By LARRY VAUGHT
Senior Leah Edmond will be playing in her final NCAA Tournament starting with Friday’s match in Memorial Coliseum against Southeast Missouri State and unless Kentucky wins the national title, her next loss will be her final match at UK.
Just don’t look for her to be nearly as emotional for any of these matches as she was last week when UK swept Mississippi in its final regular season outing on Senior Day.
Edmond started crying even before her pregame introduction was finished while she waited for her parents and boyfriend Nick Richards, a junior starter on John Calipari’s basketball team, to join her on the court.
“I was expecting it,” Edmond said when asked about her emotional outburst. “Before when we went to the locker room, and it is decorated and we had guests and things, and I lost it then. I knew then it would be a long day.
“As soon as they called my name, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness. This is my last SEC game.’ It all kind of hit me. I had not been thinking about it all season but actually participating in Senior Day, I lost it. I was not expecting it to be that bad to where I could not even take a picture.”
Yet she turned down a chance before she went on the court to take a Kleenex or two in case she cried.
Why didn’t she take the Kleenex?
“Because I thought I was going to be okay. I was personally trying to hold it together because I have to go play. I couldn’t be too emotionally up and down but I absolutely lost it,” she said. “Me and (senior) Cait(lyn Cooper) were the ones crying and I knew I had to get out of the sad, crying frame of mind.”
One person who didn’t cry was her father, Corey Edmond. He’s the strength and conditioning coach for the UK football program and was at the match even though UK was playing Louisville at Kroger Field at the same time because football coach Mark Stoops knew he needed to be there.
“I have never seen that man cry in 21 years. Now my mom started crying and I knew Nick was not going to cry, but not my dad,” she said.
Kentucky will play the Michigan-Northern Kentucky winner on Saturday if it beats Southeast Missouri. If UK wins twice this weekend, it likely would head to Baylor — the tourney’s No. 1 see — for the regional.
“I am really excited for the tournament and see how this will all play out,” Edmond said.
Kentucky has won eight straight matches and Edmond will be playing in her fourth straight NCAA.
“My freshman year going into the tournament I think we were still filled with regret knowing how we played against Tennessee (in a 3-1 loss) knowing that if we would have won we would have hosted,” she said.
“My sophomore year it was new (hosting the NCAA). Everything we did that year was so new. Us being ranked top four (nationally), hosting two rounds (of the tournament before losing to Nebraska in the regional final). Everything we did was new and fun and we just embraced every moment.
“Last year was kind of like we can play with the big dogs and we can focus in. I think this season we are still being doubted and people are not thinking of us the way they should and that’s fine. We are at a different place and people still not paying attention and that’s okay.”
That’s because Kentucky (23-6) lost four home matches — Indiana, Purdue, Texas A&M and Georgia. The Cats did not lose a home match in 2017 or 2018.
“I think it (the home losses) was eye-opener. Us losing at home has never been a thing. That was our consistent thing. It happened consecutive weeks and that killed us. What were we doing different at home than away? Once we got that figured out it changed our season.”
Edmond says lessons learned from those home losses will benefit UK this weekend.
“I think there is more a sense of pride of playing at home now and knowing people are going to come in and try to beat us on our home court,” Edmond said. “I think we still lacked that when we played Indiana and Purdue and other teams we lost to. I think there is a different feeling now that no one is going to give it to us easy on our home court and we have to fight for it and we will.”