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2012 class shows Lipsitz, women's soccer going nowhere but up

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Jon Lipsitz's 2012 recruiting class is ranked in the top five nationally by allwhitekit.com. (Steve Harp, UK Athletics) Jon Lipsitz's 2012 recruiting class is ranked in the top five nationally by allwhitekit.com. (Steve Harp, UK Athletics)
Since coming to Lexington in December 2008, Jon Lipsitz has worked to make the Kentucky women's soccer program relevant on a national level.

He's presided over three progressively more successful seasons in that time, culminating in last year's berth in the NCAA Tournament.

On the pitch, Lipsitz and Cats proved they could play with the nation's elite in 2011. Announcing a highly touted 15-member 2012 signing class, they showed they're a force to be reckoned with off the field as well.

"To be honored as one of the top five classes in the country is pretty special to say the least," Lipsitz said. "You sort of read the top five teams on the list and you see 'Kentucky? How'd they get in there?'

Parallel to his on-field work with the Wildcats, he has toiled just as tirelessly to cobble together UK's 2012 signing class. Beginning the moment he set foot on campus, Lipsitz had his eye on Feb. 1, 2012. Along with a staff of Michelle Rayner, Aaron Rodgers and Courtney Wiesler, Lipsitz made National Signing Day one to remember for UK.

The 15 new players came from eight different states, and most committed well before the team had hosted an NCAA Tournament game for the first time since 1999 this past November."

"You have to realize that the players decided to come here when we were coming off of my first season," Lipsitz said. "We won five games (in 2009). So, it is really quite a leap of faith that people said it was a special place, the relationship that we can have with the current players and the coaches is important enough that we are going to do something special."

With 12 of the 14 players who scored a goal for last year's team that spent most of the season ranked in the RPI top 25 returning, the Cats might not have long to wait before doing something special. Included in that group of returners are rising junior forward Caitlin Landis, who was second on the team behind Kelsey Hunyadi with six goals, and Arin Gilliland, who lived up to her billing as one of the nation's top recruits with a strong freshman season.

The group of newcomers adds a much-needed measure of depth to a UK team that fielded just 21 players a season ago. The Wildcats embraced their short-handed roster, adopting "21 Strong" as their motto for the season, but having significantly more players on next season's roster will add a competitive dynamic to practice.

"Last year, '21 Strong' was special," Lipsitz said. "Every player had to be ready. I think this year it will be a little bit different because every player will have to be ready, otherwise it will be exposed on the practice field."

Just as importantly, a bigger roster will allow Lipsitz a training tool he sorely missed in 2011.

"Think about a basketball team not being able to play five on five for an entire season in practice," Lipsitz said. "It's difficult. We didn't play 11 vs. 11. We didn't have enough players. There will be a great excitement to be able to do that every day, and I think that we will develop a lot more competitively because of that."

As a coach, Lipsitz is all about development, whether he's talking about his team or the program as a whole. It all begins, though, with the student-athletes.

"That comes first," Lipsitz said. "Who they are academically, and getting a fantastic degree, and doing well in school, and obviously development as a student-athlete involves soccer. They came here to play soccer. They care about everything else, but some of that package is soccer."

If Lipsitz is able to help his players as both athletes and people as he sets out to do, he expects success in other areas to follow, including recruiting.

He expects classes like this one to continue to arrive on UK's campus. Others around women's soccer at the college level may have been taken aback by the talent headed to the Bluegrass, but Lipsitz and his staff weren't. They believe in what Kentucky has to offer and think others will follow suit by the time their work is through.

"Our hope is in the long run that no one is surprised anymore," Lipsitz said.

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