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Kentucky's Katie Reed: The Ultimate Student-Athlete

(Photo Courtesy of UK Athletics)

Kentucky softball coach Rachel Lawson viewed her inbox with a bit of trepidation.

Receiving an email from a professor is often a bad sign for coaches. It likely means one of their players is not doing well in class or causing trouble.

But the email from Dr. Nicholas Martin was the exact opposite. The physics professor was writing to praise Katie Reed about the perfect score she received on an exam in Martin’s pre-med physics class last spring.

The shortstop was the best student in the class, and one of the best Martin has taught in more than three decades at Kentucky.

“I love it when professors take the time to recognize students and tell you how great they are in the classroom,” Lawson said. “Sometimes people lose sight of the fact they are more than just athletes. A lot of academics don't really see that side of it. I was really happy he did.”

Reed is the poster child of a true NCAA student-athlete.

Not only does she impress with her play on the field, but the senior excels in the classroom and gives back to the community.

Reed is the president of the UK Athletics Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, and a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award.

Along with being a third-team NFCA All-American last season, Reed was a CoSIDA Academic All-American - the first player in program history to receive first-team honors - and the 2018 SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

The St. Louis, Mo., native has a 4.0 GPA, and has never received a grade lower than an A in her entire life. Not in elementary school. Not in middle school. Not in high school. And not in college, even while majoring in health human sciences with a dental track.

"I think it starts with my parents and the importance they placed on academics,” said Reed, who will begin taking classes at the University of Pittsburgh dental school in August. “When we were younger, they instilled the mindset that you should have the same work ethic in school and in the classroom that you do in sports. I’ve always viewed that as my main priority and it has stuck with me."

It was Reed’s academics that enabled her to play for the Wildcats. Lawson didn’t have any athletic scholarship money to give Reed when she was a freshman, but Reed earned an academic scholarship to the school.

"Katie is probably the best deal in the country in terms of scholarship money,” Lawson said. “If she was not a good student, she probably wouldn't have been able to afford to come here. That is a lesson to teach all kids going into recruiting. There is more than one way to get to a school."

Martin has been teaching physics at Kentucky for 33 years, and said very few of his students have been as bright as Reed.

She was at the top of her 180-student pre-med physics class, scoring 100 percent on the three in-class exams to far exceed the class average of 65 percent.

“She was an amazing student,” Martin said. “She is just a natural physicist. She knew exactly what to do. I've had some good students in class, but she is outstanding.”

Martin is not a huge sports fan. He’s only been to one sporting event at Kentucky, and that was nearly 15 years ago.

He only discovered Reed was an athlete once she approached him at the start of the semester to say she would be missing some exams because of games.

"But I didn't know she was the captain of the softball team. I only found that out towards the end of the semester,” Martin said. “I don't get to know many of the students when I have 180. But I was just amazed at how well she did in class so I got to know her better.”

Reed was practically born into softball. Her parents met while playing competitive slow pitch, and she started playing on her older sister’s T-ball team at age 3.

Her attention to detail and appreciation for defense were formulated during the hours spent practicing with her parents.

“From a young age, we were working on fundamentals and having quick transfers,” Reed said. “I think that it is just what I have taken the most pride in to this day. I feel like I can really control my defense even if I'm not doing well offensively in a game."

Reed didn’t specialize in softball. She played ice hockey until her sophomore year of high school as a forward, center and right wing.

“I had to beg my parents to play at first until they finally let me. It kept me really busy year round doing both sports and traveling,” Reed said. “I still follow hockey and try to get back on the ice at least once a year whenever I am home over the winter break.”

The 5-foot-5 Reed didn’t start growing until she reached high school. While some of her travel ball teammates were making early commitments to college, she didn’t get as much attention.

"I was tiny, tiny when coaches started watching us," Reed said. "I think I just kind of flew under the radar there because of my size."

Reed originally committed to Louisville, but reopened her search after a coaching change during her junior year. Lawson spotted Reed at a tournament that summer when she was scouting Reed’s UK teammate Jenny Schaper. The two St. Louis natives have played on the same teams since they were 12.

Lawson invited Reed for a visit to Lexington, and she was immediately sold on the program.

"I just felt like this is where I needed to be, playing in the SEC, which is the best conference for college softball,” Reed said. “I felt like that is where I could reach my full potential as a softball player and receive a great education.”

Reed’s competitive drive and work ethic were apparent to Lawson from the very start.

"She has an unbelievable willpower to get things right. It doesn't matter what the thing is, if she's involved with it she wants to be the best possible,” Lawson said. “That's just the way she is. She could be cleaning her room and she wants to do it the best way."

Reed’s quiet nature made it hard for Lawson to find out everything that made her budding All-American tick.

“She didn't say much to me her first three years. But the team kept telling me she was so funny. I was like, 'Katie Reed? The girl that doesn't talk?'” Lawson said. “She is so respectful of adults and feels strongly about the line of authority. She's a throwback."

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Reed’s assessment of her play is largely based on how much detergent and stain remover is required to do her laundry after games.

“If my uniform is dirty, I am usually happy with my performance and the team’s performance,” Reed said. “Because that usually means I am working hard and making an impact for my team. That is always my main goal.”

Having grown up a St. Louis Cardinals fan, Reed models her game after former All-Star middle infielder David Eckstein.

Eckstein’s brother, Rick, used to coach baseball at Kentucky and David visited the school a few years ago. Reed finally had the courage to approach her idol, something she wasn’t able to do after a Cardinals game when she was younger.

"I was too nervous to tap his shoulder and ask to get a picture on the field so I went and just stood next to him and my dad took a picture of his back and me,” Reed said with a laugh. “He didn't even know it happened. But my dad brought that picture down to me when he was here and he signed it for me along with his book that I have."

Reed has always aspired to work in the medical field, and thought she might want to be an orthopedic surgeon.

But after realizing how much time that would require in school, she began researching other options. She job shadowed former Kentucky pitcher Rachel Riley, who is a dentist at a private practice in Lexington.

"I just loved it, and pretty much everything about it fit perfectly with my personality and with being very detail-oriented,” Reed said. “It fit with my other personal goals about my future as well because I want to start a family.”

Everyone around Reed believes she can be whatever she wants in life. Martin is convinced she would make a great physicist, and her team thinks she can change the world.

"We call her the President, so we would all like to have her become the President of the United States,” Lawson said. “She is really just an exceptional person and all-around great teammate. As time fades, she will always have the All-American status and have the grades, but she will also be remembered as the great person she is."

Reed knows it’s likely her last season of competitive softball, and is trying to savor every moment. She wants to slow time down, but the practices and games seem to fly by as fast as she does running the bases.

Reed recently tied a single-game program record with six RBIs in a win over Mississippi State, one of many milestones in her career.

But her legacy at Kentucky will stretch far beyond the softball field in Lexington. She’s left an imprint on professors, classmates, Special Olympians and the young children she’s provided lunches for through God’s Pantry Food Bank.

“I just really want to be known for being a good representative of Kentucky softball,” Reed said. “I want to be known as a player who respected the game and played the game the way it's supposed to be played. I want to be known for always doing my best and leaving everything on the field.”

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