Overall Record: 6-8-2, 3-3-2 C-USA Record Last Week: 2-0-0, 2-0-0 C-USA
Recent Results Wednesday, Oct. 30 - won at Marshall, 2-0 | RECAP Sunday, Nov. 3 - won vs. Florida Atlantic, 6-1 | RECAP
Upcoming Schedule (times Eastern) Tuesday, Nov. 5 - vs. Wright State - 7 p.m. [HOME FINALE] Saturday, Nov. 9 - at New Mexico - 7 p.m.
Offensive Player of the Week Nominee Sr., F, Tyler Riggs (Louisville, Ky.)
NOTES: Senior forward Tyler Riggs had the best week of his decorated career, totaling four goals in a two-game span, including the ninth hat trick in Kentucky history in a win over FAU ... In UK's must-win road tilt at Marshall on Wednesday, Riggs netted the game-winning goal in the second half and forced a penalty kick with a foul in the box for UK's second goal of the game ... A native of Louisville, Ky., Riggs netted three second-half goals to lead UK to a 6-1 win over FAU on Sunday, marking his first career hat trick ... All three of his goals came in his 24 minutes played in the second half ... Riggs now has four two or more goal game of his career ... He now has 28 goals in his career, the fourth-most in UK history ... His first goal of the trio vs. the Owls came just 23 seconds into the second half, the third-fastest goal to start the second half in program history ... Has five goals in 15 games in 2013, with 33 shots.
Defensive Player of the Week Nominee So., Callum Irving, GK (Vancouver, British Columbia)
NOTES: Sophomore goalkeeper Callum Irving continued his stellar season with a pair of shutout performances in UK's two-game week ... A native of Vancouver, British Columbia, Irving saved five shots in UK's 2-0 win at Marshall on Wednesday, including four key saves in a second half to keep the team in the game before UK scored two goals in the late half ... In UK's 6-1 win over Florida Atlantic, Irving worked the first 65 minutes scoreless, before subbing out in favor of senior Jack Van Arsdale on senior day ... Irving is sporting a stretch of 166 consecutive scoreless minutes played ... On the year, Irving has a 1.06 goals-against average in 12 games, with 33 saves and five shutouts.
Team Notes The Kentucky men's soccer team completed a crucial two-game week with a pair of wins to clinch a berth in the 2013 Conference USA Tournament. UK posted a 2-0 win at Marshall on Wednesday and a 6-1 win over Florida Atlantic on Sunday for Senior Day.
Kentucky (6-8-2, 3-3-2 C-USA) will return to action with its 2013 home finale against Wright State at 7 p.m. ET at the UK Soccer Complex. The Wildcats will then wrap up the regular season with a tilt at red-hot, league-leading New Mexico on Saturday, with kickoff slated for 7 p.m. ET. Courtesy of its win over FAU and a Tulsa win over FIU, UK clinched a berth in the league tournament in Charlotte, N.C., Nov. 10-15.
The Wildcats rode a historic scoring week for senior forward Tyler Riggs and a stingy defense to a pair of wins to clinch a postseason berth. Riggs netted a game-winning goal in UK's win at Marshall, also setting up a foul in the box for a penalty kick goal in the 2-0 win. On Sunday, for senior day, Riggs exploded for the ninth hat trick in UK soccer history, getting all three goals in his 24 minutes played in the second half in UK's 6-1 smashing win.
Kentucky's win over FAU was its largest result in its time in C-USA (2005-2013) and marked its largest win in league action since 1999. UK got the three goals from Riggs, with senior Steven Perinovic also getting his first goal of the year and freshmen Kaelon Fox and Ryan Creel getting on the board. Senior Brad Doliner scored UK's penalty kick goal at Marshall on Wednesday to help highlight a strong week for UK's senior class.
The Wildcats have netted 22 goals in 16 games in 2013, allowing 20 tallies and owning a 1.21 goals-against average with five shutouts. UK also has advantages in shots (256-155) and corners (97-70).
Individually, UK has been led in scoring by Doliner, who has five goals and one assist. Riggs has five goals, with Isak Krogstad owning four goals and two assists. Freshmen Napo Matsoso and Sam Miller each have a goal and four assists, with junior Justin Laird leading the team with six saves. Fox has two goals and one assist, with Jacob Scearce sporting a goal and two assists. Freshmen Creel and Charlie Reymann each have a goal and an assist, with Perinovic owning one goal. Bryan Celis has added three assists, with Matt Quick also adding an assist.
In goal, Callum Irving has a 1.06 goals-against average in 12 games, saving 33 shots and sporting five shutouts. Senior Jack Van Arsdale has played in five games with a 1.63 goals-against average, saving seven shots, including two on senior day Sunday vs. FAU.
Come kickoff that night and after giving it a test run during warm ups, Matsoso was in the starting 11 for UK's crucial conference clash with ODU. He played every second of UK's overtime victory over the league-leading Monarchs, with the Wildcats winning it in the 98th minute on Brad Doliner's golden goal.
Matsoso, a native of Louisville, Ky., who originally hails from Lesotho, a small landlocked country in the middle of South Africa, attended St. Francis High School in Louisville, where he earned first-team all-state honors, amassing a total of 72 goals in four years.
He has been a sparkplug for the Wildcats as a freshman, starting all 13 games in the midfield and leading the team in minutes played. He is one of only three players to start each game, joining fifth-year seniors Doliner and Steven Perinovic.
"Everything is going well, even though we haven't had the best results, we're having fun and we just have to keep it up," Matsoso said. "Coming from a different country, this is my second home. Everyone on the team is there for me whenever I get homesick. They are always there to pick me up and tell me to keep my head up."
After coming to the United States from Lesotho, Matsoso was adopted by Marc and Pam Maguire and he quickly joined a family legacy of soccer stars. He has five brothers, James Maguire (22), Setho Moshoeshoe (18), Lepe Seetane (21), Sunny Jane (21) and Marc.
Like one would imagine, there was an adjustment period when he first arrived in the United States.
"At first I was scared because I didn't know how to speak English but I adjusted a little quicker because I have four brothers that were also adopted in my family," Matsoso said. "They were always there to help teach me English and get me used to the environment."
James played at Mt. St. Joseph's College in Ohio, Setho is in his first year with Northern Kentucky, Lepe stars for Northwestern, Sunny is one of the nation's top talents at Maryland and Marc is currently working on his undergraduate degree at UK.
With three brothers also playing Division I soccer, it might be a tough task to find out who is the best among them.
"Obviously, me," Matsoso said without hesitation. "I'm the best; there are no worries about that."
But with less than a full season of collegiate soccer under his belt, Matsoso realizes there are still areas of his game that he needs to improve.
"I need to work on my strength and be more involved with the ball. So far I have only one goal and that's not the way I want it to be," Matsoso said. "That is something I'm working on, as well as shooting. I haven't had a lot of shots on goal and that's something I need to improve."
Kentucky head coach Johan Cedergren echoed his young star's assessment of what he still needs to improve in order for him to become a complete player.
"We need to work a little bit on his finishing," Cedergren said. "He gets in good spots and sometimes we could ask a little more there, but his strengths outweigh his weaknesses. He just reads the game so well and his touch and his control for the ball is fantastic."
When Cedergren took the job at UK in December of 2011, he immediately started hearing things about this 5-foot-6 inch, 138-pound kid from nearby Louisville.
"I thought there was talent there but I thought his size might hinder him a little bit in college," Cedergren said. "As I kept watching him, he kept growing on me. He's always been small and I think he can handle it because he's pretty physical himself. He was someone that initially I didn't know if he was going to be able to handle Division-I soccer but the more I looked at him the more convinced I became that he would be a good fit for us."
For freshman to step in and contribute right away on the field is not common in Division I soccer. Cedergren said that it's hard to expect freshmen to have an impact immediately because there is a sizable adjustment period.
Even Matsoso said he didn't foresee himself starting instantly because of the physical nature of the college game compared to high school. But there's something special about Matsoso that is hard to ignore.
"We were looking for someone in the midfield that can have that creative role," Cedergren said about Matsoso's impact. "He battles. He is good on the ball. We knew he was definitely one of the two or three guys that would be able to start immediately for us. I knew he would have a good chance to play a lot but I didn't know he would be able to step up this quickly. Clearly, he's done a great job."
When you watch Matsoso play, it's easy to see why his head coach has such high regard for him. He is one of those players that just seem to constantly be around the ball. The ball finds him. He runs with ease and he looks like he could go for days.
He has played every minute in 11 of the 13 games this season, including two double-overtime games that ended in ties. Players like Matsoso don't come around all the time.
"It's called reading the game," Cedergren explained. "Can you be a little quicker? Can you think on your feet? He's really, really smart. He's a very intelligent player and he's really good when he starts playing with (Bryan) Celis and some of the other guys we have.
"His ability to turn a bigger defender and use the mass that he has to his advantage is great. There isn't a tight space that he can't get out of. He's someone that we aren't afraid to play the ball to in a tight space because we know he's going to get out of it. That's really important, someone that retains possession and creates attack for us."
If this season is any indication of what the next three years hold for Matsoso at Kentucky, then it looks bright.
"Gritty," Cedergren said when asked to describe Matsoso. "Because he does get kicked a lot and by now when we're 13 games into the season, every team we play from this point forward, they are more or less man-marking him, so he's got to battle with a much bigger guy for 90 minutes. Every time he's trying to get on the ball, he has a guy trying to get him off the ball and he just does not stop. He keeps going. Grit and determination are two words that are definitely on the top of my list for Napo."
Sounds like a pretty good description for a player who has only just begun to scratch the surface of his full potential.
TEAM NOTES The Kentucky men's soccer team completed a two-game week with a home win over Valparaiso on Wednesday and a road loss to Charlotte on Saturday. Kentucky will return to action on Wednesday with a matchup with No. 29 Tulsa, with kickoff at the UK Soccer Complex slated for 7 p.m. ET. UK will then host Florida International on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET at the UK Soccer Complex.
Kentucky (4-7-1, 1-2-1 Conference USA) posted a comeback win over Valpo on Wednesday, 2-1, getting a pair of second-half tallies to rally from behind. On Saturday, the Wildcats suffered a 1-0 loss at Charlotte, the 2011 NCAA Runner-Up, after conceding an own-goal in the 47th minute.
The Wildcats have been led in scoring by senior Brad Doliner, who has four goals and one assist. Sophomore Isak Krogstad has three goals and two assists, with sophomore Jacob Scearce and freshman Sam Miller each contributing one goal and two assists. Junior Justin Laird leads the team with four assists, with freshmen Nao Matsoso, Charlie Reymann and Kaelon Fox each charting a goal and an assist. Senior Tyler Riggs also has a goal, with Bryan Celis and Matt Quick sporting assists.
In goal for UK, sophomore Callum Irving has a 1.08 goals-against average in eight games, with 19 saves and three shutouts. Senior Jack Van Arsdale has a 1.50 goals-against average, with five saves in four games.
On Wednesday, UK faced a goal deficit to the Crusaders in a driving rain, before insterting a fresh lineup in the second half and resting eight starters. UK's youth movement led to two goals, the first of the careers for Miller and Scearce. Van Arsdale turned in his first win of the year in goal, with UK claiming its second all-time win over Valpo.
In a Saturday tilt at Charlotte, the Wildcats played the 49ers to a scoreless tie at the half, before suffering the deciding goal on an own goal as a UK defender attempted a clearance by the near post. UK got a career-high tying six-save performance from Irving who kept the Wildcats in the game throughout in the second half with four saves. Over the last 14 years, Kentucky has surrendered just seven own goals. The own goal allowed on Saturday in Charlotte was the first for UK since a game with Marshall in 2010.
Overall Record: 3-6-1, 1-1-1 C-USA Record Last Week: 0-1-1, 0-0-1 C-USA
Recent Results Tuesday, Oct. 8 - lost vs. Evansville, 1-2 | RECAP Sunday, Oct. 13 - tied vs. South Carolina, 0-0 | RECAP
Upcoming Schedule (times Eastern) Wednesday, Oct. 16 - vs. Valparaiso - 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19 - at Charlotte - 7 p.m.
TEAM NOTES The Kentucky men's soccer team completed a two-game home week in the midst of its season-long, three-game homestand on Sunday afternoon. Kentucky suffered a non-conference loss to Evansville, 2-1, on Tuesday, before posting a shutout in a scoreless draw with South Carolina on Sunday.
Kentucky (3-6-1, 1-1-1 Conference USA) will return to action on Wednesday, taking on Valparaiso at the UK Soccer Complex at 7 p.m. ET. The Wildcats will then hit the road to take on Charlotte on Saturday.
The Wildcats have netted 11 goals in 10 games to open 2013, surrendering 13 goals and owning staggering advantages in shots (176-88) and corner kicks (75-37).
UK has been led offensively by senior Brad Doliner, who has four goals and one assist. Sophomore Isak Krogstad has three goals and two assists, with freshmen Napo Matsoso, Charlie Reymann and Kaelon Fox each sporting a goal and an assist. Senior Tyler Riggs has a goal, with Justin Laird and Sam Miller each notching two assists.
In goal for UK, sophomore Callum Irving has made seven starts with a 1.09 goals-against average, owning three clean sheets with 13 save. Senior Jack Van Arsdale has a 1.67 goals-against average, saving four shots in three games.
In UK's game with South Carolina on Sunday, UK mounted a steady attack throughout the game that saw a 28-11 advantage in shots, with the Gamecocks getting outshout 11-1 in the overtime periods. In the 2-1 loss to Evansville, UK got the first goal of the year from Tyler Riggs as part of a furious second-half rally that saw UK outshoot the Purple Aces 18-3.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, October 6:
Volleyball: Morgan Bergren
Sophomore setter Morgan Bergren led UK's offense to a pair of sweeps against SEC foes. Bergren dished out 10.5 assists per set while leading UK to a .391 hitting percentage combined in two victories well over UK's season average of .247. Bergren had seven kills of her own on a .333 clip, but it was her serving that was masterful. The sophomore had five aces on the weekend for an average of .83 per outing. She also contributed six blocks on the weekend and averaged 1.00 per set, second only to reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Week Alexandra Morgan's 1.09.The three aces she posted vs. Tennessee is a career-high total.
Men's soccer: Brad Doliner
Senior Brad Doliner had the best game of his career in leading Kentucky to a thrilling 2-1 overtime win at Old Dominion ... Doliner had his first career two-goal game, including netting the golden goal in the 98th minute to seal the win and adding a go-ahead score early in the second half ... Doliner now has four goals and one assist - his first career goals - with two game winners, 19 shots and 10 shots on goal ... A native of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, Doliner leads C-USA in conference games only in points (six), goals (three), goals per game (1.50), shots per game (four) and game-winning goals (one), also ranking second in shots (eight) ... Doliner's first goal of the game at ODU came as a penalty kick tally in the 52nd minute, his second consecutive game with a PK goal ... After UK allowed the tying goal in the 77th minute, Doliner struck for the golden goal in the 98th frame, a laser from the edge of the 18-yard box, lifting UK to the thrilling win ... A selection to the Gamecock Classic All-Tournament Team earlier in the year, Doliner has played throughout the lineup for UK as a versatile weapon, seeing starts at center back, outside back, outside midfield, holding midfield and forward.
Men's soccer: Callum Irving
Sophomore goalkeeper Callum Irving had a breakout game in between the pipes at Old Dominion on Friday night, equaling his career high with six saves in leading UK to a 2-1 win in overtime ... Irving made all of his saves after halftime, including four in the second half and a pair of thrilling saves in overtime ... Irving had a save with a minute remaining in regulation after the ball bounced curving off the far post, keeping the well-struck, curving ball from crossing the end line ... A native of Vancouver, British Columbia, Irving also made a tremendous, diving save on a hard-hit offering in the second half ... "There were a couple of times today that I was sure the ball was in the goal and he came up with the save," UK head coach Johan Cedergren said postgame. "There were a couple of times when there were cleats flying around his head and he did not back down." ... On the year, Irving has started five games with a 1.18 goals-against average, saving 10 and owning two clean sheets.
Volleyball: Jackie Napper
Junior Jackie Napper led the defensive effort for the Wildcats in a 2-0 week that included two sweeps over SEC foes. Napper opened the week with a career-high 18 digs for a three-set match, while also contributing five assists and a career-high two aces. She followed that performance with 16 scoops vs. Tennessee while adding three assists and a kill. It was her third kill of the season. The 34 digs in back-to-back three-set matches is a career-high for six sets. She registered a .950 serve-receive percentage for the weekend, while helping lead UK's offense to a .391 hitting clip for the two victories.
Women's soccer: Zoe Swift
Freshman Zoe Swift continued her prolific freshman season, scoring just one minute into the match on Sunday to give No. 19 Kentucky the early 1-0 lead on Sunday atVanderbilt. The Naperville, Ill., native then assisted on the game-winning goal just two minutes later, as she gave a pass off to Arin Gilliland, who struck the back of the net in the fourth minute. The multi-point game was Swift's third of the season, and the second time she has scored three points in a single game in her career.
Volleyball: Anni Thomasson
Freshman Anni Thomasson had an outstanding weekend for the Cats en route to a pair of sweeps over conference opponents. Thomasson opened the weekend with eight kills and 10 digs in the victory over Ole Miss. She followed that performance with the first errorless match of her career with six kills on a career-high .545 hitting clip vs. Tennessee. She also added a pair of assists and a career-best three service aces. Furthermore she totaled seven digs. For the weekend she ranked second on the squad in kills, hitting percentage, aces, digs and points. She was perfect from the serve-receive line, being served a team-high 22 times and did not commit a single error. Her 2.33 kills per set on a .444 clip is significantly improved over her season averages of 1.61 kills per set on a .196 hitting clip.
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."