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Women's soccer executes game plan to perfection in 4-1 win over UT

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Mike Tyson once said: "Everyone has a plan 'til they get punched in the mouth." The former heavyweight champion's words often hold true in the world of Southeastern Conference soccer.

Jon Lipsitz spends a great deal of time analyzing video with his staff, breaking it down and showing it to the UK women's soccer team as part of devising a game plan.

Still, sometimes the opponent executes its own game plan a little better. They hit you before you can get to them and once you're down you can't recover.

Kentucky's 3-0 home-loss to Arkansas three weeks ago was a notable case of an opponent preventing UK from settling into its ideal style.

Since the loss two Fridays ago, UK has drawn first blood three straight times. Friday's 4-1 victory over Tennessee -- in which the Wildcats scored twice inside the first 15 minutes for the second time in as many matches -- was no exception.

Kentucky scored early and often, figuratively hitting Tennessee in the mouth, and the Lady Volunteers were unable to adjust, let alone recover.

"We had a very tactical week in training," Lipsitz said. "We got way ahead last week on film because there was only one game this week so we could focus a lot more on it, and I thought that helped us a lot. As I have said all year when the coaches get to give the players a game plan and they work so hard to meet that plan we can show how special we can be.

"Tennessee is a great team. We caught them early, and that was obviously the start we were looking for being back home. It's just a lot of hard work. You don't know from day to day if a shot is going to go in or not go in. What we can control is how hard we work. I thought we worked hard tonight."

Lipsitz's plan required some of his defenders to play major roles in attack. After picking up some of Tennessee's tendencies in film study, the UK coach knew he had advantage on the flanks with his wide backs getting forward.

Indeed both Kelly Hubly on the right and Cara Ledman on the left played in forward positions throughout the first half, with a cross from the latter leading to the opening goal.

Lipsitz's plan was certainly aided by having two talented fullbacks, who have spent most of their careers as forwards. As such, they are more skilled than the typical college defender.

Hubly had the second-most goals on the team last season as a freshman, and Ledman is no slouch as an attacking player herself. Lipsitz has described the converted left back as the team's most talented finisher inside the 18-yard box, a bold statement considering she plays on the back line.

"One of the things that is difficult about playing Tennessee is they have great movement between their midfielders and their backs interchanging positions," Lipsitz said. "We actually said what might end up happening is we may have to track their backs into our back line, but then our wide backs would get to take off. We worked a lot this week on our wide backs setting the play instead of our wide forwards. It obviously is an advantage having two forwards at wide back in a game where they get to go forward like they did."

UK went into the Tennessee game with an aggressive plan, but such tactics require a great deal of confidence and fearless attitudes. Such qualities are central to Lipsitz's most trusted on-field leader: Arin Gilliland.

The junior captain certainly repaid her coach's trust as she enjoyed her first-career hat trick, but her third goal was what best exemplified the aggressiveness Lipsitz has be preaching.

After receiving the ball with space in midfield ahead of the rest of her teammates, Gilliland decided to run on the ball straight toward goal. Electing to take on the defenders, she used her speed to get by three Lady Volunteers.

All three defenders attempted to knock Gilliland off the ball, and all three seemed to bounce off as the Lexington product found herself one on one with the goal keeper before she calmly slotted the ball home.

"Jon has talked about being more aggressive and having a fire when attacking," Gilliland said. "He started telling us that before the Vanderbilt game. When I saw three players coming through with all the space behind I thought I would take a touch, run through them because I am either going to get out into space or they will foul me and I'm going to get a penalty kick. I definitely think practicing that definitely worked and I hate to say it, but Jon's practice did work."

With all due respect to the rest of the Wildcats, Gilliland is the team's most talented player. But she's also the hardest worker, and she's always looking to improve. She has certainly improved her physicality in recent months, her second goal showed as much.

"I actually watched a game from last year this week because only preparing for one team allows you a little extra time," Lipsitz said. "I watched in order to evaluate how our individuals were developing. One of the things that was pretty stunning on the film was to see how different Arin is as a complete player than she was a year ago. Her ability to handle physical play without having it get under her skin is a huge part of that."

Gilliland would also reluctantly, but jokingly, admit -- because it would require crediting her coach -- that she was the beneficiary.

Lipsitz's initial tactical decision as UK's second goal came on a glancing header -- which she barely made contact with, redirecting the ball just enough to put the goalkeeper out of position -- from a cross made deep into the box, very close to goal. The Wildcats worked on such balls all week after too many crosses were too far from the goal in weeks past.

Like so many other training-pitch exercises from the previous week, the work paid off.

Even up 4-0 at half, Lipsitz still had helpful hints to give his players. After all, he couldn't let all the knowledge gained from hours spent in the film room go to waste just because his team had scored four times in one half.

"If you looked at Tennessee's stats they have now scored 12 goals in the second half and they've allowed one," Lipsitz said. "We knew they were going to come out in the second half. Obviously they are very well coached. We knew they were going to make adjustments so the key for us was to stay calm. Did we want to give up a goal? Well heck no. Did we want to score more? Absolutely, but the key was to stay calm. We had done the work so we just had to keep possessing the ball. We say all the time the best way to kill a clock is to have the ball."

Such a stat may have seemed miniscule amongst the broader themes of such a lopsided win, but his players' response illustrated the clear lines of communication, which have allowed UK to win 10 of its last 11 games.

Without prompting, Gilliland referenced Lipsitz's halftime message after the game.

"Jon put up a statistic on the board at halftime saying Tennessee has 11 second-half goals, and just one in the first half this season," Gilliland said. "We knew coming into the second half that they were going to be impressive from the start. At first we struggled because they were so aggressive out of the locker room. We got the restart under our belt, got a feel for it and handled it."

And yet, as perfectly as UK executed the game plan on Friday night, scoring four goals in the first half of an SEC game still came as a bit of a surprise.

"Any time we score four goals on a fantastic team of course it's a huge surprise," Lipsitz said. "There's a part of me that expects that because I've seen that in training. There's another part of me that goes, 'Wow, it came out in the game.' You're always surprised when you respect a team so much and you know that they're so good. To be up four goals at half is very surprising, but the other side of that is we didn't do anything today in this game differently than the way we trained this week."

Lipsitz may have been surprised that four goals came with such ease, but careful execution of a game plan allowed UK to land an early knockout blow on Friday.

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