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Women's soccer shakes off Sunday struggles in 3-0 win over MSU

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Kelli Hubly and Caitlin Landis (wearing No. 9) each scored goals in UK's 3-0 victory over Mississippi State. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics) Kelli Hubly and Caitlin Landis (wearing No. 9) each scored goals in UK's 3-0 victory over Mississippi State. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
With the Kentucky women's soccer team off to a 6-1-0 start to 2012, identifying the Wildcats' issues was an exercise in nitpicking. With already a pair of wins over top-25 teams, there wasn't a lot that UK had not done well.

There was one notable exception to that.

Twice the Cats had played Friday and Sunday games in the same weekend. Facing the quick turnaround, UK had once looked underwhelming in a 1-0 with over Southeastern Missouri and once "very poor" - in the words of Jon Lipsitz - in a 3-1 loss to Samford.

Kentucky had a chance to take a step in the right direction against Mississippi State. After an emotional 2-1 comeback win over No. 13 Florida on Friday, in which Lipsitz reported eight different players ran at least six-and-a-half miles, the unbeaten Bulldogs were coming to town.

"On the days when we might be tired physically, we have to be mentally sharper," Lipsitz said. "Today was the day when we grew up some, when we did it all together."

It took a collective effort to complete a dominant 3-0 victory over Mississippi State. Three different Wildcats tallied goals in the win and three different Wildcats had an assist, including freshman Courtney Raetzman who put the finishing touches on an excellent weekend with a pair of assists.

"We've come from in the past where we were almost entirely a counter-attack team that was giving away possession in order to spring some chances to a team that wants to keep the ball," Lipsitz said. "I thought today we probably did our best job of keeping the ball, of really spreading it around the park a little bit."

The weekend was an impressive one for the Cats, as they swept a pair of SEC weekend games for the first time during the Lipsitz era. UK is assured of being in a tie atop the conference standings through the opening weekend with no more than three other teams, pending the results of other SEC games still in progress on Sunday afternoon.

"I thought it was a good step in what is going to be a grind," Lipsitz said. "We still have 11 more games in the conference."

The Cats will take their show on the road next weekend, heading to Arkansas and LSU. The good news on that front is that UK's leading returning scorer finally got into the goal-scoring column this season. Junior forward Caitlin Landis scored Kentucky's second goal less than 12 minutes into the game after she assisted on Kelli Hubly's goal just four minutes in, UK's fastest goal of the season.

"It was a long time coming," Landis said.

Landis scored six goals in 2011, including one in the season's first game, so the wait wasn't much fun. Even so, her four assists entering Sunday's match led the team and Landis has been doing plenty to help her team win all season.

"I'm sure it's a relief for her," Lipsitz said. "For me, she's been playing fantastic. If Cat scores goals, if Cat gets assists, if Cat just holds the ball for us and starts our attack, if she just moves without the ball and someone else gets it, I'm proud of her."

For Lipsitz, Landis and the Cats, any worries about goal scoring were put into perspective quickly after the final whistle. Sunday was Kentucky's second annual "Kick Cancer Match" and the team held a ceremony with fans after the game to raise awareness for pediatric cancer and honor those suffering from the disease. One dollar from each ticket sold to Sunday's match went toward the fight against pediatric cancer.

The original inspiration for the Kick Cancer Match came from Allison Berger. A few years ago, Lipsitz got a call from the Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology at the UK Hospital about Berger, a young soccer player and fan being treated for brain and spinal cord cancer. Lipsitz went to the hospital to bring Berger some UK gear and what he thought would be a short visit, but it turned out to be much more.

"The cause of raising money for the pediatric oncology unit here at UK just means the world to us," Lipsitz said. "Our lives were changed forever when we met Allison Berger a few years ago over there."

Berger passed away from her illness in March of last year, but her memory lives on through the "Kick Cancer Match" and in the minds and hearts of the Kentucky team.

"Meeting her and her family and now in, Allison's memory, to get to do this every year to raise money just to give back to the kids is amazing for us," Lipsitz said. "We're so honored to get to do something to give back."

UK wore special gold jerseys for Sunday's match. The jerseys are being sold in an open auction online and all proceeds will go to fight pediatric cancer. Go to UKathletics.com/auction to bid.

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