In a game that featured multiple missed opportunities from both squads, Xavier was finally able to find the back of the net in the 86th minute to give the Musketeers a 1-0 victory over Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA men's soccer tournament at the UK Soccer Complex on Thursday evening.
Goalkeeper Jack Van Arsdale kept UK within striking distance all night as the junior recorded three saves to keep the match scoreless for the majority of the evening. The Wildcats had a chance in the opening minutes of the game on a cross into the box to Bryan Celis but the ball was misplayed.
As the contest neared its end, UK was in full-on attack mode and threatened a bit. But in the end it was the Xavier offense, which had only been shut out twice all season, that delivered final blow.
"It was a tough loss for us of course," head coach Johan Cedergren said. "We don't want to go out this early in the tournament but at the same time look at where we are coming from. It's been 2003 since we have been dancing last time. Unfortunately there can only be one winner, they scored a great goal. You have to give Xavier and their coaching staff a lot of credit, I thought they played well."
The Wildcats' season came to an end Thursday night but it must be said how great of a year the 2012 season was. The season began with UK dropping four of its first five games and with a first-year head coach in place and it would have been easy for the Cats to lower their heads and play for themselves or just simply give up on the year.
That was far from what happened. Cedergren rallied the troops and the squad came together as a team against one of the toughest schedules in the entire country. Counting the game against Xavier, UK played a program record 10 ranked foes throughout the year. That didn't stop the team from battling as the Cats strung an 8-2-1 stretch together, making a run at the NCAA Tournament and earning a bid to host the first round.
The Cats hung tough all season and even picked up a huge win on the road against their nemesis Louisville. What a season it was for the Wildcats, who did not get much preseason praise from the media and coaches around the country.
"I couldn't be any prouder of the guys," Cedergren said. "In the end, to me you have to look at what we did this season. Played an unbelievable schedule, got some great wins and to be back in the NCAA Tournament I'm really proud of the guys for how well they pushed."
Cedergren gives much of the season's credit to his two senior captains, Cameron Wilder and Matt Lodge. Cedergren believes UK's success starts with them and the way they bought in right away to his coaching philosophies. The seniors may not be on the field the next time Cedergren leads his team to the postseason, but they work they did in their lone season playing for him is the foundation for the success that will surely follow.
The UK men's soccer team is hosting Xavier in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. at the UK Soccer Complex (Michael Reeves, UK Athletics).
For the first time since 2003, the University of Kentucky men's soccer team is hosting the first round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament against Xavier on Thursday evening at 7:00 p.m. at the UK Soccer Complex. However, first-year head coach Johan Cedergren is taking a different approach than usual after his squad was selected to host on Monday during the NCAA Men's Soccer Selection Show.
Cedergren and the team will stay the night in a hotel Wednesday evening and treat the contest as if they were traveling to Cincinnati, Ohio to take on the Musketeers.
Why, some may ask?
Well, the Wildcats own an impressive 6-2 road record on the year, including victories over ranked foes Louisville, UAB and Tulsa to name a few. While in Lexington, UK has dropped its last two matches and sport just a 3-4-1 mark at home.
Following a win at Tulsa on Oct. 27, the Wildcats were sitting pretty in the Conference USA standings and had won four straight - three coming on the road. With home games against UCF and South Carolina left on the schedule and a shot at the regular-season league title, junior defender Steven Perinovic jokingly mentioned to Cedergren that he should call the remaining opponents and inform them that UK would openly travel to their facilities instead of playing the contests in Lexington.
This was all a joke but Kentucky ended up dropping its final two games of the year and finished in fifth place in C-USA. In all honesty, Cedergren is ecstatic to be playing at home but is trying a different approach and offers a few suggestions of why the team has fared better on the road.
"I think when you are on the road you just get into the routine where you get to relax a lot," Cedergren said. "You don't have to worry about girlfriends, friends and Facebook and that kind of stuff. We kind of control what they do and what they don't do. When they are on the road all of their focus is on soccer."
After falling short in the final two regular season games, UK suddenly saw its NCAA tournament hopes on the ropes. Kentucky would need a strong showing in the league tournament to assure a berth into postseason play.
The Cats did just that as they picked up an important 1-0 decision over Memphis in the first round and went toe to toe with the conference's regular season champion, SMU, before losing to the Mustangs in penalty kicks.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, Kentucky is right where it wants to be and has gained valuable experience heading into Thursday evening.
"In the short two-week span, there was a lot of growing because we now all of a sudden have been in pressure situations four times," Cedergren said. "The first two times we didn't do as well as we wanted but then we did much better. Going to play Xavier where you have to win to keep going, we've played must-win games the last four so it's nothing different for us playing tomorrow."
Because this is the first NCAA bid UK has earned since 2003, none of the players have any sort of postseason experience.
So who will Kentucky rely on for leadership?
Look no further than the coaching staff, which is loaded with postseason experience and national championships. Cedergren has been to the NCAA tournament in each of the last six seasons, while assistant coach Erik Imler won three national titles as a player and fellow assistant David Casper owns one as well from his playing days.
"We have been sharing some information and some things to think about with the guys all throughout the season," Cedergren said. "I think within the staff, we have been there, we have done that, we know how to handle it and for the guys it's just a matter of getting over the hump."
Xavier comes in with a 13-2-5 overall record and finished 6-1-2 in the Atlantic-10 conference. The Musketeers have outscored their opponents 47-19 on the year with their lone defeats against top-25 foes St. Louis and Virginia Commonwealth.
XU defeated Dayton in penalty kicks in the A-10 tournament and tied Northwestern earlier in the year - two teams that defeated the Wildcats early in the season.
Cedergren is very impressed with the type of program Xavier has developed over the years and wasn't hesitant to praise his team's next opponent.
"You have to have a lot of respect for Xavier and how well they have done since Coach (Andy) Fleming took over," Cedergren said. "Before that they were not a team that was on the bubble to get into the tournament or even considered. In three years he has gone three for three so that's an unbelievable achievement and now we have to see who the better team around this area is."
Another interesting tidbit to throw into tomorrow night's matchup is the ties between Xavier and UK's head coach. Cedergren is no newcomer to the matchups against XU, having played against the Musketeers as a member of Cincinnati's team back in his playing days.
Cedergren also received his MBA from Xavier, putting the Wildcats' head coach in an interesting position. Without much thinking, Cedergren reverted back to his playing days and enjoyed every time his team got the best of the Musketeers saying it never hurts to beat Xavier.
With a new rivalry possibly forming, Cedergren is anxious to see what tomorrow night has in store.
"This is a little different with Kentucky and Xavier but for me I just want to play the best opponent possible," Cedergren said. "I think Xavier is a really good team and it will be interesting to see how it goes tomorrow."
After participating in Senior Day festivities on Sunday, Jacob Kemper scored his first career goal to propel UK to a C-USA Tournament win on Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics_
Last season marked the first time since joining Conference USA in 2005, that the University of Kentucky men's soccer team
missed out on the league tournament. The program had earned a berth into the
postseason tournament in its first six years before seeing its streak
snapped a year ago.
This season, the Wildcats find themselves back in the
conference tournament with a chance to extend their 2012 a while longer
under first-year head coach Johan Cedergren. Kentucky did just that on
Wednesday evening as the No. 5 seeded Cats, ousted the No. 4 seeded Memphis
Tigers, 1-0 in the first round of the C-USA tournament in Hoover, Ala.
The match was a struggle all night for the two squads as
they battled to a scoreless first half. Senior Jacob Kemper gave the Wildcats a
jolt of energy in the 75th minute as he blasted a shot from 30 yards out,
netting his first career goal and moving UK on to the second round.
The goal was much-needed for the Cats as they have been
searching for offensive production after going through an unfortunate slump
over the last week. Kentucky had gone 8-2-1 in its previous 11 contests and
carried a second place conference record of 4-1-1 heading into the final two
matches of the regular season. UK looked to be in great position to earn a
first-round bye and possibly even winning the regular season title.
However, Kentucky fell 1-0 at home in back-to-back games to
UCF and South Carolina and dropped to the fifth seed in C-USA. What seemed to
be a confident group heading into postseason play, had suddenly hit a wall and
was searching for answers.
It was evident early on in Wednesday evening's bout who the
more poised team was. Memphis, who had just come off three consecutive wins
including a victory over the league's top team, SMU, came out and was a bit
more loose than the Cats. Nonetheless, UK fought off the early charge from the
Tigers and was able to eventually settle in.
"Our team played really, really well," Cedergren said. "(Memphis)
had two great wins to get into the tournament and you could tell the first
15-20 minutes that there was a very confident team that we were playing. Our
last two results didn't go the way we wanted and we were a little unsure of
ourselves but we slowly but surely worked our way into the game."
The win was sweet revenge for Kentucky, who tied Memphis 2-2
in their C-USA opener on Sept. 30 at the UK Soccer Complex. Yes the match
resulted in a tie and the Wildcats were awarded a point, but Cedergren was not
happy with the way his squad came out and played that game, especially in the
Wednesday's result proved to be a different story as the
game was a combined effort from the entire team. Kemper's goal was the
difference, but the defense held off every Memphis charge. Goalkeeper Jack
Van Arsdale recorded a career-high six saves, including four key denials in the
second half. After earning a starting role early int the season, the junior
has stepped up and been a key contributor to the Wildcats' success this season
with tremendous play, coming up with clutch saves in several games this season.
"I think Jack is a kid that when we came in we weren't sure
about and he's responded," Cedergren said. "We brought in a really good
freshman goalkeeper and Jack said, 'I'm not giving up this job, it's mine,' and he's
worked really hard in practice and he's made some huge saves."
Kemper recorded his first career goal in 57 games played at
Kentucky. It has been a long time coming for the senior who Cedergren says "bleeds
blue." For Kemper and the rest of the seniors, they did not want this to be the
final game of the season.
"It literally means so much," Kemper said. "I feel like I
have put so much of my heart into this team for four years. We have had so many
struggles in the past, especially our senior class. This is our only year with
Johan and the staff. It just means everything, I can't even describe the
feeling. Just awesome."
Kentucky moves on to the semifinals to face No. 1 seeded
SMU on Friday, Nov. 9. Like Memphis, UK will get a rematch with the Mustangs,
who defeated the Cats, 2-0 on Oct. 6 in Dallas, Texas. Kentucky fell in the
contest but Cedergren truly believes his team played one of their best games
"I think up until 60-65 minutes we felt we had them under
pretty good control," Cedergren said. "They were dangerous but so were we and
then we gave up a penalty and just crumbled from there. I think we are really
excited about getting a rematch with the league's best team and of course we
respect them, but we don't fear them and I think the way that we played today,
we can play with anyone in the country."
Football - Linebacker Avery Williamson, who entered the game leading the league in total tackles, had a career-high 20 tackles. He is the first UK player with 20 or more tackles since Chad Anderson made 21 tackles against Georgia in 2003. - Kentucky has an open date Nov. 10 before returning to action Sat. Nov. 17 at home vs. Samford. Kentucky entered the weekend having played the toughest schedule in the nation, according to Anderson and Hester computer ratings used in the official BCS rankings.
Men's basketball - Kentucky was paced by a team-high 22 points from freshman Archie Goodwin in the win over, NAIA's No. 1 ranked team, Northwood. - Fellow freshman Nerlens Noel added a double-double effort with 17 points and 11 rebounds. - The meeting with Transylvania will mark the final preseason competition for the Cats, before UK travels to Brooklyn, N.Y., to open the Barclays Center with a season-opening contest against Maryland on Friday.
Volleyball - The 17 victories guarantees UK a winning season for an unprecedented eighth-consecutive season under UK coach Craig Skinner. - The Wildcats were paced by senior Ashley Frazier as she averaged 4.29 kills per set on an impressive .362 hitting percentage. Frazier had a career-high 20 kills against the Rebels to couple with a career-high eight digs in the win. - Senior setter Christine Hartmann directed the offense to the tune of 15.80 kills per set on a .372 hitting percentage. - Senior libero Stephanie Klefot continues to be an anchor for the Wildcats from the back line. She was perfect on her serve-receive attempts and averaged a squad-best 4.14 digs per set. With 29 scoops on the weekend, she became just the fourth player in SEC history to tally 1,800 or more digs in a career.
Women's soccer - Kentucky bowed out of the SEC Tournament to Missouri in the quarterfinals 2-1 in Orange Beach, Ala., on Wednesday. - Caitlin Landis scored UK's lone goal on Wednesday. Landis has scored three goals in the last two games.
Men's soccer - The Wildcats have been led offensively by Tyler Riggs and Matt Lodge, who have accounted for 14 goals (Riggs-7, Lodge-7) combined through 18 games .The duo has also connected for six assists (Riggs-4, Lodge-2) during the regular season. - UK will travel to Hoover, Ala. for the C-USA tournament game at 6:00 p.m. ET vs. Memphis.
Rifle - The University of Kentucky rifle team defeated No. 15 North Carolina State and The Citadel on Saturday, shooting a 4686 in the triangular match in Charleston, S.C. - Junior Emily Holsopple shot a personal-best 590 in smallbore. - Sophomore Jonathan Pinkel and freshman Luke South recorded personal bests in air rifle, Pinkel shooting a 591 and South a 590.
Women's golf - The UK women's golf team finished in sixth place at the Alamo Invitational with a score of 11-over-par, 875. - The squad set a program record with a final round of 6-under-par, 282. The Cats broke the previous school record of 284 for a round, which was set during the 2009-10 season. - Kentucky had two top-25 finishers as Ashleigh Albrecht placed tied for 22nd at 2-over, while Cylia Damerau was tied for 25th at 3-over.
Cross country - Cally Macumber was named Southeastern Conference Cross Country Runner of the Year on Friday. - The Rochester Hills, Mich., native won the SEC Championship Race on Oct. 26 and owns the SEC-best times at both 5,000 meters and 6K. She was also named a First Team All-SEC runner. - Macumber was the first Wildcat to win the women's SEC Title since Valarie McGovern won the conference meet in 1989. - The Kentucky cross country teams return to action on Nov. 9 for the NCAA Southeast Regional in Charlotte, N.C.
Swimming and diving - Kentucky divers junior Greg Ferrucci and freshman Rebecca Hamperian each picked up wins in the 1-meter and 3-meter events Friday against Auburn. - For the third consecutive Friday, sophomore Lucas Gerotto won the 100-butterfly (49.25) and has bested his time each meet. His sister, sophomore Julia Gerotto, earned her first win of the season with a victory in the 200-butterfly (2:02.44) while also picking up a second place finish in the 1000-freestyle (10:15.39).
First-year head coach Johan Cedergren has UK men's soccer on the rise. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
For the most part, first-year head coaches tend to struggle. Not necessarily because they were the wrong hire or they are unsuccessful coaches, but various factors play in when taking over a new team.
As a new coach, you inherit sophomores, juniors and seniors, you did not recruit, who have stuck around the program. With these players, you have to gain their trust and belief in your system to play in a way that fits your coaching philosophy, which could be completely different from what they have been used to playing in the past. First-year head coaches also come in without a full year of offseason recruiting to bring in the players they feel are right for their coaching style.
And while these are just a few factors that new coaches face when stepping into their inaugural seasons, the University of Kentucky can take a deep breath and throw all the doubts out the window when talking about men's soccer head coach Johan Cedergren.
When the 2012 season kicked off, it looked as though Cedergren would go through the bumps and bruises that are expected during the first campaign. The Wildcats didn't have an ideal start to the year, beginning 1-4. But a win over intrastate rival Louisville, kick started the Cats. UK is 8-2-1 since that slow start and in second place in the Conference USA at 4-1-1.
Of course as a coach you have to be positive, but who really could have seen this turnaround coming this quickly? This season has basically caught everyone off guard; even Cedergren is a little surprised.
"I would say I'm a little surprised," Cedergren said. "I think we were just looking to make the conference tournament but again I think we have developed a kind of competitive spirit and comaraderie. The best guy and the worst guy are working just as hard and they want to get to that next level. "
With Cedergren taking over the Wildcats this season, several players have shuffled through different positions in an attempt to find the right lineup. To name a few, freshman Isak Krogstad began the year at forward and is now playing right back, Charley Pettys was at right back and is now in the midfield, Matt Lodge began in the midfield and is now at forward and Dylan Asher has moved from centerback, to midfield, to right back and now to the forward position, where he has excelled.
Cedergren also changed formations midway through the year, switching from a 4-5-1 to a 4-4-2, which has paid major dividends for Kentucky. The biggest areas where the Cats have improved since the beginning of the season is organization and communication. With two games left in the season, it is evident the team has really come together and accepted Cedergren's style.
"It took a while for me to make up my mind where our players fit in best for our system," Cedergren said. "We thought we had a good idea about the team after the spring but at the same time when you bring in so many freshmen that kind of changes the equation. It just took a while for us to really find the strengths of the team and how we could all gel together."
Last Saturday, UK defeated the 23rd-ranked Tulsa Golden Hurricane, 2-0, on the road to pick up its fourth consecutive conference victory. The win improved the Cats road record to 6-2 on the year, which is a welcome change after going winless away from Lexington in 2011. The game marked the third victory over a top-25 opponent this season, tying a program record.
What Cedergren likes most about this team the fact that his players have come to believe they can go anywhere and play with anyone in the country. This team is unique in that Cedergren doesn't think his squad has a so-called best player. The Wildcats are loaded with depth and a group of athletes that have formed a family bond.
"We have some special players but mostly we are a good team and everyone works for each other," Cedergren said. "There is a real camaraderie in the squad, everyone is working really hard, pushing each other and they have a sense of belief that we can play with anyone in the country."
Before the game at Tulsa, Cedergren challenged his team. Even though UK had seven returners coming back this season, coaches around the league picked the Cats to finish seventh in the league. With second place on the line, the match had huge implications. After an impressive 2-0 win, Kentucky has reeled off four C-USA wins in a row and has locked itself into the conference tournament, which was a team goal looking ahead to the season.
Now with two home games standing in front of them and the league tournament, the Cats have a chance to earn a bye with the No. 2 seed or win the regular season conference title with a little help from Memphis this week against first place SMU.
Cedergren's team has exceeded their expectations and goal of making the conference tournament, but why stop now? Coach has set new goals for the squad and isn't ready for this ride to be over yet.
"Hopefully we can win two at home, especially on Senior Night when all the parents are here and the big crowd," Cedergren said. "I think the goal for us is to get to the conference tournament final. If we get there with the belief that we can play with anyone in the country, then you never know what's going to happen."
This season has been one heck of a turnaround and it's hard to pinpoint one word or quality that describes this team.
Instead, Cedergren narrowed down three characteristics to summarize this year and his Wildcats: Passion, work and belief.
"Passion for the squad and for Kentucky; work rate because we basically go out and outwork every team that we play; belief as the results have gone our way after the 1-4 start, the guys realize we are just as good as the coaching staff is telling us," Cedergren said. "I think now we have gotten to the point where the guys believe in themselves without us having to tell them."
The way things look right now, soccer fans in Lexington might have a few more chances to see matches after the end of the regular-season schedule.
Both the Kentucky men's and women's soccer programs appear to be locks for the NCAA Tournament and, with the two programs riding late-season hot streaks, hosting a game or two is looking like a more realistic possibility.
Let's take a look at the resumes for each:
Men's soccer Record: 9-6-1 (4-1-1 Conference USA) Last five matches: 4-1-0 (won four straight) RPI: 14 (best in school history) Key RPI wins: at No. 8 Louisville, at No. 22 Tulsa, at No. 26 UAB Worst loss: at No. 57 Dayton
After starting the season 1-4-0, the Wildcats have put together a remarkable six-week stretch against one of the nation's toughest schedules in Johan Cedergren's first season as head coach.
UK has two regular-season games remaining against UCF and South Carolina on Wednesday and Sunday, both at home. After that, the Cats will travel to Birmingham, Ala., for the Conference USA Championship from Nov. 7-11. The bracket for the NCAA Tournament will be announced on Nov. 12.
Forty-eight teams receive bids to the NCAA Tournament in men's soccer, with 16 receiving first-round byes. Teams seeded 17-32 will host first-round games on Nov. 15 against teams seeded 33-48 for the right to travel to face the top-16-seeded teams in the second round on Nov. 18.
With UK's strong RPI, a first-round bye is not out of the question, particularly with a solid finish over the next two weeks.
Women's soccer Record: 13-5-1 (8-4-1 Southeastern Conference) Last five matches: 5-0-0 RPI: 26 Key RPI wins: No. 9 Florida, at No. 13 Tennessee, at No. 39 Louisville Worst loss: No. 128 Samford (played in Louisville)
Outside of a six-match stretch during the middle of the season when UK won just once in six tries, it has been a banner season for Jon Lipsitz's team. The Cats are the No. 4 seed in the SEC Tournament and will play fifth-seeded Missouri on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET with potential semifinal and final matches to be played on Friday and Sunday before NCAA selections are announced on Nov. 5.
A victory in the conference tournament would likely assure Kentucky of hosting an NCAA Tournament game for the second time in as many seasons. Sixty-four teams will be in the field, with the top 32 hosting first-round matches Nov. 9-11.
With No. 9 Florida and No. 31 Missouri on UK's side of the SEC Tournament bracket, the Cats will have opportunities to grab resume wins and potentially the right to host beyond the first round.