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Women's soccer primed for first UK-U of L rivalry game of new season

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UK players celebrate during the 2012 UK vs. U of L game. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK players celebrate during the 2012 UK vs. U of L game. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Kentucky vs. Louisville. Any mention of said match up is enough to make most any member of the Big Blue Nation take notice, no matter what sport.

The rival schools will face off for the first time this 2013-14 athletics season at the UK Soccer Complex on Friday evening. The Kentucky women's soccer team couldn't be happier to do the honors of kicking off the UK-U of L rivalry this year.

"We always feel like what we do means a lot to the (UK athletics) department," Jon Lipsitz said. "When we're on the field against Louisville the only thing that we can control is how well we play. Getting a great victory last year in front of all our fans that bused over was a huge moment for us."

Without doubt the Wildcats will be up for Friday's match, and UK's head coach embraces the edge that comes with such an intense rivalry. The Wildcats will need to be ready for Louisville's best shot having dominated the all-time series with an 8-2-1 advantage with wins the past two years, including last season on the road.

"Obviously every game means something special to us," Lipsitz said. "Every team needs to get our best. We need to respect the game and respect every player, but we're lying if we don't say there's a little edge on this game."

The Wildcats seemed to find their form last weekend after getting off to a less-than-ideal start to the season with a loss and scoreless draw in the first two matches of the season.

UK picked up two wins in two games against Eastern Kentucky and Toledo. Perhaps more assuring than the victories was the outburst of goals.

UK struggled to find the back of the net during the opening weekend, and following the 0-0 result with Utah, Lipsitz tinkered with his team's setup.

"My grandfather used to say, 'Never waste a good crisis,' " Lipsitz said. "After we tied Utah, as I've said, somehow we all thought it was a crisis when we tied at home. Good for us, good for the players to feel urgency like that because the result wasn't good enough."

Headlining Lipsitz's five positional changes, junior captain Arin Gilliland moved from central defense - where she normally plays when called into the United States National Team Program - to a more attacking role. The alterations paid dividends immediately as Gilliland contributed a school single-game record three assists vs. EKU and another assist against Toledo.

UK's tactical shifts undoubtedly contributed to the Wildcats' improved results during the second week, but a shift in attitude may have made the biggest difference, and it was best exemplified in a gastronomic setting.

The Wildcats passed on a long-held program tradition of enjoying dessert at the team dinner following a victory. After the win against EKU, however, the team was still unsatisfied. The UK players decided to pass on the treat until the full weekend objective was attained: two wins in three days.

"This team has always known that if we play extremely well and lose - and that happens in athletics - I'm going to proud of us," Lipsitz said. "I'm going to say the things we need to do better, but I'm going to be proud of our work. There are also days when we win games and I'm very unhappy with our play.

"We get judged on winning and losing, but it's more about our play. Our players felt we let one get away there (vs. Utah). I think it says a lot that our expectations are totally different than they were."

Freshman striker Zoe Swift was one of the major beneficiaries of Lipsitz' moves and the additional attacking chances they brought about.

Swift had shown the pace needed to get in behind opposing defenses throughout the opening weekend, but she also spurned multiple scoring chances, and was unable to get onto the score sheet. The talented youngster brought her shooting boots to last weekend's matchup as she contributed a hat trick on Friday and another goal on Sunday.

Despite struggling the opening few matches, her coach wasn't worried that she would eventually breakthrough.

"Zoe's obviously a very special player," Lipsitz said. "The thing I like most about Zoe is as good as she is, she is constantly asking what she can do better. She was an amazing player in the second half in the season opener against Wake Forest. When the game ended she came up to me and said, 'I was horrible in the first half, in the second half was good. That's not OK.' That makes Zoe easy to coach because I get to build her up since she's her own critic."

Given her self-criticism and eagerness to learn from her early struggles, it came as little surprise that when she eventually did score the goals came in nearly unprecedented numbers. Swift's three goals vs. EKU marked the first hat trick for a UK player in seven years.

Lipsitz indicated that he was most confident in his defense before the 2013 season started, and his major worry was where the goals would come from. After sacrificing some defensive experience to facilitate a more attacking offensive outfit, the Wildcats' biggest question marks are at the back.

The first step in answering some of those questions is likely to come on Friday evening.

"I am excited about the way we have attacked, but I also think we're going to be tested in new ways," Lipsitz said. "Our defense will be tested in ways we haven't been yet when we play Louisville. I think you'll find out a lot about us."

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