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Lipsitz, Wildcats have eyes on new heights, enhancing legacy

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Jon Lipsitz and the Kentucky Wildcats open NCAA Tournament play 7 p.m. Saturday at the UK Soccer Complex. Jon Lipsitz and the Kentucky Wildcats open NCAA Tournament play 7 p.m. Saturday at the UK Soccer Complex. (Steve Harp, UK Athletics)
There's an old adage about reaching goals while keeping an eye on the past. To reach unprecedented heights, you cannot forget where you came from and what got you there.

For the University of Kentucky women's soccer program, these words ring especially true.

"We are just starting where we want to go," head coach Jon Lipsitz said. "We are not where we want to be in the long run, but we are where we want to be today."

For Lipsitz and the Wildcats, Saturday night's NCAA Tournament first round match against Washington State will be the culmination of three years of hard work. A relatively young program, Saturday's game marks just the eighth time in the program's history that it has even qualified for the NCAA Tournament, and it will be the first time Kentucky has hosted a game since 1999.

In Lipsitz's first season at the helm of the program, the Wildcats went 5-10-4. One year later, Kentucky improved to 10-7-3. Then this year, the Wildcats improved again, going 13-7 and ranking inside the top 25 in the RPI for much of the season.

With first-time accomplishments already in hand and the program's future becoming brighter with every dribble of the ball, it would be easy for the team to become complacent.

"You can look at them. They are not satisfied," Lipsitz said. "In fact, my concern has nothing to do with them being satisfied, it has to do with them handling the moment because of how excited they are."

Being excited isn't necessarily a bad thing. While many coaches will shun the idea of players being aware of their place in history, Lipsitz embraces it.

"It's a great thing," Lipsitz said. "I'm proud of them that they understand historically that while this isn't the final step, this is an important first step."

And that is the key point; this is a first step in their eyes. The ultimate goal is to win conference championships and have NCAA Tournament berths become an expected accomplishment. But just as Rome was not built in a single day, so too do Lipsitz and the Cats know lifting their program to where they believe it belongs will take time.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, the head man couldn't help but reminisce and talk about how far he and the program had come. He talked about sitting in the same chair as three years prior when he was hired. He also talked about feeling as though he and the program were finally "doing (their) part" when it comes to contributing to the overall athletic department's place in the Presidential Cup standings.

"I have felt many times in the last few years that we are not doing our part," Lipsitz said. "We are not getting points from the NCAA because we are not making the postseason. It's nice to know we are pulling our weight, and it's nice to know we are meeting our expectations, because the expectations here are high, as they should be. That feels great, it really does."

A victory over Washington State would feel even better. For a season that has featured so many firsts and has seen so many walls torn down, it would only be fitting for the 2011 Wildcats to enhance their legacy even more - become the first team in program history to win an NCAA Tournament game.

"It's very clear they understand their place in history," Lipsitz said. "We talk about legacy so much. We talk about doing this for the alumni. We talk about doing this for the kids who come after (them). I guess I didn't realize until that moment how much they have taken that to heart. They know. They know this is special. They also know that UK women's soccer has never won an NCAA game. We haven't talked about that. They know. They understand that this is a moment where they can make history that nobody can take away from them."

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