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Lipsitz's belief rewarded in women's soccer's first NCAA win

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Women's soccer won the first NCAA Tournament game in program history on Friday night over UT Martin. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Women's soccer won the first NCAA Tournament game in program history on Friday night over UT Martin. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Jon Lipsitz knew this day would come.

When he accepted the head coaching position of Kentucky women's soccer, he was certain the Wildcats would deliver the program's first ever NCAA Tournament win. It was his vision.

With a 1-0 win on Friday night at the UK Soccer Complex, his team proved him right.

"I was brought here four years ago to make it to this moment," Lipsitz said.

Lipsitz even knew this was the year it would happen.

"We've been sitting in the office for three years going, '2012, 2012, 2012,' " Lipsitz said. "And that doesn't mean we didn't think it could happen before. We almost did it last year, but it was our dream that we knew it was going to happen this year. We knew."

The moment, however, did not come easily against a game UT Martin squad. The Cats and Skyhawks remained locked in a scoreless tie through 90 minutes of regulation play. UK stayed true to its possession-based style, holding the ball for the majority of the game, but failed to capitalize on 12 shots, six of which were on goal.

"UT Martin presented an unbelievable tactical challenge to us," Lipsitz said. "It was a classic soccer game of a team looking for their one moment and us trying to keep them from that moment while finally finding the goal."

For the second year in a row, the Cats headed to overtime in a first-round NCAA Tournament game. In 2011, UK would eventually fall in penalty kicks to Washington State. This time, a senior who was on the field for that loss had no intention of letting the outcome be determined in the same way. She let her team know about it.

"(Natalie) Horner was very clear with the team at the beginning of overtime that we were not going to PKs. Very clear," Lipsitz said.

So clear, in fact, that he walked away from the huddle and essentially let his team run itself. But not before drawing up the play that would win the Cats the game. It seems, in fact, that just as Lipsitz knew this day would come, so too did he have a good idea how its decisive moment would happen.

"He literally drew up the goal," Arin Gilliland said.

With Skyhawks swarming Gilliland, Lipsitz recognized UK's sophomore forward likely wouldn't be adding to her team-leading goal total.

"Before overtime I took out my pad and I drew Gilliland going central like that and they were running four players at her and I said to her, 'You are not going to score the goal, it's not going to happen,' " Lipsitz said. " 'There is no way you are going to get through that many players. Even if you do there is going to be a fifth and a sixth.' "

With Gilliland drawing the attention, Kelli Hubly went wide. Gilliland fed her and the freshman forward put away the game winner.

"I actually did not think it was real life," Hubly said. "When I got the ball I was thinking, 'What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?' Every day at practice we work on those, and I said, 'Oh, I just have to hit it past her.' "

It turns out the situation was yet another one Lipsitz foresaw.

UK was on the field this morning what he expected to be a casual walkthrough, but Lipsitz heard something that concerned him. Working on the exact breakaway situation on which she would score just hours later, the words "I'm not good at these" escaped Hubly's mouth. To Lipsitz, that was unacceptable.

"We don't really work on anything except for walking through the day of the game, but I pulled some balls out and made her do that repeatedly," Lipsitz said. "We made all of our forwards do that because from film we knew that would be the way to score."

When game time arrived, Lipsitz pulled Hubly aside to hammer his message home: self-assuredness is a must.

"I made her say over and over 'I'm going to score a goal, I'm going to score a goal, I'm going to get a breakaway, I'm going to score a goal,' " Lipsitz said. "It's just so special because it's one thing to coach, it's another thing when players respond."

Right again, Coach Lipsitz.

Now that everything Lipsitz believed would happen has come to pass, what's next?

Well, UK almost certainly faces a West Coast trip to face the winner of second-seeded San Diego State and Cal State Northridge. Before refocusing on doubling UK's all-time NCAA win total, the Cats are going to savor No. 1.

"The next step, it starts Sunday," Lipsitz said. "Saturday, it doesn't. We're going to enjoy this for a little while but it starts Sunday. You have to get that first one to take the pressure off, to know that this is what we are about. For me, I'm going to enjoy this because we can never do this again, that's the special thing about the first."

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