Longtime UK athletics trainer Walt McCombs with Joe B. Hall, John Cropp and Jim Madaleno at the 2013 Catspy Awards. (Photo by Chet White, UK athletics).
Legendary Kentucky men's basketball coach Joe B. Hall is known as a master story-teller. One of his best tales revolves around his longtime athletic trainer, Walt McCombs.
Hall's UK club had just narrowly pulled off a win at Vanderbilt in the late 1970s. Hall was giving the team a spirited postgame talking-to in the locker room when he saw a water cooler and gave it a swift kick. The cooler flipped up in the air and came pouring down on McCombs, who was standing quietly in the corner of the locker room.
"I was so respectful of Walt and in my anger I accidently took it out on him," Hall remembers. "So I picked up that bucket and dumped the rest of the water on my own head, just to show him that I was so sorry."
Now in his 39th year with the UK athletics department, McCombs, 64, is memorable for much more than playing a leading role in Hall's signature story. He has had an undeniably positive impact on countless student-athletes, coaches and staff members.
"If you could sum up Walt in one word, I would say 'selfless,' " former UK men's soccer All-American Barry Rice said.
"He is one of my favorite people in sports," Hall said.
THE EARLY YEARS
A South Carolina native, McCombs attended The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, where he earned his undergraduate degree in physical education and worked as a manager for the football team.
When the trainer needed help, the hard-working McCombs volunteered to help, quickly finding a calling.
"I could never see myself wearing a coat and tie and sitting behind a desk 40 hours a week," McCombs said. "Plus I always liked athletics, working with people and student-athletes."
In August of 1971, McCombs ventured to Lexington to work with the UK football program and coach John Ray as a graduate assistant trainer. After spending two years splitting time between football and the powerhouse men's basketball team under hall of famer Adolph Rupp, McCombs accepted a position as the full-time football trainer at Clemson. That position was short-lived, however, as McCombs was quickly hired full-time by new UK football staff in 1973 under coach Fran Curci.
McCombs would work with football until the mid-October start date for basketball, where he began to form a long-standing relationship with Hall and an appreciation for the whirlwind that is Kentucky basketball.
"Walt McCombs was the greatest thing that ever happened to me as a coach. He fell in my lap and I never had anyone that meshed with the program the way Walt did. Walt was the best that I was ever around in my total coaching career."
- Joe B. Hall
"I didn't realize then, what magnitude everything was at Kentucky," McCombs said. "Being from South Carolina, there wasn't too much news about Kentucky basketball. I didn't learn anything about the history of the program until I got involved with it. Then I realized how blessed I was to have a position like that. It is big-time pressure when you are the men's basketball coach at Kentucky."
CARRYING ON A LEGACY
In the modern era of catering to college coaches, it has become commonplace for the athletic trainers to come and go as coaches do. Head coaches want their own, trusted trainers with them as they build a program.
After spending just one year working with Rupp, McCombs and Hall quickly developed a close personal and professional bond in the years following Rupp's retirement.
"Walt McCombs was the greatest thing that ever happened to me as a coach," Hall said. "He fell in my lap and I never had anyone that meshed with the program the way Walt did. Walt was the best that I was ever around in my total coaching career. Walt is an example for all trainers."
While Hall directed a winner on the floor, McCombs found a perfect balance between confidant to the student-athletes and as an extension of the coaching staff.
"Walt loved the players," Hall said. "He was loyal and respectful to the coaches. He bridged that gap very well as a trainer between the players and the coaches. He fought for the players when he needed to and he represented the coaches and their ideas, always."
UK continued to build on the championship tradition that was founded under Rupp, with the Wildcats finishing as the NCAA Runner-Up in 1974-75, before breaking through for the 1977-78 national championship.
Spurred by Jack "Goose" Givens, who averaged 18 points per game, Rick Robey and Kyle Macy, the Wildcats rolled to a 30-2 record and a win over Duke in the NCAA Title Game.
"The national championship was special," McCombs said. "Any time you win your division, your conference, your conference tournament or go to the NCAA, it is great to see the excitement in the athletes. That is what it is all about. The coaches also get real excited too because they are all competitors and that is what coaches do: They get their boys to compete."
When asked to remember some of his fondest student-athletes, McCombs quickly references some of the top players in program history.
"Sometimes it may be a starter on the team. Sometimes it may be someone riding the bench," McCombs said about some of his favorites. "Rex (Chapman), Sam (Bowie), Melvin Turpin, they were all great kids."
Bowie, a 7-foot-1, 230-pound superstar for the Wildcats, was one of the transcendent players of the Hall era.
"I got there in 1979 and Walt was probably one of the first people that I got really close to," Bowie said. "I never really looked at him as a trainer. He was always in a very enjoyable mood and he was very good at his profession but I thought he was more, he was more than an employee for the University. He was someone that really took a personal interest in us and he was one of those guys that acted like every day was a holiday. He is just a very good man."
After bursting on the scene as an All-SEC standout in 1979-80, Bowie battled injuries and sat out the 1981-82 and 1982-83 seasons. That created a lot of time spent with McCombs in and out of hospitals, training and X-ray rooms.
"Walt was the one that took me down to Memphis, where I had my first couple of surgeries," Bowie said. "Coach Hall had him literally take me down there and stay with me for the few days after surgery. I just remember that as an employee, he was obviously there to take care of me as a patient, but he was there 24/7 as a friend. Walt will always be special to me."
Bowie returned to the hardwood in 1983-84, earning All-America honors and becoming the No. 2 overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft by the Portland Trailblazers.
"When I think of Walt McCombs, the last thing I think of is somebody wrapping an ankle," Bowie said. "He was very good at his profession, but I just knew Walt as a personal friend."
"The stuff that Sam had to go through, after he left here, surgeries, coming back and having to do the same thing over again," McCombs said. "Sam is just a real human being. That is about the biggest compliment I can give someone, is that they are a real human being."
McCombs continued to direct the training needs of the men's basketball program through the Eddie Sutton era and two years into the Rick Pitino era.
BUILDING A SOCCER PROGRAM
In 1992, Pitino brought in his own trainer to work with basketball and McCombs found a home helping build the men's soccer program from its infancy.
While working with the first coach in program history, Sam Wooten (1992-93) and then-coach Ian Collins (1994-2011), McCombs saw a program rise from the ground up. UK went from a club sport, to a NCAA sponsored team, to a powerhouse in the Mid-American Conference.
"We used to play where the tennis courts are now," McCombs said as he detailed the facilities UK used in the early 1990s. "It used to be an intramural field. It had a cage around it, looked like an octagon almost. There wasn't much space between the sidelines and the fence."
McCombs worked with the fiery Collins for his tenure, with the Wildcats dominating the MAC in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He worked with some of the top players of the era, including Riley O'Neill Ilkka Jantti, Andy Gruenebaum and Jamal Shteiwi, with Rice, Dan Williams and Jason Griffiths emerging as stars in the 2000s.
"Walt was the guy that no matter what you needed or what you needed to get done, he would do it for you, no questions asked," Rice said. "He made sure that he did everything possible to keep you healthy and made sure you could do everything you needed to on the field. He pretty much drops whatever he is doing to make sure his athletes are taken care of."
As UK transitioned to the more competitive Conference USA, McCombs got to see the development of the program from a front-row seat. With the transition came a new era in the UK athletics department, as Mitch Barnhart was hired as the athletics director and quickly began to emphasize a broad-based athletics program.
"It is just amazing what Mitch and the athletics department have done and are doing for the Olympic sports," McCombs said about the impact of Barnhart. "Mitch has been dedicated to raising the level. That gives the athletes a lot more pride then maybe the pride they had way back when, when they were riding in vans. It is the way the program should be."
With Griffiths, Rice and Williams leading the way, UK posted strong seasons in 2006 and 2008, with the Wildcats feeling snubbed by the NCAA Tournament committee in both years.
Despite the occasional heartbreak of UK's student-athletes, McCombs always found a way to keep the mood light.
"Walt is always the guy that brightens up the room," Rice said. "We may have been having a bad stretch of games where we were struggling and everyone was kind of down and you would go into the training room and Walt would have everyone laughing by lightening the mood or cracking a couple of jokes. He is always good to be around. He is fun."
In December of 2011, Barnhart turned the keys of the program over to Johan Cedergren, a former star at Cincinnati and decorated associate head coach at powerhouse Dartmouth. An energetic, organized young coach with an infectious personality, Cedergren changed the culture around the UK program. In his first year, Cedergren paced the Wildcats to their first NCAA Tournament since 2003, earning a hosting berth in the first round.
"Walt is a guy that has been around the block once or twice," Cedergren said. "There is really nothing that he hasn't seen. He bleeds blue. There is nothing that he would not do for the University, the athletics department or the team that he is working with."
On one of the first road trips of Cedergren's debut season, McCombs noticed his new head coach was having a hard time with a back injury from his playing days. Without missing a beat, McCombs found a battery operated pillow that was designed to give some relief to the back, bringing it to Cedergren for the following road trip.
"There is nothing he will not do for the team or the staff," Cedergren said. "One of Walt's great strengths is that he may not be super involved in the training aspect of practice but he is always there. He is always watching. There is nothing that Walt will miss. If there is a guy trying to cover an injury or a guy not working hard enough, whatever it is, Walt will see it. That was very reassuring for a young head coach."
Cedergren benefited from his relationship with McCombs and his role during that historic season a year ago, as the Wildcats had several players battle injuries en route to the big dance.
"It might be the first time that a player has had that injury but Walt has seen it multiple times and that really helps a staff," Cedergren said. "He knows the different variations of the injury, the timeline and the best way to go about treatment. The guys feel reassured too when Walt is treating them because they know and they can just tell he knows what he is talking about."
Throughout the 2012 season, it became apparent how much McCombs was enjoying the thrill of a winning season, the energy of the new coaching staff and the excitement of his student-athletes.
"Johan has been a breath of fresh air," McCombs said. "He encourages the soccer boys a lot. He seems to make an effort to be positive, or he is just blessed with encouraging people to do their very best and when they do mess up he doesn't just go ballistic, he tries to make it a positive, it's a learning experience."
While serving as the volunteer assistant on Cedergren's coaching staff, Rice was able to see McCombs' enjoyment of the season and his never-yielding passion for the well-being of his players.
"For a guy that had been around one coach for almost 20 years and then switch and adjust to another coach, who to put it lightly, does everything the exact opposite of Ian, he did better than anyone could," Rice said. "That just speaks to the kind of person he is. He showed Johan the utmost respect. He is just an all-around good guy. He deserves a lot more credit than what people realize. But he is just very quiet, calm and collected and just works in the background."
LOVING WHAT HE DOES
With the joys of retirement in the horizon, one couldn't blame McCombs for planning the next chapter of his life without taping ankles, fixing strained hamstrings or icing down leg cramps. McCombs, however, can't really imagine life without his life's work.
"As long as I enjoy doing it, I can physically do it and as long as they will keep me around, I want to keep going," McCombs said. "My father didn't have the opportunity to finish college, his father passed away when he was in his teens and he had to go to work. He put five of us through college and he worked 40 years at the same plant so that is sort of my upbringing.
A father of two girls and one son, who is finishing up school at UK, and the grandfather of four boys, McCombs' positive impact on others is seen throughout a loving family, and his family of former and current UK athletes.
"I would definitely say team player and loyalty are the things that come to mind," McCombs' boss, longtime UK football trainer Jim Madeleno said about his soccer trainer. "One of the best things someone could say about a trainer a lot of times is that Walt is just someone you don't even know is there. And his job is getting done and done well."
As the Kentucky soccer season rolls on in its second year under Cedergren, McCombs continues to guide his roster of young competitors through the rigors of collegiate athletics and the challenges of being a student-athlete.
"Very rarely to you see one person stay in a position for their lifetime," McCombs said. "I am just taking it day by day. I am very blessed."
His calming presence and caring personality has not changed in 40 years, something that has created an undying loyalty in his friends and co-workers.
"I'll do anything for that man," Madaleno concluded. "Walt McCombs is all UK."
On Monday night, UK men's soccer head coach Johan Cedergren joined UK radio voice Neil Price for the weekly Big Blue Weekly show on WLAP 630-AM. Cedergren talked about UK's start to the year and a tough matchup with No. 20 UAB, set for Sunday at 1 p.m. ET at the UK Soccer Complex. Below is a brief transcript of the end of Cedergren's comments on the call-in show.
On senior Brad Doliner ... "The game sometimes slows down for seniors. They have seen it so many times. They know what to expect and they can play at a different pace. Dolly is great. He is very versatile and wherever you put him he is going to give you 100 percent. He played himself to the ground on Friday and he came back Sunday and was again one of our best performers."
On the strength of C-USA since his time as a player at Cincinnati ... "Conference USA has done a great job. It is a sport that they take very serious. They make sure that any team that comes into the league has a good soccer program. This past offseason we had some additions in Charlotte, Old Dominion, New Mexico and FAU. Unfortunately that meant that SMU, UCF and Memphis left but I think that net-net, we are an overall stronger conference. Last year you could say that maybe we were a top-five conference in the country, now you can say we are a top two. A team like FAU, who maybe didn't have some great seasons in the past, is still undefeated. It is definitely a really, really tough league. It has traditionally been one of the top leagues in the country.
On UAB and long-time head coach Mike Getman ... "When I was at Cincinnati, UAB was definitely a powerhouse. They are a team that is always in there. They are a team that always competes against the top. And coach Getman, who I played against when he was already the coach at UAB, he really knows how to win and how to put a team together. I am excited to host them on Sunday. We were able to get a result down there last year and we are hoping to do the same this year."
On the challenges of facing UAB ... "It is a program that has been successful for a very, very long time. It is a staff that has been together for a very long time. They clearly have things that they do really well that leads them to success. It is a very big team traditionally that is very good on set pieces. The last couple of years they have started to emphasize playing more, so now they can get ball down on the ground and play, as well as hurt you on set pieces. For us last year, we tried to prepare the guys for the battle. (Assistant) Coach (Erik) Imler always says there is no faster player on the field then the ball. That goes for Sunday as well. We will have a bunch of freshmen and when you look across the field at the lineup they are probably going to be the bigger team. But it does not matter so much in soccer. It is more about your mentality, your work rate and about how you can use the ball. I am expecting a very, very tough game, like all conference games are. But we have a couple of things that we are going to work on this week and hopefully we can get a result."
On preparing for the league's top offensive unit ... "We have let eight goals in over the first six games, on just 15 shots (on goal), so I have to start with that when I talk about defense. But I think defensively we are very good. We have two good goalkeepers who are really fighting each other to see who is going to start. We have a great back four. Again, there are three freshmen in the back four, which is part of the reason why we have let eight goals in but defensively I think we are really sound. That was one of the focuses of the preseason was that we were going to work really hard to make sure we don't let in any easy goals. So far, six games into it, I would say we have absolutely not let any easy goals in. Maybe there have been some situations where someone switched off on a marking assignment. Or there has been some kind of deflection like there was this weekend. But we haven't given up a lot of easy goals. So I think we are sound defensively and then it is just a matter of if we can keep a clean sheet going into halftime and we can use the ball and not shy away from the physical nature of college soccer, then I think we are going to be okay."
Recent results Friday, Sept. 20 - lost vs. Dartmouth, 3-1 (at Columbia, S.C.) | GAME RECAP Sunday, Sept. 22 * lost vs. South Florida, 2-0 (at Columbia, S.C.) | GAME RECAP
Upcoming schedule (time Eastern) Sunday, Sept. 29 - vs. No. 20 UAB - 1 p.m.
Team notes The Kentucky men's soccer team continued its grueling start to the 2013 season with the Gamecock Classic, hosted by South Carolina in Columbia, S.C. UK suffered a loss to Dartmouth on Friday night, 3-1, before a 2-0 loss to South Florida on Sunday afternoon.
After its season-long road swing, Kentucky (2-4) will return to action on Sunday with its Conference USA opener, hosting No. 20 UAB at 1 p.m. ET at the UK Soccer Complex.
The Wildcats have totaled seven goals in their first six games, surrendering eight tallies with a 1.33 goals-against average. UK has been led individually in scoring by sophomore midfielder Isak Krogstad, who has three goals and two assists. Senior Brad Doliner has been a rock for the Wildcats at nearly every position on the field, owning a goal and an assist. Freshmen Kaelon Fox and Charlie Reymann have a goal and an assist. Dynamic freshman midfielder Napo Matsoso has a goal, while ranking fourth on the team in minutes. Freshman Sam Miller has two assists, with sophomores Jacob Scearce and Bryan Celis sporting assists. Freshman center back Jordan Wilson has played every second of UK's season, with senior preseason All-America center back Steven Perinovic ranking second on the team in minutes played.
In goal, sophomore Callum Irving has a 1.00 goals-against average and two saves in his three starts. Senior Jack Van Arsdale owns a 1.67 goals-against average in his three starts, with four saves.
Kentucky has played a staggering amount of underclassmen and newcomers in its 2013 season, as 70-percent of its minutes played have come from underclassmen.
Johan Cedergren is in his second season as Kentucky men's soccer head coach. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
It took coach Johan Cedergren just 11 months to lead Kentucky men's soccer to its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2003.
Entering his second year, the 38-year-old native of Solvesborg, Sweden, has his Wildcats primed for future success, despite a youthful roster that is feeling its way into collegiate soccer.
When Cedergren was announced as the third head coach in program history in December of 2011, he spoke eloquently about his goals and ambitions for the program.
He wanted to create a highly professional atmosphere, a die-hard commitment to recruiting the best, intense knowledge of the tactics and fundamentals of the game, and be on the cutting edge of the technological innovations in the sport.
Flash forward 21 months to three games into his second season and Cedergren has successfully transformed the UK program into one of the nation's rising units, while systematically checking program goals off his list.
A former All-Conference USA standout at Cincinnati, Cedergren built a dynamic and highly respected coaching staff with assistants David Casper and Erik Imler, director of operations Marco dos Santos and a former full-time assistant at Dartmouth currently serving as UK's volunteer assistant, Lucas Richardson.
He has transformed UK's video scouting and development system, created a heart-rate monitoring program and implemented innovative approaches to recovery from the physical nature of college soccer.
In his first season, Cedergren led Kentucky to the historic NCAA Tournament hosting berth, helped guide UK to school records in wins over top-25 foes and the highest final season RPI in school history (No. 25). He routinely credited UK's senior leadership, competitive edge and willingness to buy-in as a reason for UK's 2012 success, something he is looking for from his second-edition.
As time has progressed, Cedergren's fingerprints on the up-and-coming program are increasingly present.
With a roster of 19 underclassmen among its 25 players, just three games into the 2013 campaign, the youth movement's impact on the program and the development of the veterans under Cedergren's tutelage is apparent.
The evidence was on display during UK's 4-0 win over IPFW last Sunday, as UK shattered the program record for shots in a game (34), eclipsing the previous record set in 1994. Playing 13 newcomers in the game, including six freshmen starters, UK's offense was historically sensational. It included a 21-shot output alone in the second half that saw UK score all four of its goals and hit the post or crossbar three times.
With such a young roster, ups and downs, however, are to be expected. Six days after the record-setting win, the Cats lost a hard-fought 2-1 rematch with 2012 NCAA Tournament opponent Xavier.
But with dynamic talent in the likes of freshmen Napo Matsoso, Charlie Reymann, Alex Bumpus, Kaelon Fox and Jordan Wilson, combined with a vibrant sophomore class, upperclassmen leadership, and the infectious personalities of the coaching staff, the future for the UK soccer program is uniquely bright.
Sophomore Isak Krogstad scored two goals in four minutes in UK's 4-0 win over IPFW on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
After scoring just one goal through the first two games of the season, the University of Kentucky men's soccer team unleashed a flurry of goals in the span of 11 minutes Sunday afternoon in a 4-0 win over IPFW.
The Wildcats even failed to score in the first half against the Mastodons, but after IPFW's Alex Kemp committed a handball -- resulting in a red card and an ejection -- in the penalty box in the 50th minute, Kentucky took full advantage. Steven Perinovic stepped up looking to put the Cats on the board, but was stifled by goalkeeper Raphael Kotzock.
As young as they are, the Wildcats could have put their heads down after a missed opportunity, but the Wildcats showed a sign of maturity. Just over a minute later, Isak Krogstad received a pass from Alex Bumpus and Kaelon Fox and found the back of the net for the first of his two goals on the afternoon.
Krogstad scored again just four minutes later. His two goals were the first of his career.
"It felt amazing," said Krogstad about his first goal. "I really wanted a goal today and (assistant coach Erik) Imler told me before the game that he was expecting a goal. Killer spirit wanted it in."
Napo Matsoso then made it 3-0 in favor of the Wildcats in the 56th minute and Charlie Reymann gave UK its final edge of 4-0 on his first career goal in the 63rd minute.
A four-goal afternoon is just what the doctor ordered for a team that's struggled offensively through the first two games.
"I thought everyone did a great job of that today in terms of staying switched on," said Kentucky head coach Johan Cedergren. "They (IPFW) aren't an easy team to break down. We just needed that one unselfish run to unlock them and I'm really happy with how we played."
When 19 of your 25 players are underclassmen, there are bound to be some headaches early on.
"I've been telling the guys ever since the first day that age is just a number," Cedergren said. "For me and the staff, it's a bad number, but for them it's a great number because some of these guys are going to play for four years. It's just great to see that we have so much talent in the freshman class."
On the day, Kentucky fired a school-record 35 shots, besting the previous record of 31 set back in 1994. Of those 35, 15 came on goal.
"I really love that we keep on pushing through the entire game," said Krogstad, a native of Tromsoe, Norway. "In the first half we were pushing, but we just lacked that last ball, especially offensively. In the second half we just kept on going and (IPFW) got that red card, which was a relief for us. The goals then just started rolling in."
Krogstad and the Wildcats hope this is a sign of what's to come for the rest of the season because once conference play begins, goals will be a premium.
"It means a lot for us, especially to score four goals and not just one," Krogstad said. "We're starting to get it and you can see it in practice. I have great faith in this team and we've got something good going this year."
Up next for Kentucky is a rematch with Xavier, which knocked the Wildcats out of the NCAA Tournament a season ago, a destination UK hopes to reach again this season.
Overall Record: 1-0-0 Record Last Week: 1-0-0 Recent Results Friday, Aug. 30 - vs. Wright State - POSTPONED to Nov. 5 Sunday, Sept. 1 - defeated Georgia State, 1-0
Upcoming Schedule (times eastern) Thursday, Sept. 5 - at East Tennessee State - 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8 - vs. IPFW - 12 p.m.
TEAM NOTES The Kentucky men's soccer team opened its 2013 season on Sunday with a 1-0 win over Georgia State at the UK Soccer Complex. The Wildcats will return to action at East Tennessee State on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET in Johnson City, Tenn.
Kentucky (1-0-0) posted a 1-0 win over Georgia State on Sunday to open its 2013 season, getting the first career goal from senior Brad Doliner in the 86th minute. Doliner, a senior who was making his first career start at forward, found a diving header into the top of the netting for the game winner. Doliner was assisted by sophomore Isak Krogstad and Bryan Celis, with the assist marking the first of Krogstad's career and the fifth for Celis.
The Wildcats got a shutout in goal from sophomore Callum Irving, making his first start since a September, 2012 matchup with No. 4 Charlotte. Overall, including UK's exhibition games, the Wildcats have allowed only one goal in 180 minutes, with the lone tally coming after UK was left a man down in the final minutes of an exhibition tilt at 2010 NCAA Division II Champion Northern Kentucky.
Kentucky will hit the road on Thursday for the first of a stretch of four of five games away from the UK Soccer Complex. UK will travel to ETSU on Thursday for a 7 p.m. ET matchup in Johnson City, Tenn. UK returns preseason All-America center back Steven Perinovic and 2012 All-Conference USA performers Jack Van Arsdale and Tyler Riggs. A native of Louisville, Ky., and a candidate for the Senior CLASS Award, Riggs has led UK in three consecutive years.
Senior Brad Doliner celebrates after notching his first-career goal. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
Through 85 minutes of tough, physical play, the Kentucky men's soccer team and Georgia State struggled to find the back of the net. The two teams combined for just five total shots on goal through that time.
But, at the 85:45 mark, the Wildcats found an opening and took advantage. Sophomore Isak Krogstad received a pass from sophomore Bryan Celis down the far sideline. From there, Krogstad sent a cross into the box where he found senior Brad Doliner who sent the ball into the back of the net, giving Kentucky a 1-0 lead and eventually a season-opening win.
The goal for Doliner was the first of his career and couldn't have come at a better time. The Cape Elizabeth, Maine, native spent his first three seasons as a defender, but received his first career start at forward on Sunday afternoon versus the Panthers.
"It was great, all week and all preseason we've been working on playing up-back and through, movement off the ball and making a near-post run and someone getting on the end of it," explained Doliner. "I saw the opportunity and got it."
Indeed he did. Doliner and the Wildcats just couldn't seem to find an opening on the offensive end for much of the game, until the end.
After spending most of his career as a defender, switching to a forward isn't just an easy task.
"It's a lot different," Doliner said. "I'm seeing the game from a completely different perspective, so I can see holes to come into. I can hold the ball up and link up and hopefully produce some goals."
The win gives UK a boost of confidence as they head into the rest of the season. Getting that first win always seems to be the toughest.
"I liked the patience (we played with) and I think Georgia State really gave us a tough game," said second-year head coach Johan Cedergren. "(Georgia State) had a very clear game plan. They were patient in terms of sitting back in their half and waiting for us to break it. I think the guys were unhappy at halftime and maybe we could have played a little faster, but we just kept trying and kept trying and then at the end we got an absolute fantastic goal with a great cross from Isak and fantastic finish from Dolly (Doliner)."
With the lack of scoring through much of the game, the two teams made up for in physicality. The teams were constantly battling for position by way of pushing, pulling, grabbing and any other verb you can think of to describe physical play.
"Every game in college is going to be physical, so it's good to get our first one out of the way," Doliner said. "It's good to get a lot of the freshmen and new guys in to show them how physical college soccer can be. It's going to be a grind all the way through, so we just have to keep going."
Cedergren was certainly pleased with his team's effort during the game and couldn't have been happier for Doliner when that game winner slammed into the back of the net.
"I think what Dolly gives you is 100 percent and what we have here with 15 new guys coming in, there's a lot of competition and what we're trying to teach the guys is that it doesn't matter how talented you are," Cedergren said. "If you don't combine that with effort, skill doesn't mean anything and Dolly maybe has a lot more effort than skill, but in the end he's a great guy and he works really hard. The guys all love him and in the end he's the only one that could have gotten that ball. He's the only one of our forwards that was willing enough to go in there in a dangerous area."
The win could springboard the Wildcats into the rest of the season, as UK looks to get back to the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive season.
"It definitely wakes you up," said Cedergren about the intense season opener. "Maybe we don't tackle as hard in practice as you do in games, but I think the speed of how Georgia State played and definitely how they went into tackles was maybe an eye opener. We had four sophomores and four freshmen in the starting 11 and we had three new guys come in off the bench. In the end there was a lot of new guys for Kentucky and I think a game like that gets you fiery. I think we can play a little faster next time we play."
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."