Freshman Taylor Braun has posted four consecutive shutouts in goal for Kentucky. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
By Brianna Brents, UK Athletics
Freshmen have a choice in joining a college team for the first time: act their age or take control.
Taylor Braun has chosen the latter.
The goalkeeper is stepping up to the plate as a new freshman on the team that lets hard work speak for itself.
In spite of the attitude, Braun was still a little shocked when she was named Co-Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week only three weeks into the season.
"I have to give credit to my team and my defenders helping me out throughout preseason and through the first couple of our games, but it was definitely an awesome feeling," said Braun.
Braun spent a lot of her summer training and growing to become better at her skill. She selected Kentucky because she wanted to be a part of a team that was continuing to build, and with Jon Lipsitz as the head coach, she wanted to be a part of making a legacy.
Lipsitz said he wasn't surprised at all by the way Braun has stepped up and made big saves.
"Our plan for all of our players is to first get better every day, and she's been looking at a lot of film and seeing the things that she has been doing well, and the things that she's not doing well," Lipsitz said. "We go out on the field and work on it; it's just a part of the process."
Reacting positively to short-term failure is what Kentucky women's soccer is all about.
"We lost a game at the beginning of the year and we learned from it," Lipsitz said. "I'm not a believer in you have to lose to be motivated. I'm glad that we've continued to learn from the first game, and the difference is we're learning in victory rather than defeat now".
UK has done plenty of that since that season-opening 4-1 loss at Washington. The Wildcats have won five games in a row, the last four coming in shutout fashion with Braun in goal.
"I just wanted to come in and make a statement that it doesn't matter what age you are, you can be a factor in the game," Braun said.
UK will look to cap a successful run through nonconference play on Sunday at noon ET at home against Pepperdine. After that, it's on to conference play in the always challenging SEC. The Cats' goals through all of that are simple.
"We want to get better every day and we want to win every game and that never changes," Lipsitz said. "That's a part of the process of being in the culture of our team. We're going to be great teammates to one another, we're going to be a family and we're going to work incredibly hard to get better every day."
At Kentucky, that team mentality is fueled by an individually focused approach, counterintuitive as that may seem.
"We take pride in our girls in this program on the individual development of our players, and because of the players developing so much individually, the team gets better also," said Lipsitz.
UK's precocious goalkeeper is an important part of that process.
"Bigger things are coming for our team individually and collectively," Braun said. "It takes a lot of discipline and work ethic to play at this level and you have to do a lot of work on your own. You have to grind when there are days when you're tired, have a lot of homework or didn't get much sleep; you just have to press through. Every day I go in focused and try to get better and learn the aspects of the game and become a student of the game every day."
Wendell Bell speaks at the dedication ceremony for UK's new soccer complex. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Mitch Barnhart came across more new faces than he could count when he came to Kentucky in 2002.
There were two he just kept noticing.
"We came here about 13 years ago as an administration and this couple kept walking around our program," Barnhart said. "And they kept showing up at events and we got to know them a little bit and spent a little time with us and they'd go on trips with us. Next thing I know, they're traveling with the rifle team, the volleyball team, the women's soccer team, showing up at softball."
The faces belonged to longtime UK supporters and K Fund members Wendell and Vickie Bell, and Barnhart couldn't help but build a relationship with them. It didn't take him long to understand why they were always around.
"What we began to realize is that they've invested in the lives of all these young people," Barnhart said.
On Sunday, UK Athletics recognized that investment with the grand opening of the Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex before a women's and men's soccer doubleheader.
"It's a really, really cool day," Barnhart said at a ceremony attended by President Eli Capilouto, coaches and players from both teams and fans. "We get to dedicate our soccer complex to Wendell and Vickie. After all the contributions they've made, we tried to find something that would give them the credit they deserve for all the things they've done."
The new $7.7 million complex houses separate facilities for both soccer programs, with team rooms, lounges, locker-room areas, coaching offices and new grandstand.
"You have no idea how much this means for us," women's soccer senior Arin Gilliland said. "Being here for the last four years, I've gotten to see a change from aluminum bleachers to this amazing facility. We have the best field in the SEC. Now we have the best facility."
The women's soccer team is in the midst of the best years in school history under Jon Lipsitz, while Johan Cedergren is building the men's program in his third season. Walking through a typical visit when he hosts a recruit, Cedergren talked about what the new facility means to that process.
"At the end, it's down to me and they're basically, 'Where can I sign?' " Cedergren said. "As a men's soccer program to have the stuff that we have here is absolutely mind-blowing."
The Bells enjoy being a part of it all.
"We've been very involved with the program for so many years and I was talking with Dr. Capilouto and Mary Lynn," Wendell Bell said. "Just the transformation academically and athletically that we have seen and the changes over those years are just amazing. And the vision going forward."
As meaningful as the new soccer facility made possible by the Bells is to that vision, their meaning to UK Athletics goes far deeper. That's why the two teams presented jerseys to the Bells and the ball used to score the first regular-season goal in the Bell Soccer Complex on Friday.
"Obviously something like this doesn't happen without the money," Lipsitz said. "It takes money to do these things and we know they've been incredibly generous. But I literally made a note and I wrote down a dollar sign and I crossed it out and I drew a heart. Because that is my first thought when I think about them."
That makes the tribute to the Bells unveiled on Sunday all the more fitting.
After the speeches were done, Barnhart led the Bells outside, where a new bell and plaque were unveiled next to the field as a surprise. The bell will ring after each UK goal, creating a new tradition that will be part of all game days to come.
Courtney Raetzman scored in UK's 3-0 win over Ohio. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Within 14 minutes in the first game after the stadium's dedication, the bell rang after a Jade Klump goal. The Wildcats would add two more from Courtney Raetzman and Alex Carter in a 3-0 victory, moving to 3-1 on the season in the process.
"We talk about how important it is to leave a legacy," Lipsitz said. "This is the beginning of a new legacy for our players to leave and be able to come back years from now and say, 'Remember when? Remember when we started everything here with the new stadium?'
"It's just so special having Wendell and Vickie here and Mitch and the administration and Dr. Capilouto. You can't really ask more than for the environment we had here today."
In the nightcap, the men's soccer team leveled its record at 1-1 with a 2-0 win over Belmont. After dominating play in a scoreless first half, Kristoffer Tollefsen and Ryan Creel scored UK's first goals of the season and Callum Irving posted a shutout.
"It felt really good, the first home game of the season," Creel said. "Coach said, 'We gotta ring that bell today.' "
"I just think that with all the people here, opening weekend, you want to put on a good show," Cedergren said. "And I thought that the guys were really, really good today."
The Bells were there for all 180 minutes of action on a rainy day, cheering passionately, which is exactly what anyone who knows the Bells and what's important to them would expect.
"We've been blessed," Wendell Bell said, "but truly for us we're just appreciative that we have the opportunity to invest in this program and make an impact on these kids because, at the end of the day, that's what counts."
On June 30, Arin Gilliland received the Honda Inspiration Award at the Collegiate Women's Sports Award. The honor recognized the UK women's soccer star's courage in overcoming her mother's passing and a devastating knee injury suffered at the end of her freshman season.
As part of the CBS Sports Network broadcast, the feature video below on Gilliland's relationship with her mother Letita.
Programming for the SEC Network continues to take shape.
Exactly three months before the new network launches on Aug. 14, the league announced television schedules for SEC volleyball and women's soccer. In the SEC Network's first season, the SEC - and by extension, UK - will enjoy unmatched national exposure.
In total 80 games - 50 volleyball, 30 women's soccer - will air on either the SEC Network or ESPNU.
"These schedules reflect the breadth of exposure that our student-athletes will receive in the SEC's Olympic sports on the SEC Network," said Commissioner Mike Slive. "It's indicative of the full array of sports and unprecedented number of televised events SEC fans will enjoy throughout the athletic year."
UK's volleyball and women's soccer teams will be featured prominently. Craig Skinner's Wildcats will make at least eight national television appearances. Here's their complete SEC Network/ESPNU schedule.
Wed, Sept. 24 9 p.m. KENTUCKY at LSU (ESPNU) Sun, Oct. 5 6 p.m. TEXAS A&M at KENTUCKY Sun, Oct. 12 Noon AUBURN at KENTUCKY Sun, Oct. 26 Noon KENTUCKY at TEXAS A&M Wed, Oct. 29 8 p.m. TENNESSEE at KENTUCKY (ESPNU) Sun, Nov. 9 Noon MISSOURI at KENTUCKY Sun, Nov. 16 Noon FLORIDA at KENTUCKY Sun, Nov. 23 2 p.m. KENTUCKY at MISSISSIPPI STATE
Jon Lipsitz's Cats, meanwhile, will appear three times on the SEC Network or ESPNU.
Thu, Oct. 2 7 p.m. KENTUCKY at MISSOURI Sun, Oct. 5 Noon KENTUCKY at TEXAS A&M (ESPNU) Sun, Oct. 19 4 p.m. FLORIDA at KENTUCKY
In addition, the first round, quarterfinals and semifinals of the SEC Soccer Tournament will air on the SEC Network.
All this is yet another reason to visit GetSECNetwork.com and demand the SEC Network if your cable/satellite provider has not yet signed on to carry it. So far, only AT&T U-Verse, DISH, Google Fiber and National Rural Telecommunications cooperative (NRTC) have agreed to carry the SEC Network.
UK Athletics hosted the 12th annual CATSPY Awards on Monday in Memorial Coliseum, with student-athletes, coaches and staff dressing up to celebrate a memorable 2013-14. You can find all the award winner right here, but the highlight of the evening is always the video produced by Kentucky Wildcats TV. Check them all out below.
Jon Lipsitz is asking for a little help from the Big Blue Nation to decide the top moment of the 2013 women's soccer season. Watch the video above, pick a moment and tweet it with the hash tag #UKWSTopMoment to cast your vote.
Courtney Raetzman rises for a header vs. Ohio State
Four minutes rarely amounts to much in the lives of the 18-22-year olds who make up the teams remaining in the NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament, but in 2013 that amount of time served as a blessing in disguise for Kentucky.
The Wildcats became a group of walking wounded late in the regular season due to the piling up of injury upon injury. Come last Friday's first-round game, the Wildcats had to recall a player who was thought to be out for the season: Courtney Raetzman.
In fact the UK staff had applied to officially end her season so as to grant her an entire additional season of eligibility due to injury hardship, but NCAA rules denied the request.
The technicality? She had played four minutes too many to qualify for a medical redshirt.
Those four minutes may have seemed trivial if not cruel earlier this season, but as it turned out they were key in allowing the Wildcats to advance to Friday's 10:30 p.m. ET second-round matchup at UCLA.
Raetzman was a revelation in UK's first-round victory over Ohio State.
Her performance was all-the-more impressive given she was wearing what looked to be an extremely restrictive brace, apparently to protect against reinjury.
"We've got a gutsy kid in Courtney Raetzman that was back," head coach Jon Lipsitz said. "I mean, Courtney has been out since the seventh game of the year. She actually played four minutes too much for us to be able to look at redshirting her this year, so everything that she did was, I'm going to find a way back, I'm going to find a way, I'm going to get back on the field.
"And a week ago, she wasn't even really going full-go in training. Just two days ago, she was finally cleared to train, tackle, do everything. For that kid to come back in and play like that, it's unbelievable."
The impact of Raetzman's play cannot be overstated, and her return helped UK in tactical terms, but the comeback also was also helpful in ways less quantifiable. When a player works that hard and gets back onto the pitch so quickly and so effectively, teammates apparently take a great deal of inspiration.
"Anytime you get a player back on the field from injury, it's great," All-SEC forward Arin Gilliland said. "We're a family here and being able to have someone on the field that really makes a difference once again is a great feeling and it brings so much energy back to the field and it gets everyone excited."
The team's excitement at Raetzman's return translated into goals galore and a win, but similar stories have been widespread across the team in 2013. Such unexpected stories of perseverance seem necessary for a team like UK, which has lost so much talent because of injury to be able to make it as far as UK has.
Caitlin Landis's 2013 journey is yet another example of a player who spent part of the season on the periphery of Lipsitz's first choice lineup only to play a pivotal role once the NCAA Tournament came around.
Landis, a senior, began the season by losing a starting place which she had held for much of her career, but like many other Wildcats, injuries to others forced her back into heavy playing time.
Apparently the adversity brought out a new level in Landis's game, which was on full display when the forward opened the scoring in the 3-1 win over Ohio State.
"The way she sees the field and her ability to play other players in now is something she didn't have before," Lipsitz said earlier this season. "She was not starting early in the year, and we made some adjustments ... She has put a stranglehold on it ever since. I hope she feels like I was totally wrong when I wasn't starting her early.
"I hope she looks at me every day and thinks, 'You are an idiot,' because I want my players to want to be on the field and think they deserve to be. She was ready when her number was called and she's been ready ever since."
And then there's the case of Ashley VanLandingham, whose season has in many ways been best exemplified by not even four minutes, but only a matter of seconds.
The senior captain started the trend of UK women's soccer players suffering untimely injuries as she was declared out for the season with a knee problem last spring.
Nonetheless she was named a team captain, and served this season as UK's loudest player offering support from the sidelines during games and as one of the Wildcats' most influential leaders.
VanLandingham's symbolic minutes came on senior day, when she started the game with the opening kickoff being played out of bounds before she showed her rehab progress by jogging off for an immediate substitute. The move was a nice in-game touch of ceremony, which served as a sort of reward for a player who had given so much to the program.
"I had recruited Ashley to go to Charlotte when I was coach there as she is from North Carolina," Lipsitz said. "What a leap of faith on her part to come play here at Kentucky. That's special, but as much fun as it was to watch her on the field her progression as a leader this year despite not playing is the most special thing of all."
The senior captain's one minute of play this season had almost no direct impact on the events, which transpired on the field during UK's game that day or any other wins. Yet, just like Raetzman's return or Landis' ability to be a team-first player while on the bench, the ceremonial start represented off-field work, which helped UK in ways less visible but still important.