As one of the most decorated high school athletes the commonwealth of Kentucky has produced so far in the 21st century, sophie galloway knew many hoped to see her compete in college in UK blue and white.
The former Marshall County and Graves County high school track and field star is now doing that — but Galloway’s path to the University of Kentucky proved winding and complicated.
“Yeah, it did,” Galloway said Thursday. “It was a tough process.”
Surprising many outsiders, Galloway, a class of 2021 prospect, signed with Tennessee, not UK, as a high school senior.
That was a blow to the Wildcats track and field program because Galloway — a four-time Gatorade Kentucky Girls’ Track and Field Athlete of the Year and an eight-time individual high school state champion in the triple jump, long jump and the 100- meter hurdles — is seen as potentially a “national-level” athlete.
“I cried,” Galloway said of turning down her home-state school. “Everyone was kind of shocked. … But my family knew that it was going to happen. I had said since I was younger, ‘I just don’t want to go to Kentucky.’ … It wasn’t anything against the UK at all. It was just me wanting to do something different.”
Galloway reasoned that Knoxville was only four hours (give or take) from her home in western Kentucky “but it was out of state, represented something different.”
Alas, shortly before Galloway was to head to Knoxville, the UT assistant who had recruited her left Tennessee. Unsettled, Galloway decided to look at other options, too.
Without much time to evaluate alternatives, she cast her lot with Arkansas — a traditional track and field power.
That turned out not to be a great fit.
Galloway envisioned her post-high school future in the triple and long jumps and the multi-event heptathlon.
Arkansas wanted to use her as a sprinter.
“I wasn’t happy there,” Galloway said. “So I just decided to leave while I could.”
Just after Thanksgiving, Galloway put her name in the transfer portal. On her third go-around at picking a college, she reached out to UK track and field assistant Kris Grimes, who works with the Wildcats’ jumpers.
“This time, I didn’t even consider anyone else,” Galloway said. “I didn’t care if I had to walk on the (UK) team. … I gave Coach Grimes a call and said, ‘Hey, is there anything I can do?’”
So for the second semester of the current school year, Galloway at last became a Kentucky Wildcat.
Competitively, Galloway’s homecoming got a delayed start. Her training for this spring’s outdoor track and field season was slowed by a “small fracture” to the navicular bone in one of her feet. “I was in a boot for about six weeks,” she said. “That took a lot of time out of training.”
Even with that less than ideal beginning, the freshman has started to make an impact for Coach Lonnie Greene’s Wildcats.
On April 9, she won the triple jump — her favorite event — at LSU’s Joe May Invitational with the ninth-best effort (41’7.25 feet) in Wildcats history. She backed that up by winning the same event again (41’3.75”) last weekend at UK’s Kentucky Invitational.
For an athlete used to dominate at the high school level, the recent successes in major-college meets has been a confidence boon.
The transition to college-level competition was “hard at first. I’ll be honest,” Galloway said. “I was so used in high school to going places and being able to run fast. After my (foot) injury, I was running slower than usual. It annoyed me. … But when I won at LSU, I got my confidence back.”
Another part of Galloway’s homecoming to UK produced a strong emotional reaction. In 2020-21, Galloway was a basketball forward (averages of seven points and six rebounds a game) on the Marshall County team that reached the Girls’ Sweet Sixteen championship game in Rupp Arena before falling 49-47 to Sacred Heart.
Said Galloway: “I went to a (Kentucky men’s) basketball game right after I got back from Arkansas and transferred to UK. I literally sat down and cried because the last time I’d been in (Rupp Arena), we lost (to Sacred Heart). I will never, ever get over that.”
Galloway’s family has deep ties to the town of Mayfield, one of the Kentucky communities most impacted by the devastating tornado outbreak of last Dec. 10.
“I grew up there. It’s where my family is from,” Galloway said. “Our family, we were very, very lucky. On the radar, it showed (the tornadoes) coming right at us. We somehow got away from it. Our horses and dogs and cats are just fine. We were one of the few families fortunate enough to walk away from it.”
From the perch she enjoys as a Kentucky Wildcat, Galloway said she will donate any name, image and likeness earnings she generates to tornado relief in Graves County.
As for the circuitus route she took to becoming a Cat, Galloway said, “I definitely think I am where I am supposed to be. I told my family this, now that I am wearing the colors, representing UK, it means so much more because I am a Kentucky kid.”