Cameron Wilder (left) and Matt Lodge (right) helped lead UK to the first win of Johan Cedergren's tenure on Friday night. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The University of Kentucky men's soccer team dominated the entire first half Friday evening against St. Joseph's but found itself locked in a scoreless tie going into intermission.
The Wildcats sprinted out of the gates with intensity and dominated possession of the ball for the first 45 minutes. UK outshot the Hawks 11-1, including a 9-1 advantage in corner kicks but struggled to find the back of the net.
As the teams jogged off the field and headed into their respective locker rooms, the Cats looked up at the scoreboard and saw a resemblance to a prior game they had played this year.
In the opening game of the season, Kentucky and Dayton were all knotted up at 0-0 after the first stanza. The squads exploded in the second half, scoring seven combined goals before the Cats eventually came up short in the contest, 4-3.
Head coach Johan Cedergren was not going to let his team forget about that defeat.
"I think we went into the half just like Dayton feeling pretty good about ourselves," Cedergren said. "I just said 'We don't want to leave this game feeling the same way we did at Dayton, so let's make sure we stay nice and solid in the back and slowly but surely we are going to wear them down with key passing.' "
Sure enough, Kentucky responded by scoring two second half goals and posting its first shutout of the season, earning Cedergren his first career victory in UK blue, 2-0.
The offense got a spark off the bench from freshmen Jacob Scearce and Bryan Celis. The two showed their energy right away, flying to the ball and wrecking havoc on St. Joe's.
After multiple shot attempts were denied midway through the second half, Celis made a pretty touch pass to Scearce in the box, who found the back of the net for his first career goal, giving the Wildcats a 1-0 lead in the 71st minute of the match.
"I really didn't know what to do with the ball at first," Scearce said. "I saw Celis making a great run to the right side of me and I just back heeled it. He made a great touch on the ball and I finished it from there."
Scearce and Celis did not shy away from the moment. They got their call from the bench and attacked the Hawks defense. That type of aggressive play is exactly what Cedergren is looking for out of his young freshmen.
"The two of them played today how we want freshmen to play," Cedergren said. "You don't come in and let the game come to you, you come in and grab the game. You say, 'I'm going to impose myself on the other team,' and they both did that today."
Senior Charlie Pettys gave the Wildcats a bit of a cushion in the 88th minute, as he fired a shot from about 25 yards out that just made it by the keeper's outstretched hand for a 2-0 lead.
Friday evening marked the first home game of the season for Kentucky and the Cats provided the fans with an offensive performance that should see them return for a showdown against No. 4 Charlotte on Sunday.
Every win is important, but after falling short by one goal in their first three games, this victory was a must for the Cats heading into Sunday.
"It means a lot," Cedergren said. "The guys have worked really hard this week and we are so excited to get the first win at home. We were so close in the first three games and to get a shutout really gives us a boost. Now we can go in and really be on our toes and play a really good team in Charlotte on Sunday."
The Cats outshot the Hawks 20-2 in the match but the defensive effort shouldn't be overlooked. After surrendering eight goals in the first three games of the season, Kentucky's back four played a tremendous 90 minutes.
Freshman goalkeeper Callum Irving was back in goal for the second time this year after making his first career start against Dayton. Irving flipped the script from two weeks ago, turning in an outstanding performance and providing the team with a much-needed solid defensive effort.
The back four of the defense looked in sync tonight and is improving every game according to Cedergren.
"Steven Perinovic deserves a lot of credit," Cedergren said. "Steven is a great guy and works so hard in practice. He's not the most vocal but he really cares and I think that Steven and Jacob Speed are really good players and are starting to figure each other out. Jacob Kemper, a former forward, and Charlie Pettys, a former center midfielder, I think are getting better every game. I think the back four are slowly but surely getting where we want to get."
UK clicked on all cylinders tonight and was able to add the second goal late to run away from St. Joe's. Scoring the second goal was big for the Cats after they had squandered a 1-0 lead against Northwestern last weekend.
The Wildcats have learned several lessons early this season that perhaps will make them a more mature team heading into conference play. The team looked poised and showed a desire to win.
"We've got a lot of guys that are really good on the ball but its just being able to take a two goal advantage," Cedergren said. "Charlie, as a senior, used an opportunity to advance us and he made a great shot. Tonight we showed are passion and what it means to us to win."
Norway native Kristoffer Tollefsen is in his freshman season as a member of the UK men's soccer team. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Going from one state to another can be a difficult process, but moving to a different country is another thing entirely. University of Kentucky freshman soccer player Kristoffer Tollefsen is currently going through that transition.
The Sandefjord, Norway native moved to the United States this summer after being recruited by head coach Johan Cedergren, who discovered Tollefsen through a contact he has in Scandinavia. The first-year head coach watched some video on Tollefsen and liked what he saw, so he planned a trip and flew overseas to meet with Tollefsen and his family.
After sitting down with the Tollefsen's, Cedergren found the family to be very humble with an athletic background. Tollefsen's father was a former professional handball player and was a member of the Norway national team. The visit turned out to be a major success for Cedergren.
The transition has gone surprisingly well for the freshman midfielder. Tollefsen was fortunate enough to be joined by fellow Norwegian Isak Krogstad, who is a freshman forward on the squad, which helped make it a smooth process.
"The adjustment has gone well, surprisingly well actually," Tollefsen said. "Definitely having Isak around has been a big help. We actually just started talking English to each other. Both of us are learning the language better and I actually did my first load of laundry a couple weeks ago so I think things are going great."
Cedergren agrees that having Krogstad around is helping Tollefsen become more comfortable at Kentucky. One thing Cedergren wants his players to know is that he is always there for them if they ever need anything.
"I think it's never a bad thing to have two kids from the same country where the two of them can share stories with each other in Norwegian and relate to each other," Cedergren said. "What I've told both of them is that I'm expecting a lot of them while they are here for four years and like every other player my door is always open and if they have any issues they can come see me."
Soccer isn't the only commitment Tollefsen has on his plate. Academics play a large role in a student-athlete's schedule and Cedergren is particularly adamant his athletes stay on top of their studies.
It can be very overwhelming with all of the scheduling, especially for an international student. That's where help is needed and the academic advisor for men's soccer, Mike Haley, has done a tremendous job guiding Tollefsen through the process.
"Someone you have to give credit to is Mike Haley, our academic advisor, who is fantastic in terms of getting their schedule set up and tutors," Cedergren said. "That is one of the worries you have with internationals but Mike is great and he makes sure all of the guys do their assignments and get their schedules squared away."
Tollefsen has sprinted out of the gates through his first three games as a Wildcat, starting every game and leading the team with two assists. Standing at six feet tall, Tollefsen owns an advantage over opponents with his height, which allows him to win most headers.
His play on the ball and his knowledge of the game are what stand out to the coaching staff and his teammates. He brings a style of play that makes the offense flow and stiffen the defense.
"He helps us defensively and offensively in the center mid and never really loses the ball which keeps things going for us," senior midfielder Cameron Wilder said. "He's doing a great job and makes really good decisions. He's one of those players that's always trying to make himself better in training."
This weekend, the Cats play host to the UK Invitational where No. 4 Charlotte, St. Joseph's and Stony Brook will join them. Kentucky will face St. Joseph's on Friday at 7:00 p.m. at the UK Soccer Complex.
The match will mark the first home game for Tollefsen and the rest of the Cats, who are seeking their first victory of the season. Tollefsen is eager to play in front of the UK fans and he feels the team is playing well and a win is on the horizon.
"I'm looking forward to playing on the fantastic field we have and in front of the fans," Tollefsen said. "I think we have played some good soccer and we just have to get 90 minutes together now to get a win because we need a win. There is nothing about the talent in the group, we are playing some good soccer so we just have to get it together for 90 minutes."
Overall, UK has been a smooth transition for Tollefsen. He is continuing to get adjusted to the weather and meeting new people but that will come with time. He is a hard worker and fits right into Cedergren's coaching style.
"It's been very good here," Tollefsen said. "His help since I got here has been great. His training is hard and tough but I like it that way and I think we have to train that hard. I'm getting used to the heat and the players and making new friends and its going great."
Football - The UK football team began the season with a 32-14 loss on the road to in-state foe Louisville on Sunday. - UK moved the ball well offensively, totaling 373 yards of total offense. Sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith-led Kentucky's offensive attack by completing 35-of-50 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns. Senior La'Rod King led the team in receiving with a career-best eight catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns, while tight end Tyler Robinson caught the other touchdown pass. - Senior tailback CoShik Williams also had a solid outing, posting more all-purpose yards than any other player in the game with 168 yards. Williams also led UK in rushing with 10 rushes for 62 yards. - Kentucky was 7-of-13 on third downs for the game, which was its best performance since going 9-of-15 versus Georgia on Oct. 23, 2010. UK's 24 first downs were the most since 26 at Tennessee on Nov. 27, 2010. Volleyball - The 10th-ranked Kentucky volleyball team endured its toughest stretch of matches to date with hostile road environments at Louisville and Ohio, as well as taking on No. 17 Oregon. UK responded with a 2-2 week which included an impressive victory over Ohio. - Junior Whitney Billings shined in all phases of the game with team-leading stats in kills, hitting percentage and aces. She was also a contributor on the defensive side of things earning impressive performances at the net as well as the back line defensive effort. She had a career-high .545 hitting percentage on a flawless performance from the floor in a win against Western Carolina. - Things do not get any easier for the Blue and White as UK ventures to the Ameritas Players Challenge on the campus of No. 1 Nebraska this week.
Women's soccer - The Kentucky soccer team hosted the Tropical Smoothie Invitational, coming away with a 2-0-0 weekend tallying wins over UNC Greensboro and Southeast Missouri. - Senior Natalie Horner tallied a goal in both games, netting the fourth and fifth goals of her career. The Upper Arlington, Ohio native played the full 90 minutes in both games. Horner's goal on Sunday was a game-winner for the Wildcats in a 1-0 win. - The Wildcats back line kept a clean sheet for the second and third time in four matches, and continue to stand alone in the Southeastern Conference as the only team to not allow the opposition to score on them all season. - Natalie Horner, Arin Gilliland and Olivia Jester were named to the Tropical Smoothie Invitational All-Tournament team.
Men's soccer - The men's soccer team has continued a stout schedule to open the 2012 season, as the Wildcats traveled to the talent-laden Gamecock Classic over the weekend, suffering a pair of one-goal losses to No. 25 Northwestern and defending Big East Champion, No. 15 St. John's. - The Wildcats have scored a total of five goals in their first three games, including a pair of goals from Matt Lodge and Tyler Riggs. Charley Pettys has also notched a goal, while freshman Norwegian Kristoffer Tollefsen leads the club with two assists. - In goal, UK freshman Callum Irving made the start in the season lidlifter with junior Jack Van Arsdale starting the two games at the Gamecock Classic.
Cross country - The men's and women's cross country teams both finished second at the Belmont Opener, the men finishing with 74 points while the women finished one point off the lead with 34 points. - Senior Luis Orta led the men's team, finishing first overall for a second consecutive year at the event. Orta finished the 5K event in 15:16.70 and has now won the first event of the season three consecutive years. Matt Hillenbrand finished sixth for the men, crossing the finish line in 15:37.30. - Cally Macumber finished the women's 4K event in second, just two seconds off the lead while Chelsea Oswald finished just behind her in third. Allison Peare and Hiruni Wijayaratne also earned top-10 finishes for the women.
Through two games, 22 Wildcats have seen playing time for the women's soccer team. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Jon Lipsitz had simply gotten used to coaching with a short bench. Limited depth on his 2011 roster forced him into regularly leaving multiple players on the field for all 90 minutes.
That's not a problem anymore.
In 2012, Kentucky is suddenly awash in depth. Lipsitz has found himself furiously substituting players so far this season, so much so that he realized last weekend he was actually interrupting his own team's momentum.
"There was actually a moment in the (Eastern Kentucky) game in the second half where we were subbing quite a bit and getting a lot of players in the game," Lipsitz said. "I was doing it because I want as many players as possible to get experience on the field to see how they react and see if the things we've worked on in training are coming through."
Taking the air out of his team in the short term isn't ideal, but for the long-term prospects of these Wildcats, it's necessary.
Through two games of the 2012 season, 22 players have already seen the field, and 16 for at least 40 minutes. To give an idea of the contrast with last season, there were only 21 players on the roster in 2011. With 32 players on the team to start the season, Lipsitz had as many players on his bench for the season opener as on the entire 2011 team.
Based on performance in practice, the majority of his players deserve playing time. As 2012 wears on, Lipsitz wouldn't mind it if he keeps playing upwards of 20 players a game. He also wouldn't mind if a shorter rotation of, say, 15 emerges. Ultimately, it will probably end up somewhere in between.
"As the season progresses, I don't expect to play 22 players every game," Lipsitz said. "I just want that many players with experience."
The next chance to build more of that experience comes this weekend as UK hosts the Tropical Smoothie Invitational. The Cats will face UNC-Greensboro at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, then Southeast Missouri at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. The event will also include the Louisville Cardinals, whom UK won't take on this weekend, but will next Friday in Louisville.
"It's nice to be good hosts and it's nice to bring people here that have great programs and coaches that are good friends," Lipsitz said. "It's fun rivalries and we are looking forward to it."
This season's Tropical Smoothie Invitational features the same four teams as last year, but the other squads in the field will have plenty of new faces and names to learn when facing the Wildcats. UK prominently features a highly touted 15-member freshman class.
Lipsitz has been a head coach at the Division I level for over seven years now, but he has never had a class like this one. A testament to their talent, 10 of the newcomers have already seen the field just two games into the season.
So, is Lipsitz coddling the most highly ranked recruits he's ever coached?
Not so much.
"I called a few freshmen in the office this week and asked, 'How does it feel to be exposed every day?' " Lipsitz said.
Lipsitz's goal is to make training sessions more of a challenge than any game will ever be. He wants players to be tested, both mentally and physically, and the talented depth of his team allows him to do that every single day.
As for the freshmen Lipsitz put on the spot in his office this week, they seem to be handling it just fine.
"Their reaction was incredibly positive and talked about how they wanted to be pushed," Lipsitz said. "That's why we recruited them."
From the first day of preseason, Lipsitz has raved about the overall competitiveness of his team. Freshmen haven't hesitated to take it to upperclassmen and the upperclassmen have consistently responded.
That doesn't mean UK is close to being a finished product on the field. The Wildcats are out to a perfect start through two games, but have often been out of sync offensively, so far managing just one goal that has not been scored on a corner or free kick. The Cats have maintained possession for the majority of the 180 minutes, but converting possession into chances on goal has been a struggle.
With six goals in 2011, junior Caitlin Landis is UK's leading returning scorer. She has just one point through two games, but Lipsitz isn't worried about that. Landis now is joined on the first-team UK attack by forwards Cara Ledman and Kelli Hubly and attacking midfielder Olivia Jester.
"(Landis) is one who is a fantastic player and one that wants to just do her job," Lipsitz said. "She's not allowed to do that anymore with three freshmen. She has to lead and it's very uncomfortable."
That's where practice and UK's depth come in.
The primary focus in training this week has been on the "personality" of the UK attack, with Landis being asked to step up as the emotional leader of the group. The work started in drills with fewer players, which is where it would have had to stop last season. Limited by numbers, the Wildcats couldn't hold full 11 vs. 11 drills in practice. Now, 11 vs. 11 has become Lipsitz's laboratory.
"I think we can fix a lot of our issues without playing 11 v 11 but in the end we can never be sure how much better it's gotten until we test it," Lipsitz said. "We can work in small numbers but we want to see it. The nice thing this week is we have been working on our attack. We could work on offense versus defense all we want but until we get into 11 v 11 will those smaller concepts that we restrict their time and space to make them play faster. I feel like we get to learn more about our team earlier in the week instead of waiting until Friday or Sunday."
This weekend, it will be the fans' turn to see the results.
Mitch Barnhart is in his 11th year as Athletics Director at the University of Kentucky. (UK Athletics)
Cat Scratches sat down with Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart this week for a question-and-answer session. With another year in UK Athletics in full swing, Barnhart discussed the state of the athletic department, the upcoming football season and facilities, among other topics. Here is a complete transcript of the conversation.
Cat Scratches: UK Athletics had one of the best seasons in its history in 2011-12 and fall sports are already in action. How important do you believe it is for the fall sports to continue the momentum and set the tone for 2012-13? Mitch Barnhart: I think it certainly creates momentum when you get off to a good start. We just completed our first weekend of play and we were 5-1 coming out of the weekend in a variety of sports between women's soccer, volleyball and men's soccer. Last year, we really only had two of our fall sports that had NCAA appearances - one of them was women's soccer, the other one was volleyball - so trying to recover from a slow start was difficult. We did make a good run in the winter in the spring and that was very helpful to us. To get off to a better start this year in terms of all of our sports is very important to us.
We've made some additions to our fall sports coaches roster, if you will, in Johan Cedergren (men's soccer head coach) and Edrick Floreal in our track and field and our cross country. That will take a little time to develop, but I think it is important that you get off to a good start. Clearly, we don't want to miss opportunities for our program to be in postseason play. I think winning and creating that atmosphere and the old theory of the rising tide raises all boats is very, very true. We certainly want to start out that way. CS: Being around the program and interacting with coaches, it's impossible not to notice a community across the different teams at UK. How much of that culture did you envision when you arrived and how much is simply an outgrowth of bringing in good, like-minded people? MB: We've tried to create a group of coaches, as well as administrators, that get along and that everybody is sort of rowing in the same direction. It starts with your two revenue-producing coaches and that is with (men's basketball head coach John Calipari) and (football head coach) Joker (Philips). They truly want Kentucky Athletics in total to be great. The things that they do and the things that they put in place help us to get to those spots. They produce and provide opportunities for everybody else, but they take great pride in that and I think they enjoy other people succeeding.
What we do is try to create an atmosphere where coaches enjoy feeding off one another's successes and I think that's sort of what we got. I've joked around and said I've got a group of very normal people. I say that in the nicest of ways in that they have real balance in their lives. The way that they treat people is with respect and they're honorable folks in the way they do their business. But most of all, they understand student-athletes and how to treat them and grow them into the young people we want them to be.
When you put all those pieces of the puzzle together, we've got a group that really, really gets along well. You'll go to matches or games and you'll see all the coaches from other sports hanging out on the sidelines or in the end zones or in the corners watching. And I think they learn from one another. I think everybody's learned a little bit how you manage superstar athletes like Cal has gotten. You've seen some people that have been what I call grinders in grinding away with a group of athletes and how they've won with that and how we've won with some overachieving athletes. They've all taken bits and pieces from one another and I think they're not territorial in any way, shape or form. They get along extremely well.
CS: Moving on to football specifically, expectations on the part of fans and experts are relatively low for this season, while many around the program seem to have a quiet confidence that the team is better and more talented than outsiders think. For the sake of ticket sales, you would obviously prefer that fans would agree, but are there also positives associated with being under the radar? MB: I think, sometimes, you need to be able to play with a chip on your shoulder a little bit. I think that's what we're going to have to do this year. We're going to have to play with a chip on our shoulder. People aren't giving us much of an opportunity to compete and I think you're going to have use that as a rallying cry around your program. You're going to have to believe in one another. We're going to have to have some things go our way. We've got to stay a little bit injury-free and we've got to stay clear of that. And we've got to be able to go out and perform.
We've got some young people certainly capable of that and I think we've got a really good group of coaches. They believe in one another and they believe in our kids. That's the first step. I'd agree with you. I think there is a gentle confidence about them, but we've got to go out and prove that. CS: Another much-discussed topic is the Alumni Charity Game at Rupp Arena at 2 p.m. on Sept. 15. What kind of thought went into planning that and why do you believe it can be a successful doubleheader with football's home game at 7 p.m. against Western Kentucky that same day? MB: You've got some restrictions about when you can play the game and do those kinds of games by NBA rules. We've got a unique set of alumni - probably a different alumni base than most programs have - an alumni base of over 20 NBA guys, and it's growing rapidly. To have a unique group of folks that want to come back and be a part of something like that at Kentucky is very different from a lot of places.
I've always been a believer in creating multiple things for your fans to be a part of on a weekend and let them enjoy a lot of things. It goes back to what we talked about with the culture here. Just being able to share assets and share ideas and share fan bases and share things that promote Kentucky in total rather than one thing individually I think is really, really important. If we can use the incredible traditions we have in basketball to help augment people wanting to come be a part of an incredible weekend with Hall of Fame Weekend and Alumni Weekend and Western Kentucky, what an opportunity for us to do that.
CS: The Alumni Game is just the latest example of the department reaching out to former student-athletes. Across sports, former Wildcats are joining coaching staffs and being invited to be more involved with the program. Why do you believe that to be so important? MB: I think that Joker has done a great job of bring guys back in the program and allowing them to work and begin their careers. That fosters that sense of family that we are trying to create. We want people in our program that love Kentucky and understand Kentucky and take great pride in what we do. To have Jeremy Jarmon, Andre' Woodson, Glenn Holt, Sam Simpson, Braxton Kelley and Tyler Sargent back on your staff in football (as director of player personnel) or to have a Marquis Estill who comes back to get his degree and works on (the basketball) staff and (former student assistant) Wayne Turner now out there in the working world out there representing Kentucky is really good. You've got Tony Delk and Scott Padgett out there in basketball (now assistant coaches at New Mexico State and Samford, respectively, after a stint on Calipari's UK staff).
Most of our coaches are beginning to reach out and pull those folks back. There was a time when there weren't a whole lot of folks interested in coming back to be a part of this, but that has become more the norm. Our athletes are now wanting to be a part of us differently than they have in the past. I think that's very helpful to us.
CS: It doesn't take long for anyone who regularly attends UK sporting events to notice that you attend pretty much every game or match that you can. Why do you make such an effort to do that? MB: I think it's a couple things. One, the young people, our kids, put in an incredible amount of time. For us to be able to come and make sure they know that we care and that and we know who they are, I think that's important for them to know that you care.
Two, if you're going to evaluate your program properly, you've got to understand what the climate is in your program and what's going on. You've got to have an ability to see firsthand how your players, your athletes are reacting to the things that your coaches are teaching.
Three, I think we've got to know that the environment we're providing is organizationally sound and that it is run efficiently and safely for everybody that's coming, whether it's to play in it or to participate in it or to watch. We've got to make sure those things are sound.
I don't think you can do those things if you're not there and you're not around it. Come about mid- to late-June, I'm about done and I need to get away a little bit. So July I try to get away and go do stuff and get my head clear before we crank back up again. CS: We have discussed the challenges UK Athletics faces in maintaining and building new facilities in similar settings before, but can you provide an update on how you believe the department is coping with those challenges and what your priorities are going forward? MB: We came here and I would say - out of the 12 teams at the time that were in the SEC, now it's 14 - I'd say we were bottom three in the league in terms of actual facilities. The way that financing is done on campus and in our state, it is very difficult for us to secure financing. We don't have a private foundation. The way that funding in our state is done is very different from everybody else in our league, and that's another conversation completely.
We have basically piecemealed together everything that we've done. We've saved money, we've raised money, we've put pockets of money together systematically, piece by piece by piece taking care of facilities. We're in the process of finishing up the last two pieces of the soccer/softball complex down there on Alumni Drive. That would be a very important piece. That would leave us three or four projects away. Two of them are really, really big ones - one of them is a new baseball stadium and the other one is obviously the renovation of Commonwealth Stadium - that we're going to have find ways to get help on, whether that's through bonds or through additional fundraising. And then our indoor tennis center, which really desperately needs help. Those three facilities are still on the docket for us of things we really need help with.
How we get all that done and work on that is important because athletes today pick schools for a variety of reasons. We just did a study and they come for that relationship with that head coach, generally, and then secondarily with the players involved and the folks on the team. Can they make those relationships work? Beyond that, we have heard them say over and over again as they have left our program, 'It isn't about facilities, but we just don't want to have horrible facilities.' We've felt like we've always had decent playing facilities, but the amenities around them that make it really warm and accommodating have just not been where they need to be.
We've done the math. In the last 10 years, we've done about $115 to $120 million of cash, capital construction, but we close to no debt. That's a really good thing. The downside is that we haven't been able to move as fast as we've wanted to move. Hopefully, with getting some changes in the way we look at bonding, we'll be able to do that.
CS: The 15 by 15 by 15 plan to win 15 conference and national championships and finish in the top 15 of the Director's Cup standings by 2015 is the centerpiece of your goals for this department. Having won 10 titles already, that benchmark looks to be clearly within reach. But in 2011-12 - one of the best seasons in UK history - the department finished 29th. How difficult will it be to reach the top 15 and how important will the new direction of the track and field and cross country be to that? MB: Our goal is to obviously get the championships, and that's one piece. You could legitimately capture three championships a year for five years, meet that goal and still not be closer to a top-15 program. Our goal is to be a top-15 program and that hasn't changed. We got to 29th last year and it's the second time we've done that in the 10 years we've been here.
The big piece in that is you've got to be able to have success in your track and field program consistently. It counts six times for you when you take cross country, both men and women; indoor track and field championships, both men and women; and outdoor track and field championships, both men and women. That is six opportunities with essentially the same athletes and same coaching staff. We've been relatively inconsistent. We've had some championship performances in those sports. We've had some people do, individually, very well, but not collectively as a team getting us to a spot where we could say we're finishing top 20 in cross country, top 20 in indoor track and outdoor. We've got to get to that spot.
When you get a guy like Edrick to come on board who has got a great ability to move your program forward coupled with the investment we've made in a 13 million dollar outdoor track plus the indoor track, the resurfacing of that, new locker rooms and a new lounge, it's about as good a scenario as you could possibly have for track and field. It gives us all the resources necessary to go compete to get us to that top 15. I'm not saying in year one we make this dramatic move from 29 to 15. It's going to take him a year or two to get all his folks in place.
In time, that has a major impact on our ability to be a top-15 program. If we had everything else in place like we've had the last few years, just the moderate successes we've had and some of the championships we've won, and you added four finishes out of six in track and field, we would have been a top-15 program in I think three of the last six years. That significantly changes the way you do your business. We've got to pay attention to that and we've got to work really, really hard to give that the attention it needs.
I think we've done that and I think we have a legitimate chance to be a top-15 program or we wouldn't have done some of the things we've done. I think we have a tremendous pool of head coaches. Now we have to find a way to keep them in place and grow them the right way for the long-term stability of our program so we're not a transition place where they come here to go to another place. We want to give them the resources necessary to say this is a destination spot at Kentucky and we build toward being a top-15 program and stay there.
UK fell 4-3 to Dayton in the first game of the Johan Cedergren era. (UK Athletics)
Coming into the 2012 campaign, men's soccer head coach Johan Cedergren set a lofty goal for his team of allowing 18 goals or fewer in 18 games this season. The Wildcats hit a bump in the road in achieving the feat after allowing four goals to Dayton last Sunday in the season opener.
The Wildcats held the Flyers scoreless through the first 45 minutes of action before fireworks went off in the second half. The teams combined to score seven goals as Dayton squeaked away from the match with a 4-3 victory.
Although the Cats surrendered four goals and walked away from the contest on the low end, Cedergren and the defense never stopped fighting and are confident they will right the ship.
"I think we have a lot of experience in that back four and they as a unit were not at all happy about letting four goals in, but they never stopped trying and they kept pushing," Cedergren noted.
Kentucky runs a 4-5-1 set and is full of experience on the defensive end. Seniors Jacob Kemper and Pettys along with juniors Dylan Asher and Steven Perinovic man the back line for the Cats, who have five seniors among the starting 11.
In contrast to previous seasons, Cedergren is implementing a zone defense instead of man assignments. Like anything in life, change doesn't happen overnight.
"I think we use a fairly similar system that the players are used to in that we play a back four and I believe they played a back four in the past," Cedergren said. "They have zone responsibilities rather than man markings and its just a little more complicated because people that come into your zone are your responsibilities. You have to mark whoever is coming into your zone and then the other three defenders have to feed off of what the first person is doing."
The zone defense requires a lot of attention to detail and trust in teammates to have each other's back.
"We talk a lot of paying attention to detail and as we work more and more the defense is going to get cleaned up," Cedergren said. "We also have to have two holding center midfielders in front of the back four that are supposed to protect them. I think they did an okay job there but we can definitely be a lot sharper."
Despite surrendering four goals in the opener, the offense looked primed and ready for the 2012 season. The Wildcats received goals from senior captain Matt Lodge, Charley Pettys and Tyler Riggs.
UK looked sharp on both ends in the first half, taking a 13-6 shot advantage over the Flyers to the locker room. Cedergren was pleased with the performance his team showed out of the gates and their ability to stay within themselves early on.
"I think we had a pretty clear game plan going into the game and we had a good idea what Dayton was going to do," Cedergren mentioned. "We did really well in the first half in terms of staying with the game plan and keeping the team tight and not giving them a lot of room."
The second half turned out to be a different story. The teams combined to score seven goals, with Dayton holding a 9-8 advantage on shots. The Cats fell behind 4-1 before their courageous rally fell short.
"I think you have to give credit to Dayton," Cedergren said. "They made some changes at halftime and we just weren't able to comprehend what they were doing quickly enough. We started dropping off and giving them more space and soccer is a game of opportunities. Once they got their first goal they became more aggressive and started believing more in themselves and started pushing forward and I think we started doubting ourselves at the same time."
After a long preseason battle for the starting goalkeeper position, UK gave true freshman Callum Irving the nod on Sunday. Irving's stat line didn't looked the most impressive after surrendering four goals but he did catch Cedergren's attention with some of his play.
"When you play a true freshman mistakes are going to happen," Cedergren said. "I will never pull someone or not play someone because they made a mistake. It's how you respond after making the mistake and how you compensate. Callum made a couple of saves that very few keepers in the country could have done. Yes there was a mistake that may have happened but at the same time there were two or three times where he saved almost a given goal."
Junior Jack Van Arsdale and freshman Dary DeWalt are also being considered in the mix for the starting slot. Van Arsdale started three games in goal for UK last season and has performed very well in practice and training.
"Jack did great for us in the spring and he's been great in practice," Cedergren said. "Callum and Jack have been pushing each other like crazy and Dary is in the mix as well. The keepers are very close and we thought Callum looked a little sharper but Jack knows if he trains well this week there is an opportunity for him."
Kentucky will turn its focus to the upcoming weekend as they prepare for the South Carolina Tournament where they will face Big Ten foe Northwestern and Big East member St. John's. Northwestern was picked by the coaches to vie for the top spot in the Big Ten, while St. John's comes into the week ranked No. 15/13. The schedule doesn't get any easier for the Wildcats as they are scheduled to play Charlotte (Sept. 9), Louisville (Sept. 14) and Indiana (Oct. 3).
"It's a great schedule and very challenging," Cedergren said. "We have 10 teams in the top 25 but that's where we want to be and our goal is to be in the top 25. I think you need a tough schedule to get you ready for conference play but Northwestern and St John's are two programs where we want to be with two very experienced coaches.
The Wildcats have larger goals set for themselves as the season progresses. It will take a quite a collective effort to reach their benchmark of 18 or fewer goals allowed, but the team is looking at the big picture.
"These two tough games on the road will get us ready for when we have to go and play on the road in conference," Cedergren said. "One of our goals is to make the conference tournament and to do that we are going to have to get some wins on the road and I think a tough schedule will prepare us for that."