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Men's soccer looks to build on successful 2012 campaign

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Men's soccer head coach Johan Cedergren, Jack Van Arsdale and Tyler Riggs spoke to the media during fall sports media day. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Men's soccer head coach Johan Cedergren, Jack Van Arsdale and Tyler Riggs spoke to the media during fall sports media day. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Entering his second year at the helm of the University of Kentucky men's soccer program, head coach Johan Cedergren will look to lead his squad to its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance, a feat that hasn't been accomplished in men's soccer since UK went to three-straight tournaments from 1999-2001.

If you ask Cedergren, back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances should be expected at Kentucky, not just once every so often.

"It's not good enough to just make the tournament every now and then," explained Cedregren. "We're expecting great things from all programs and for us it's either time to put up or shut up, so we want to do it again this year." 

Kentucky reached the tournament for just the fifth time in school history last season and first time since 2003. 

With plans to get back to the NCAAs, this year's team will call upon just four seniors to lead the group. Defenders Brad Doliner and Steven Perinovic, goalkeeper Jack Van Arsdale and forward Tyler Riggs will carry a lot of responsibility for a team that features 21 underclassmen (13 true freshmen). To put that in perspective, there are 26 total players on the roster.

Cedergren has called upon his group of four seniors to lead a young, talented team, a task that doesn't always come naturally to student-athletes.

"What you find a lot is that you have maybe one or two that are just born leaders on your squad and they only come along every four to six years," Cedergren said. "Then you have that junior class that has to transform into a senior class and sometimes that can take a little work, but you have to be proactive as a staff and find ways to get them more involved. Tyler (Riggs) isn't much of a talker, so we have to get him to be a little more vocal. Jack (Van Arsdale), that comes a little more natural to him. He doesn't mind talking. You give them different roles so that the whole group becomes one big leader."

Doliner, Perinovic, Riggs and Van Arsdale return for their final season in Lexington looking to leave a lasting impression on the program. Riggs, a three-time All-Conference USA honoree, enters the season fourth in school history with 23 goals scored and sixth in points with 55. In each of his first three seasons, Riggs has led the team in scoring. He is the first UK player to do so since 2002-04. 

A 2013 Preseason All-Conference USA selection, Perinovic comes into the season following a breakout 2012 campaign in which he earned numerous accolades (All-Conference USA First Team, NSCAA All-Midwest Region Second Team and All-Conference USA Tournament Team). The athletic center back emerged in Cedergren's style of play and he started all 21 games.

Van Arsdale, a transfer from Virginia Commonwealth University, was named second team All-Conference USA last season. The Richmond, Va., native collected 58 saves, while allowing just 21 goals in 18 starts. 

Having only played in Cedergren's system for a year, the seniors have already noticed a dramatic change for the better.

"I think it's been a huge shift in terms of the culture," Van Arsdale said. "There is an excitement whereas in the past it was kind of a grind. It's not so much of a job anymore, it's a privilege now and there is an excitement about mimicking the success we had last year and going forward, but at the same time it's a completely different transition in terms of the culture and the attitude around the locker room and the field."

Riggs echoed his teammate's statement.

"I believe it's more of a professional atmosphere," said Riggs a Louisville, Ky., native. "Everything that we do is for a purpose, whether it is eating with the team or practicing or just going through a simple walkthrough. Coaches set the new standard high and where we were last year we want to go further and further. I would say the overall atmosphere is just at a higher level."

In order to return to the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky will have to face a challenging schedule that features seven teams that made the tournament last season. With the addition of four new teams to the Conference USA, the competition is expected to be that much greater. 

"With all the realignment, we've got New Mexico, Old Dominion, Charlotte and FAU coming in, which I would say puts us in the top two or three in the country, in terms of conferences," Cedergren said. "Seven teams out of the 10 in our conference made the NCAA Tournament last year, so it will be a brutal conference schedule, but that's what we want. We want to play against the best." 

Aside from the grueling conference portion of the schedule, a rematch with Xavier looms large on Sept. 13 in Cincinnati. The Musketeers eliminated UK from the tournament last season, 1-0, to end the Wildcats' season.

"Xavier has been kind enough to offer a rematch," said Cedergren, who led UK to a 10-9-2 record in his first season. "They knocked us out of the tournament last year, so we're going to go up and play them there (Cincinnati), which I'm really excited about. I really respect Coach (Andy) Fleming and what they do up there. I think they've gone three years in a row to the NCAA Tournament, so we want to be just like them and we get a chance to play them again."

Cedergren's young team will face its first test in the season opener on Friday, Aug. 30, versus Wright State, but he likes the team he has and looks forward to what the season brings.

"We're very excited and we feel like we're in a good spot," Cedergren said. "We're very, very young, but we're also hungry, we're driven and we have a lot of talent, so it's going to be interesting to see what we can do with that."

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