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Cedergren using unconventional approach to hosting NCAAs

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The UK men's soccer team is hosting Xavier in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. at the UK Soccer Complex (Michael Reeves, UK Athletics). The UK men's soccer team is hosting Xavier in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. at the UK Soccer Complex (Michael Reeves, UK Athletics).
For the first time since 2003, the University of Kentucky men's soccer team is hosting the first round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament against Xavier on Thursday evening at 7:00 p.m. at the UK Soccer Complex. However, first-year head coach Johan Cedergren is taking a different approach than usual after his squad was selected to host on Monday during the NCAA Men's Soccer Selection Show.

Cedergren and the team will stay the night in a hotel Wednesday evening and treat the contest as if they were traveling to Cincinnati, Ohio to take on the Musketeers.
 
Why, some may ask?

Well, the Wildcats own an impressive 6-2 road record on the year, including victories over ranked foes Louisville, UAB and Tulsa to name a few. While in Lexington, UK has dropped its last two matches and sport just a 3-4-1 mark at home.

Following a win at Tulsa on Oct. 27, the Wildcats were sitting pretty in the Conference USA standings and had won four straight - three coming on the road. With home games against UCF and South Carolina left on the schedule and a shot at the regular-season league title, junior defender Steven Perinovic jokingly mentioned to Cedergren that he should call the remaining opponents and inform them that UK would openly travel to their facilities instead of playing the contests in Lexington.

This was all a joke but Kentucky ended up dropping its final two games of the year and finished in fifth place in C-USA. In all honesty, Cedergren is ecstatic to be playing at home but is trying a different approach and offers a few suggestions of why the team has fared better on the road.

"I think when you are on the road you just get into the routine where you get to relax a lot," Cedergren said. "You don't have to worry about girlfriends, friends and Facebook and that kind of stuff. We kind of control what they do and what they don't do. When they are on the road all of their focus is on soccer."

After falling short in the final two regular season games, UK suddenly saw its NCAA tournament hopes on the ropes. Kentucky would need a strong showing in the league tournament to assure a berth into postseason play.

The Cats did just that as they picked up an important 1-0 decision over Memphis in the first round and went toe to toe with the conference's regular season champion, SMU, before losing to the Mustangs in penalty kicks.

Despite the heartbreaking loss, Kentucky is right where it wants to be and has gained valuable experience heading into Thursday evening.

"In the short two-week span, there was a lot of growing because we now all of a sudden have been in pressure situations four times," Cedergren said. "The first two times we didn't do as well as we wanted but then we did much better. Going to play Xavier where you have to win to keep going, we've played must-win games the last four so it's nothing different for us playing tomorrow."

Because this is the first NCAA bid UK has earned since 2003, none of the players have any sort of postseason experience.

So who will Kentucky rely on for leadership?

Look no further than the coaching staff, which is loaded with postseason experience and national championships. Cedergren has been to the NCAA tournament in each of the last six seasons, while assistant coach Erik Imler won three national titles as a player and fellow assistant David Casper owns one as well from his playing days.

"We have been sharing some information and some things to think about with the guys all throughout the season," Cedergren said. "I think within the staff, we have been there, we have done that, we know how to handle it and for the guys it's just a matter of getting over the hump."

Xavier comes in with a 13-2-5 overall record and finished 6-1-2 in the Atlantic-10 conference. The Musketeers have outscored their opponents 47-19 on the year with their lone defeats against top-25 foes St. Louis and Virginia Commonwealth.

XU defeated Dayton in penalty kicks in the A-10 tournament and tied Northwestern earlier in the year - two teams that defeated the Wildcats early in the season.

Cedergren is very impressed with the type of program Xavier has developed over the years and wasn't hesitant to praise his team's next opponent.

"You have to have a lot of respect for Xavier and how well they have done since Coach (Andy) Fleming took over," Cedergren said. "Before that they were not a team that was on the bubble to get into the tournament or even considered. In three years he has gone three for three so that's an unbelievable achievement and now we have to see who the better team around this area is."

Another interesting tidbit to throw into tomorrow night's matchup is the ties between Xavier and UK's head coach. Cedergren is no newcomer to the matchups against XU, having played against the Musketeers as a member of Cincinnati's team back in his playing days.

Cedergren also received his MBA from Xavier, putting the Wildcats' head coach in an interesting position. Without much thinking, Cedergren reverted back to his playing days and enjoyed every time his team got the best of the Musketeers saying it never hurts to beat Xavier.

With a new rivalry possibly forming, Cedergren is anxious to see what tomorrow night has in store.

"This is a little different with Kentucky and Xavier but for me I just want to play the best opponent possible," Cedergren said. "I think Xavier is a really good team and it will be interesting to see how it goes tomorrow."

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