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Trip to Louisville just what Lipsitz wants for young women's soccer team

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Defender Brooke Keyes is one of two senior captains who will lead the women's soccer team into a game at Louisville on Friday. (UK Athletics) Defender Brooke Keyes is one of two senior captains who will lead the women's soccer team into a game at Louisville on Friday. (UK Athletics)
There is any number of ways Jon Lipsitz could approach his team's looming trip to Louisville.

He could go with John Calipari approach and call it just another game in a long season. Then again, he could opt for the Joker Phillips route and acknowledge the magnitude of the game while keeping his players' focus on playing their game.

As UK fans have learned since he arrived before the 2009 season, Lipsitz has a style all his own. His way of preparing a team featuring more than a dozen true freshmen for its first road game against a team that's not only ranked in the top 25, but also happens to be Kentucky's archrival, reflects that.

He's taking it all head on.

"It is a huge rivalry," Lipsitz said. "It is a passionate and important game to us and our fan base. We understand that. It is every bit the game (it is) for every other sport."

No, the women's soccer installment of UK-U of L won't be attended by tens of thousands of people like the football game last weekend. When the Wildcats and Cardinals - both unbeaten through four games - kick off at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, the entire Commonwealth won't stop to tune in, but everyone involved knows what this match means.

"This is what it's all about," Lipsitz said. "You come to the University of Kentucky because you want to play in these kinds of games both outside the SEC against Louisville and inside the SEC obviously. If you don't want to play this game, don't come to the University of Kentucky."

The 15 freshmen suiting up for UK may have picked the school because of exactly these kinds of games, but that doesn't mean they understand what they're getting into. Particularly since the Cats will likely rely so heavily on freshmen, getting the minds of the newcomers in the right place was potentially this week's most important task. Naturally, Lipsitz decided he wouldn't have anything to do with it.

"I've really been letting the upperclassmen take care of that," Lipsitz said. "Our leadership is unbelievable. Our senior class is just full of kids that just care so much, that are so passionate about the culture that they've developed here. And I've really let them take care of that."

UK's five-member senior class of Alyssa Telang, Natalie Horner, Kirsten Robinson, Cassie Ransdell and Brooke Keyes haven't batted an eye. They understand the responsibility and appreciate the trust Lipsitz so regularly shows in them.

"I think it shows that he respects us and that we've earned that respect as seniors being around for four years," said Keyes, one of two team captains along with Telang. "We've proven a little more than what we used to when I came in freshman year. It's nice to know that he sees that in us and that he respects us enough to put that in our hands."

What Keyes and her fellow veterans have tried to do is help the players traveling to Cardinal Park for the first time understand what it will be like, at least in theory.

"Playing Louisville is completely different than playing any other team, especially before the SEC season, especially on their field - they bring in everybody and all the red any everything - and it's our rival team," Keyes said, recounting what she has told her new teammates. "It's something that these freshmen haven't experienced before."

The Cats are off to a 4-0-0 start, but each win has come in the comforts of the UK Soccer Complex. Venturing away from home for the first time for a rivalry game against the No. 12/25 Cardinals might seem difficult, but a baptism by fire is exactly what Lipsitz wants.

"You have to be ready for new things," Lipsitz said. "We have 15 freshmen. We have been consistently starting at least four. We're playing nine or 10 freshman consistently in the game and I'm a big one that believes you just throw 'em in. Throw 'em in and find out what you get."

UK's ultimate goals lie beyond the regular season and in postseason play, and there are certainly no trial runs there.

"When we go into the NCAAs, there isn't any warm-up for that," Lipsitz said. "You just go and you play an NCAA game and we need to find out, when the intensity gets turned up, who has it and who doesn't."

The intensity is certainly going to be there on Friday night.

The Cards and Cats got firsthand looks at one another this weekend, as both played in the Tropical Smoothie Invitational hosted by UK. U of L scored seven goals in two matches and has outscored its four opponents 13-3. Meanwhile, Kentucky has relied on experienced back line that has allowed just one goal, one corner kick and four shots on goal in four games.

"The two teams play very different styles, different formations," Lipsitz said. "They're looking to do different things at different times and I think a lot of it will be a battle of wills, of which style wins."

In Lipsitz's first three years, the home team has won the UK-U of L match by a 2-0 tally. To turn that trend on its hand, Keyes thinks the Cats must look to their motto for the season: "Believe."

"We're prepared, we've put in the work, we've put in the time and we're ready," Keyes said. "We just need to believe in ourselves so we can do it."

No matter the outcome, Lipsitz will know plenty more about his team by about 10 p.m. on Friday.

"What we're looking for is to find out right away, 'Who are we?' " Lipsitz said. "And (there's) not a better place than this."

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