic success during your four years in Lexington. How did you manage to keep a balance between the two and achieve such great results in both areas?
A: I think time management was the biggest key for me. I knew I always wanted to go into some type of medical career, and I knew I had to get good grades to do that. While I went to sporting events and traveled to see my family when I could, I spent most of my free time either practicing softball or studying. On softball trips, I was one of the few who always had a book out or was reading over notes. I just kept my focus on the things I wanted to achieve, which was being a good softball player and making good grades.

Q: During your career, you proved yourself to be both a solid hitter and a dominant pitcher. Do you think your success in one area helped you get even better in the other?
A: Definitely. I think knowing what it was like to be a hitter in the SEC and knowing the mental part of being a hitter helped me as a pitcher and vice versa. While pitching, I knew situationally what a hitter's goal was, and I would try to use that to my advantage to keep her from achieving that goal. As a hitter, I would try to anticipate what pitch would be thrown based on the situation and what the pitcher was trying to keep me from doing. Sometimes it worked out for me; other times it didn't.

Q: What is it like to know that your name will go down in history as one of the University of Kentucky’s greats?
A: It's a really cool feeling knowing that I was one of the girls who helped put the University of Kentucky softball team on the map. It took a really special group of girls to do it, and I'm so proud that I was one of them. When my class got to Kentucky, there was already a talented group of girls and a great coaching staff ready to change the program.  Together we were able to turn the program around, and it was really special. To see a stadium get built around us, and to see our fan base and support grow exponentially was something I will never forget.

Q: Describe your Wildcat career in two words.
A: 1. unforgettable 2. happy
Unforgettable because I will never forget the 4 years I was able to do the thing I loved most. There are so many wonderful memories from those 4 years. And happy because I was happiest playing softball. There isn't a place I'd rather be.

Q: Even though you’re a UKSB alum now, how closely did you follow the 2013 Wildcat squad? What impressed you about the team this season?
A: I followed the 2013 team very closely; I don't think I missed a home game. I was very very impressed with the team especially since they were so young. I was surprised at how well the freshmen came in a made an immediate difference on the team. Their offense was incredible. They put up more runs than I've ever seen. And Kelsey Nunley did an outstanding job on the mound as a freshman. She was a workhorse, and I really enjoyed watching her pitch. You can tell she loves to compete, and I look forward to seeing what she can do over her 4 years at UK.

Q: After your collegiate career ended, both on the field and in the classroom, what career path have you elected to take?
A: I am in the University of Kentucky's Dental Program. It is a 4 year program, and as of now, I am working towards being a general dentist. I don't know if I will specialize or not yet.

Q: Are you presently involved with softball at some level? Is something like coaching an avenue you would like to pursue in the future?
A: Currently I give lessons on the weekends to local kids around Lexington. I also help with UK's softball camps when they have one. I love softball and can't imagine it not being a part of my life, so I think I will always be involved somehow. I think eventually I would like to coach, but I'm not sure at what level. 

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