Early in the second half of Sunday's UK women's soccer game, it looked as though Senior Day would end on a sour note, but apparently Caitlin Landis and the rest of the seniors didn't want their final regular season home match to end in a loss.
Down a goal 51 minutes in, being forced to endure yet another injury to a key player -- this time attacking play-maker Stuart Pope -- continuing to be frustrated by LSU's physical defensive tactics and having spurned countless scoring chances for a second straight game, Jon Lipsitz finally vocalized his frustrations from the touch line on the hour mark.
"Grit is something we've been talking about a lot," Lipsitz said. "The only clips of the Missouri game I showed the team yesterday were our missed chances and our lack of toughness. That was it, that's all I cared about. I thought the first half was very difficult because we had so many special chances. We had a lot of chances where we had actually pulled the goalie outside the frame of the goal, and we still missed the open goal.
"Of course the challenge at halftime was are we going to continue to play well or are we going to get our heads down? We got scored on, and I thought scoring pretty soon after was huge because it helped us relax, and get back into our play."
Less than five minutes after Lipsitz loudly voiced his concerns, and 13 minutes after LSU's goal, Landis created another goal-scoring chance, and finally someone tucked it home.
From there the Wildcats took control of the game, but as 3-1 score lines go, Sunday's result was a gritty as they come. Even with the plethora of first-half chances the Wildcats struggled to find their comfortable possession-based playing rhythm. Still UK found a way to produce a positive outcome when the pressure of two straight losses and all that would go along with another bad result was beginning to mount.
"We talk a lot here about wanting pressure," Lipsitz said. "You want pressure. If you lose all your games, you don't have any pressure. We're in a situation now where we're fighting for an NCAA bid and a place in the SEC Tournament. There is pressure on us. That's what we want. We want players that love that."
The Wildcats have dealt well with such pressure all season, having won the game following a loss three times this season and drawn after the only other loss.
Landis's assist on the equalizer continued a strong weekend as she scored a game-tying goal in Friday's double-overtime match, but her goals and ability to create chances meant more to UK than just affecting the score sheet.
Landis and the rest of UK's seniors' ability to respond to the team falling behind or facing other forms of adversity has led the team by example, embodying exactly what Lipsitz asks of his leaders: grit.
"They have to be our leaders, and they have been," Lipsitz said of the players honored as part of Senior Day festivities. "Each one of them has a special story. Each one of them has different trials and tribulations that they've gone through to get to this point. I'm so proud of them. Every time I felt like I was going to get a little choked up I just kept looking at them and going, 'This is fantastic. I shouldn't be upset; I should be happy.' I just kept reminding myself how much I enjoy coaching them."
Sunday's comeback had to be all the more enjoyable for Lipsitz due to his teams response, led in part by seniors like Landis.
"Cat Landis has learned so much in her career," Lipsitz said. "She is playing her best soccer, by far her best soccer at the end. It's not just getting a great goal on Friday for example. She's scored some really good goals. The way she sees the field and her ability to play other players in now is something she didn't have before.
"She was not starting early in the year, and we made some adjustments. I said, 'Hey Cat, it's your time.' It was the next person up. She has put a stranglehold on it ever since. I hope she feels like I was totally wrong when I wasn't starting her early. I hope she looks at me every day and thinks, 'You are an idiot,' because I want my players to want to be on the field and think they deserve to be. She was ready when her number was called and she's been ready ever since."