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Women's soccer happy, but not satisfied entering postseason

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Senior Kelsey Hunyadi leads UK into an SEC Tournament game against Tennessee at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday in Orange Beach, Ala. (Steve Harp, UK Athletics) Senior Kelsey Hunyadi leads UK into an SEC Tournament game against Tennessee at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday in Orange Beach, Ala. (Steve Harp, UK Athletics)
In just his third season as head coach of Kentucky women's soccer, Jon Lipsitz has helped lift the program to a banner season in 2011. The Wildcats (13-6-0, 6-5-0 Southeastern Conference) have won the most games overall and in SEC play of any UK team since 2006.

The Cats had high hopes for the season after doubling their 2009 win total in 2010, but Lipsitz doesn't mince words in saying he views this regular season as a success. Even so, the team is far from satisfied as it enters postseason play.

"If you had come to me on August 2, the first day of preseason, and said, 'You're going to be talking about going to Orange Beach, winning six games in the SEC and a No. 17 RPI, I would have taken it,' " Lipsitz said. "But we always want to do more, we always want to do better."

The postseason begins in Orange Beach, Ala., where UK will open the SEC Tournament against No. 20 Tennessee at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Cats defeated the Lady Volunteers in a double-overtime affair by a score of 1-0, one of UK's signature regular season victories. Both teams figure to be focused and ready for the rematch, though Lipsitz can envision the game featuring more scoring this time around.

"They're a well-coached team by Coach (Angela) Kelly and a very dynamic attacking team," Lipsitz said. "The strange thing in our history is that the three games since I got here have all been 1-0. It doesn't make a lot of sense because both teams attack so much. I'd expect more like a 5-4 game when we play each other so we'll see what happens."

As Lipsitz referenced, the history between these two teams runs much deeper than the dramatic matchup in mid-October. In addition to three tight matches between UK and UT since he became a Wildcat, Lipsitz coached his former team, Charlotte, to a first round victory over the Lady Vols in the 2008 NCAA Tournament.

"It's become quite the rivalry since I arrived," Lipsitz said. "I think it started even before that. My next to last game at Charlotte was the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Tennessee, so I think it started way back then and it's continued."

The NCAA Tournament is exactly what the Cats hope to reach this season. Ranked No. 17 in the RPI, UK is well positioned for a berth, though the Wildcats won't rest easy until they see "Kentucky" on the bracket.

"Next Monday those announcements will be made by the NCAA and we find out who we'll play and where," Lipsitz said. "Until we see there's nervousness there, but it would be pretty stunning for us not to be in the NCAA right now with where we are."

Over the past two seasons, the Cats have consistently stated a goal of reaching the SEC Tournament. They now find themselves in somewhat of a unique position with the NCAA's on the horizon as well. UK heads to Orange Beach intently focused on winning the SEC, but it would be foolish not to take the NCAA's into account as well.

"We're going there to win and there isn't a moment in our thoughts about anything else," Lipsitz said. "But when you know there is something coming you think about going a little deeper on your bench to preserve players who are dinged up at this time of year."

Dealing with an ankle she injured in the regular season finale against Vanderbilt, midfielder Danielle Krohn (ankle) is one of a handful of players who have bumps and bruises. UK will not be without any of those players, but Lipsitz does expect to rely more on the bench he has worked all season to develop than he otherwise might.

"They'll play against Tennessee," Lipsitz said, "but we're not going to play them 90 minutes and we shouldn't have to because we've been developing every player on the team so any player is ready at any moment."

With a few days off between the 4-2 win over Vanderbilt and the trip to Orange Beach, UK has had a chance to heal a bit. During that time, Lipsitz has taken a moment to stop and appreciate how far his team has come.

"We've done a lot, and I need to show that to the players," Lipsitz said. "I'm very happy with where we are even though we'll never be satisfied with where we are, but I'm very pleased with what we've done as a program."

The Wildcats have reached many of their goals in 2011, but they have set a new one: hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. UK's high RPI has them in position to potentially do that, but it's also going to take a strong performance in the SEC's to make it happen.

"They want to play at home," Lipsitz said. "They want to host in the NCAA's. Well, then they better show that against Tennessee."

Hunyadi, Gilliland earn SEC honors

On Monday, the SEC announced its 2011 women's soccer awards and a pair of Wildcats were recognized. Senior Kelsey Hunyadi and freshman Arin Gilliland were named second team All-SEC, becoming the 23rd and 24th players in school history to be named all-conference. Gilliland was also named to the All-Freshman team.

Hunyadi was in contention for first team honors, as she's had one of the best seasons in school history and assaulted the UK record book, but she'll settle for being a second teamer.

"She's having really an epic season in Kentucky women's soccer history," Lipsitz said. "She is third all-time in goals for a season; second in assists, one away from the record; and third in points. She's having an amazing season with some soccer left to be played."

Lipsitz was pleased to see two of his top players honored, especially since he knows the individual awards grow from what the team as a whole has accomplished.

"More importantly, these individual honors come from team success and we talk about that a lot," Lipsitz said. "The better the team does, the more individual honors that come."

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