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.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Oct. 28:
Volleyball: Christine Hartmann
Senior Christine Hartmann led a multitude of UK players with standout performances in helping guide UK to a pair of five-set wins on the road against SEC Eastern opponents. Hartmann was masterful in all phases of the game. On Friday she helped lead UK from a 2-0 deficit to a win at Tennessee for the first time since 2008. Against Tennessee she totaled a career-high nine kills on a career-high .500 hitting percentage while recoding her second-straight double-double effort with 52 assists and 11 digs. She was one kill shy of recording what would have been the second triple-double in school history. Against the Lady Vols, Hartmann directed the offense to the tune of a .244 hitting clip and found four players for 10 or more kills for the first time this season for the Wildcats. She directed Ashley Frazier to a season-high 19 kills in SEC action on a sizzling .472 hitting percentage. Against Georgia, Hartmann led the Wildcat defensive effort with a career-high 19 digs while logging her third consecutive double-double. She passed out 58 assists (one shy of a career-high) as well as notching four blocks to couple with the 19 digs. For the second-straight match she found four players for 10 or more kills including 18 on a .452 hitting clip by Whitney Billings, and a career-high 15 kills from Alexandra Morgan on a .500 percentage. For the week she set new career-highs in a match for kills (9), hitting percentage (.500) and digs (19) while also leading the Wildcats to an average of 14.50 kills per set on a .288 hitting percentage with four players logging 2.60 kills or more for the weekend.
Men's soccer: Steven Perinovic
NOTES: Junior defender Steven Perinovic had a dynamic game in leading Kentucky to a shutout win at No. 23 Tulsa on Saturday night ... UK's vocal and physical leader at center back, Perinovic led UK to the shutout vs. the Golden Hurricane, a team ranked No. 2 in the NCAA in goals scored ... Perinovic was a force on Saturday, with his ability to play the ball in the air thwarting scoring chances for the Golden Hurricane throughout the game ... UK finished with four saves in the win, its fifth shutout of the year ... A native of Delafield, Wis., Perinovic has been a major weapon for UK's defensive unit in 2012, with UK owning a 1.29 goals-against average ... On the year, Perinovic has started all 15 games at center back with one goal.
Volleyball: Sara Schwarzwalder
Freshman Sara Schwarzwalder provided a defensive spark in helping lead UK to a 2-0 weekend on the road with both victories coming in in five-set fashion. Schwarzwalder had a season-high nine kills within SEC action in the five-set come-from-behind win at Tennessee. She added a career-high three digs as well as a team-best four blocks while dishing out the first assist of her career from her middle blocker position. In a win at Georgia on Sunday, it was her presence at the net that helped fluster Georgia into 26 errors in the match with a career-high-tying eight blocks against the Bulldogs. It marks only the second time this season a UK player has logged eight or more blocks - and she has achieved them both. She also provided seven kills on a.353 hitting clip.
Football - The UK defense continued to improve, limiting Missouri to 273 yards of total offense which was the lowest number of yards UK has allowed all season. - The Wildcat defense also created a season-high three turnovers in the game, getting two interceptions and a fumble recovery. J.D. Harmon was impressive in the effort for Kentucky, earning a career-best seven tackles on top of the two interceptions.
Volleyball - Senior setter Christine Hartmann narrowly missed out on a triple-double with nine kills, 52 assists and 11 digs against Tennessee. She directed four players to 10 or more kills in the match including 19 on a .472 hitting clip from senior Ashley Frazier. - With 21 digs against UT, senior Stephanie Klefot moved into sole possession of fourth place on the SEC all-time career digs leader list. - In the victory over Georgia, UK saw Hartmann lead the defensive effort with a career-high 19 digs. She passed out 58 assists and again found four players for 10 or more kills. - Freshman Sara Schwarzwalder led the defensive effort for the weekend with team-highs in blocks in both matches including matching a career-high eight in the victory against the Bulldogs. Women's soccer - UK's eight SEC wins marks the most conference wins for the Wildcats since the 1999 season. It ties a program record for most SEC wins in a season. - The Wildcats have shut out four of the last five opponents they have faced, as goalkeeper Kayla King has only allowed one goal in the last 422 minutes of action in the net. - UK finishes the season having six different freshmen score a goal, as the class accounted for more than 30 points on the season.
Men's soccer - Jack Van Arsdale notched his fourth shutout of the year and UK got splendid play from defenders Steven Perinovic, Jacob Kemper, Jacob Speed and Isak Krogstad in a win at No. 23 Tulsa. - UK has improved to 6-2 on the road in 2012, with the Wildcats tied for the second-most road wins in the NCAA entering the Saturday win.
Rifle - The No. 2 University of Kentucky rifle team defeated No. 15 Tennessee-Martin 4656 - 4577 Sunday in Barker Hall. - Freshman Connor Davis led the Wildcats with an aggregate score of 1170. - Junior Aaron Holsopple finished with a match high in smallbore, shooting a 582. Women's soccer - Senior Jessica Stiles finished the weekend 3-0 in singles play and 2-1 in doubles. Stiles' play left her in second for singles champion, one point off first. - Junior Khristina Blajkevitch capped off a perfect singles weekend with a 6-1, 6-1 win on Sunday.
Cross country - Cally Macumber achieved a feat no other University of Kentucky Wildcat had accomplished in 23 years when she won the SEC Cross Country Championship by a four-second margin with a time of 20:23.29 in Nashville, Tenn., on Friday. - The UK women placed fifth overall, while the men finished sixth. - Luis Orta was the first Wildcat to finish on the men's side in 24:10.83 over 8K. - Three Wildcats earned spots on the All-SEC teams by virtue of their performances at the Conference meet as Macumber and Oswald were named to the First Team, while Orta made the Second Team. - Macumber and Oswald each received All-SEC honors for the second time in their careers. Orta, a senior, reached All-Conference status for the third time.
Swimming and diving - The Kentucky men and women's swimming teams picked up their first wins of the season against Southern Illinois in a tri-meet. - Kentucky's men were led by sophomore Lucas Gerotto who picked up his second victory in the 100-butterfly (49.70) and took third in the 50-freestyle (21.15). The men also earned their first relay victory of the season in the 4x100-freestyle as Chris Lott, Will Heidler, Gerotto and Chris Thomas combined for the winning time of 3:05.62.The women pulled out two wins with senior Mandy Myers taking home first in the 100-buttefly with a time of 55.53. Sophomore Christina Bechtel earned her first win of the season as well with a win in the 200-butterfly with the winning time of 66.10.
Monday, Oct. 29 Women's golf at Alamo Invitational (San Antonio, Texas)
Tuesday, Oct. 30 Women's golf at Alamo Invitational (San Antonio, Texas)
Wednesday, Oct. 31 Women's soccer vs. Missouri (Orange Beach, Ala.) - 8:30 p.m. Men's soccer hosts UCF - 7:00 p.m.
Thursday, Nov. 1 Men's basketball hosts Northwood - 7:00 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2 Volleyball hosts Ole Miss - 7:00 p.m. Men's tennis at Collegiate Clay Court Tournament (Orlando, Fla.) Swimming and diving hosts Auburn - 2:00 p.m. Women's soccer SEC Tournament Semifinals (Orange Beach, Ala.) - TBA
Saturday, Nov. 3 Men's tennis at Collegiate Clay Court Tournament (Orlando, Fla.) Rifle at North Carolina State Football hosts Vanderbilt - 12:00 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 4 Volleyball hosts South Carolina - 1:30 p.m. Men's tennis at Collegiate Clay Court Tournament (Orlando, Fla.) Men's soccer hosts South Carolina - 1:00 p.m. Women's soccer SEC Tournament Championship (Orange Beach, Ala.) • TBA
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK NOMINEE R-Jr., D, Steven Perinovic (Delafield, Wis.) NOTES: Junior defender Steven Perinovic had a dynamic game in leading Kentucky to a shutout win at No. 23 Tulsa on Saturday night ... UK's vocal and physical leader at center back, Perinovic led UK to the shutout vs. the Golden Hurricane, a team ranked No. 2 in the NCAA in goals scored ... Perinovic was a force on Saturday, with his ability to play the ball in the air thwarting scoring chances for the Golden Hurricane throughout the game ... UK finished with four saves in the win, its fifth shutout of the year ... A native of Delafield, Wis., Perinovic has been a major weapon for UK's defensive unit in 2012, with UK owning a 1.29 goals-against average ... On the year, Perinovic has started all 15 games at center back with one goal.
TEAM NOTES The Kentucky men's soccer team continued its blistering pace over the last 11 games, picking up its third road top-25 win of the year, beating No. 23 Tulsa, 2-0 on Saturday night at the Hurricane Soccer Complex. UK will return to action with a two-game week to wrap up the regular-season schedule, hosting UCF on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET, before hosting South Carolina on senior day Sunday at 1 p.m. ET at the UK Soccer Complex.
Kentucky (9-6-1, 4-1-1 Conference USA) pulled into second place in the C-USA standings with the dominating 2-0 result at Tulsa. The Wildcats have now won eight of their last 11 games after a 1-4 start to the season and own top-25 road wins at No. 18 Louisville, No. 25 UAB and No. 23 Tulsa.
UK got goals from seniors Matt Lodge and Gabriel Conelian in the shutout win at Tulsa Saturday. Jack Van Arsdale notched his fourth shutout of the year and UK got splendid play from defenders Steven Perinovic, Jacob Kemper, Jacob Speed and Isak Krogstad. The shutout vs. Tulsa came against a team that entered the game ranked No. 2 in the NCAA in goals scored, with the Golden Hurricane leading the conference in nearly every offensive category.
UK has improved to 6-2 on the road in 2012, with the Wildcats tied for the second-most road wins in the NCAA entering the Saturday win.
UK has been paced by an explosive offensive attack in 2012, netting 1.94 goals per game and averaging 12.6 shots a contest. Defensively, UK has a 1.29 goals-against average, with Van Arsdale owning a 1.16 goals-against average with 41 saves. Freshman Callum Irving has also started three games in goal, with a 2.00 goals-against average, seven saves and a shutout.
The Wildcats have been led offensively by junior Tyler Riggs, who has seven goals and four assists in 14 games. Lodge, a native of Rossington, England, has seven goals and two assists, while senior Charley Pettys has added six goals and three assists. Conelian has four goals and three assists, with junior Dylan Asher adding four goals. Freshman Bryan Celis has a goal and three assists, with Kemper leading the club with five assists. Perinovic and Dustin Scibilia each have added a goal.
Kentucky now sits in second place in the league standings and entered the game on Saturday with the No. 13 strength of schedule in the nation and the No. 18 RPI in the NCAA. UK's win came against Tulsa, ranked No. 16 in the NCAA RPI. The Wildcats now sit just behind SMU in the C-USA regular-season title race, with UK's last 11 games pushing the Wildcats into the thick of the NCAA Tournament race.
Junior Dylan Asher has benefited from the new 4-4-2 formation scoring four goals in the last two games, including a hat trick last Sunday against FIU. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
If you were to rewind the clock back a month ago, it would have been crazy to say the University of Kentucky men's soccer team had a shot at a regular season Conference USA title. But now, the Wildcats currently sit in third place in the league at 3-1-1 with three games remaining on their schedule.
UK has come a long way since opening up the year at 1-4. The Cats are 7-2-1 since, including three consecutive victories.
According to head coach Johan Cedergren, a conference title hasn't been all that far-fetched for the squad. The first-year coach and his staff believed from day one that his team had the talent to compete with the top schools in the league.
"We had goals that were just within the squad and the staff and one of them was we could make a run for a conference title," Cedergren said. "That might be ridiculous to the outsiders after going either .500 or less in the last two years but we have a good enough squad that we can definitely go all the way."
This Saturday, The Wildcats will face a crucial road matchup against Tulsa (10-4-1, 4-1-1 C-USA), who will come into the match ranked 23rd in the country and are currently in second place in conference play.
Not only is this game important for the Cats' conference title hopes, but also for the NCAA officials when looking at the final seedings for the postseason tournament. UK has a RPI of 18 and would receive a major boost with either a road win or a draw against Tulsa, who is No. 16 on the RPI list.
Following the Tulsa contest, Kentucky will return home for its final two games of the regular season against UCF and South Carolina. There are still games to be played and a lot can happen as the season draws to a close.
"We are in a good spot right now but there are still three games to play and that's nine points and anything can happen," Cedergren said.
The Wildcats have gone through several changes in the offseason and throughout the year. The transformation of the program began with the hiring of Cedergren and things have taken off for the men's soccer program since.
To start the 2012 season, Cedergren implemented his preferred formations of 4-5-1 and 4-2-3-1. However, Cedergren and his staff decided to introduce the 4-4-2 formation a few games ago. It calls for two forwards up front, and the offense has taken off with the new look.
Junior Dylan Asher has started up front alongside senior Matt Lodge the last three games, due to an injury to Tyler Riggs, and the two have jelled immediately. Asher, who served as a defender during his first two-and-a-half years at UK, has scored four goals in the last two matches, including a hat trick in the Wildcats' 5-1 triumph over FIU last Sunday.
UK is loaded with depth at the forward position, which resulted in Cedergren using a formation that takes full advantage of his play-making athletes.
"I think it has definitely helped with Dylan Asher being a good forward," Cedergren said. "We have Dylan, we have Lodge, we have Riggs and we have Caleb (Richardson). So we have four good forwards and it made sense to play with two up front rather than one."
Kentucky scored three goals in the first half against FIU, which marked the first time the Cats have netted a goal in the first half in six contests. Statistically, UK has been a better second half team, outscoring its opponents 19-12 in the second half compared to just 10-8 in the first stanza.
The Wildcats are a patient bunch that likes to keep the ball on the ground and wait for the right opportunities to open up rather than forcing the issue and giving their opponents easy chances at the ball.
Although it may seem Kentucky typically gets off to slower starts, they are actually setting themselves up for a second-half push.
"I think it's a tactic of ours to wear a team down," Cedergren said. "If you are keeping the ball, moving the ball and not trying to go forward every single time, you won't score that many goals right away but you will wear a team down. That's why I think we have scored a lot more goals in the second half because teams get tired and we get a little more confident."
The Wildcats' final run at a conference title starts on Saturday at Tulsa. Cedergren is not foreign to the Golden Hurricane, as he saw them in action last season when he was on the Dartmouth coaching staff.
Tulsa presents a lineup with the most firepower in the conference. UT leads the league in goals scored (38), assists (30) and points (106). It is a team that likes to attack the ball and will be an even tougher test for UK with so much on the line.
"Just like the other teams, we watch three-to-five games and we look for tendencies and weaknesses," Cedergren said. "I think we have a pretty good idea of what to do Saturday so we feel good. They are a good team and have had a great season so far and there is a lot on the line after this game."