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Work in progress women's soccer stays perfect

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Arin Gilliland scored her first goal of the season in a 2-1 victory over Eastern Kentucky on Friday. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics) Arin Gilliland scored her first goal of the season in a 2-1 victory over Eastern Kentucky on Friday. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
With eight freshmen playing significant minutes, there were going to be some growing pains.

Through two games, those have been on display for the Kentucky women's soccer team. Players are just a little out of sync. Passes are delivered a moment early. Runs are made a split second late. Communication is a little lacking at key junctures.

From UK's perfect record, you wouldn't know it though. The Wildcats have posted a pair of victories to open the 2012 season in spite of play that has been, at times, predictably disjointed.

"Quite honestly, tonight we didn't solve problems well," head coach Jon Lipsitz said. "We talked about that at halftime. (The coaching staff) did a lot of the communicating. I would rather sit down and say nothing. But unfortunately today we had to get up and do a lot more as a staff."

The latest of those victories came over in-state foe Eastern Kentucky on Friday night at the UK Soccer Complex by a score of 2-1. Kentucky managed just nine shots, four of which were on goal in moving to 2-0-0 on the season.

During the week leading up to the game, Lipsitz talked about his team needing to capitalize on opportunities, but the visiting Colonels effectively limited them. UK wants to be a team that builds from the back, but Eastern Kentucky forced the Wildcats into playing long ball.

"Tactically, what that did is it gave us almost no room to play," Lipsitz said. "We don't like to play the ball over the top and the end result was we had to."

The Cats lone two goals came on set pieces, meaning three of their first four goals on the season have come on such plays. For the second time in as many outings, junior defender Ashley VanLandingham put UK ahead on a free kick. Later, Arin Gilliland provided some insurance with her first goal of the season when she headed in a corner kick.

"That's great that we can win a game on set pieces, but when we have as much possession as we had - I think we had 60, 65 percent of the possession today - we've got to score goals from it," Lipsitz said.

Although the Wildcats realize they can't rely on set pieces the way they have so far, their success on corners and free kicks is encouraging.

"We chart exactly how many goal we score on set pieces each year and last year was the lowest percentage since I've been here," Lipsitz said. "We've definitely made an emphasis that we need to care about them more, that we need to be more dedicated to the little details."

VanLandingham has been the primary beneficiary.

"I did work on (free kicks) over the summer, but I think it comes from the emphasis that we put on set pieces in practice," VanLandingham said. "It's a very important thing in games and we worked very hard on it."

The junior scored just one goal her first two seasons, but has come out firing as a junior. She certainly didn't expect to be on goal-a-game pace through two games, but VanLandingham is enjoying it while it lasts.

"No I didn't (expect it), but it's alright," VanLandingham said with a smile.

If you were going to predict a UK defender to score goals in each of the team's first two games, it likely would have been Gilliland. As it stands, she'll have to settle for one, but it proved to be big.

UK's defense hadn't even allowed a shot through almost 70 minutes, but Eastern Kentucky mounted an attack in the 69th minute that resulted in an own goal off the leg of Natalie Horner. It was a perfect teaching moment for the way an individually excellent group can be beaten.

"We've got great potential in the back line," Lipsitz said. "What we need to continue to work on is the willingness to communicate with each other earlier. Individually, everyone we play in the back line is a fantastic player. The question is, 'Can we be fantastic collectively?' "

On both defense and the attack, the Wildcats have work ahead, but their unscathed record is quite positive sign for the most talented team of Lipsitz's UK tenure.

"We evaluate based on, 'Did we get better today?' " Lipsitz said. "Yeah, we are young. We know there are players that are hearing things for the first time, but once it's heard, we need to do it."

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