Kelli Hubly and Caitlin Landis (wearing No. 9) each scored goals in UK's 3-0 victory over Mississippi State. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
With the Kentucky women's soccer team off to a 6-1-0 start to 2012, identifying the Wildcats' issues was an exercise in nitpicking. With already a pair of wins over top-25 teams, there wasn't a lot that UK had not done well.
There was one notable exception to that.
Twice the Cats had played Friday and Sunday games in the same weekend. Facing the quick turnaround, UK had once looked underwhelming in a 1-0 with over Southeastern Missouri and once "very poor" - in the words of Jon Lipsitz - in a 3-1 loss to Samford.
Kentucky had a chance to take a step in the right direction against Mississippi State. After an emotional 2-1 comeback win over No. 13 Florida on Friday, in which Lipsitz reported eight different players ran at least six-and-a-half miles, the unbeaten Bulldogs were coming to town.
"On the days when we might be tired physically, we have to be mentally sharper," Lipsitz said. "Today was the day when we grew up some, when we did it all together."
It took a collective effort to complete a dominant 3-0 victory over Mississippi State. Three different Wildcats tallied goals in the win and three different Wildcats had an assist, including freshman Courtney Raetzman who put the finishing touches on an excellent weekend with a pair of assists.
"We've come from in the past where we were almost entirely a counter-attack team that was giving away possession in order to spring some chances to a team that wants to keep the ball," Lipsitz said. "I thought today we probably did our best job of keeping the ball, of really spreading it around the park a little bit."
The weekend was an impressive one for the Cats, as they swept a pair of SEC weekend games for the first time during the Lipsitz era. UK is assured of being in a tie atop the conference standings through the opening weekend with no more than three other teams, pending the results of other SEC games still in progress on Sunday afternoon.
"I thought it was a good step in what is going to be a grind," Lipsitz said. "We still have 11 more games in the conference."
The Cats will take their show on the road next weekend, heading to Arkansas and LSU. The good news on that front is that UK's leading returning scorer finally got into the goal-scoring column this season. Junior forward Caitlin Landis scored Kentucky's second goal less than 12 minutes into the game after she assisted on Kelli Hubly's goal just four minutes in, UK's fastest goal of the season.
"It was a long time coming," Landis said.
Landis scored six goals in 2011, including one in the season's first game, so the wait wasn't much fun. Even so, her four assists entering Sunday's match led the team and Landis has been doing plenty to help her team win all season.
"I'm sure it's a relief for her," Lipsitz said. "For me, she's been playing fantastic. If Cat scores goals, if Cat gets assists, if Cat just holds the ball for us and starts our attack, if she just moves without the ball and someone else gets it, I'm proud of her."
For Lipsitz, Landis and the Cats, any worries about goal scoring were put into perspective quickly after the final whistle. Sunday was Kentucky's second annual "Kick Cancer Match" and the team held a ceremony with fans after the game to raise awareness for pediatric cancer and honor those suffering from the disease. One dollar from each ticket sold to Sunday's match went toward the fight against pediatric cancer.
The original inspiration for the Kick Cancer Match came from Allison Berger. A few years ago, Lipsitz got a call from the Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology at the UK Hospital about Berger, a young soccer player and fan being treated for brain and spinal cord cancer. Lipsitz went to the hospital to bring Berger some UK gear and what he thought would be a short visit, but it turned out to be much more.
"The cause of raising money for the pediatric oncology unit here at UK just means the world to us," Lipsitz said. "Our lives were changed forever when we met Allison Berger a few years ago over there."
Berger passed away from her illness in March of last year, but her memory lives on through the "Kick Cancer Match" and in the minds and hearts of the Kentucky team.
"Meeting her and her family and now in, Allison's memory, to get to do this every year to raise money just to give back to the kids is amazing for us," Lipsitz said. "We're so honored to get to do something to give back."
UK wore special gold jerseys for Sunday's match. The jerseys are being sold in an open auction online and all proceeds will go to fight pediatric cancer. Go to UKathletics.com/auction to bid.
Courtney Raetzman scored her first career goal in a 2-1 victory over No. 13 Florida on Friday night at the UK Soccer Complex. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
If you've seen the picture, you know Courtney Raetzman had every reason to be a little hesitant in her return to the field. In practice last week, the freshman took an errant elbow to the face going up for a header, leaving her with a nasty black eye.
The photo of her injury - which looked like the work of a movie makeup department - made rounds among coaches, teammates and fans and the swelling forced her to miss a pair of games last weekend.
On Friday night, the diminutive midfielder made her return in Kentucky's first match of Southeastern Conference. If there were any lingering psychological effects, Raetzman certainly didn't show them.
"Being out for a week and a half, I was just so eager to get back and I think all my adrenaline just came out and I really wanted to show that I could come back and not be soft," Raetzman said.
Raetzman - the shortest player on the team - scored the first goal of her short UK career as the Wildcats got a big 2-1 victory over No. 13 Florida. Her goal just 1:46 into the second half proved to be the game winner, completing the comeback from a 1-0 deficit. Sophomore Arin Gilliland scored the Wildcats' first goal on a penalty kick in the 30th minute.
Raetzman's fingerprints were all over the win, which moved Kentucky to 6-1 on the season, a perfect 1-0 in SEC play, and it was about much more than the goal she scored.
"She's a tough kid," head coach Jon Lipsitz said. "She got really upset last week when I told her she couldn't play. To have her back on the field meant a huge amount to this team, both because of her toughness but also because, technically, she helps us to really keep the ball."
From the opening kick, keeping the ball was what this game was all about. Florida is among the nation's best teams because of their ability to maintain possession.
"One of the things that we talked about before the game at halftime is the best way to play against a great possession team is to possess the ball," Lipsitz said. "I think we needed to stay calm, we needed to possess the ball."
In Raetzman's absence, the Cats experienced uneven results. They picked up their biggest win of the season on the road against Louisville last Friday before faltering against Samford on Sunday in a 3-1 defeat, their first of 2012.
"We can do it without her, but when we have her, we're better," Lipsitz said.
Raetzman has stepped into a starting role from the moment she arrived, serving as a key cog in the UK midfield. She had a pair of assists in her first two games, but the goal on Friday was her first.
"It feels amazing, that's for sure, but it's just like any other game in the SEC," Raetzman said. "It's going to be tough no matter what game, so any goal's going to feel great."
Raetzman's perspective is a mature one for someone playing her first conference game, but it's exactly what Lipsitz is looking for. UK found out the hard way last weekend that a great performance on a Friday guarantees nothing on Saturday and now finds itself in a similar set of circumstances just a week later. The Cats scored their first goal against Florida since 2009 on Friday and picked up their first win over the Gators since the 2006 SEC Tournament Championship.
"It says three points and that's all," Lipsitz said. "One of the things that I think we learned last week is we had a big win on Friday. A huge win over Louisville and we laid an egg on Sunday. We came out flat."
UK will turn around and host Mississippi State on Sunday with less than 48 hours rest looking for a much different result than the last time it came off an emotional victory."
"I think mental strength is a huge part of it," Lipsitz said. "We do everything we can to physically recover, but we all know the Friday-Sunday is not easy. It's not going to be an easier for Mississippi State."
One player pretty much guaranteed to deliver maximum effort on Sunday at 1 p.m. is Raetzman. She's had enough of that whole rest thing.
"That was the worst thing ever just to see with one eye and have to watch everything," Raetzman said. "I'm so happy to be back."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Sept. 9:
Volleyball: Morgan Bergren
Freshman Morgan Bergren made a splash in her first career action at the Ameritas Players Challenge in Nebraska this week. She was inserted into the lineup in the second set of the Duquesne win and passed out 22 assists, had two kills, six digs and a trio of blocks in leading UK to a .413 hitting percentage. The progression continued in her first career start against Oklahoma, a team receiving votes in the poll, where she earned her first 40+ assist game with 42 assists, four kills, an ace, seven digs and four blocks. She really shined against No. 1 Nebraska and a packed house of 4,163 fans where she contributed her first career double-double effort with a UK season-high 47 assists and 10 digs. She also had a career-high four kills and five blocks in leading UK to a .266 hitting percentage against the top-ranked Huskers. She found senior Ashley Frazier for a career-high and match-high 20 kills on a blistering .459 hitting percentage while also finding five players for four or more kills on the night.
Women's soccer: Kelli Hubly
Freshman Kelli Hubly scored her first career goal in Kentucky's 2-0 win over No. 12 Louisville Friday night. The goal was scored in the 80th minute, and provided the insurance for the Cats to secure the upset win on the road. The goal was a one-touch goal that was put home to the near post after beautiful cross-field service from sophomore Arin Gilliland.
Women's soccer: Kayla King
Louisville native Kayla King stepped up in a big way Friday night, tallying the clean sheet in a monumental upset of No. 12 Louisville in the Wildcats first road game of the season. After an injury to Kayla Price in the third minute, King came in off the bench, and tallied a season-high six saves, including a PK that would have tied the game at 1-1 late in the game. In addition, King was selected to the Cardinal Classic All-Tournament Team.
Volleyball: Alexandra Morgan
Junior Alexandra Morgan had a terrific week for the Wildcats in Nebraska. She posted a team-high 19 blocks for an average of 1.73 per set. She's logged nearly 50 blocks in the first 10 games of action that leads the conference. Furthermore, she tallied season-high numbers with seven blocks in the opening two matches of the weekend and posted five or more in all three matches. She also contributed six digs on the weekend, including a career-high four against Oklahoma. Morgan also contributed to the offensive side of things. She had a career-high 10 kills on a UK-season best .833 hitting percentage against Duquesne in which she did not commit an error. She matched her career-high with 10 kills in the loss to Oklahoma before putting together a .300 hitting clip performance against the top-ranked Huskers.
Football - The Kentucky football team won its third consecutive home opener, defeating Kent State 47-14 on Saturday. - Kentucky had a strong all-around performance in the game, racking up 539 yards of total offense, including 354 passing yards - which was the most for a UK offense since a 430-yard outburst against Tennessee in 2007. - Sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith threw for all 354 yards, including finding senior wide receiver Aaron Boyd 11 times for 100 yards - both career highs for Boyd. Junior tailback Raymond Sanders had a career night with 13 rushes for 115 yards and touchdown, including a 67-yard burst to the end zone. - Defensively, Kentucky recorded its first safety since the 2009 season while also stopping Kent State from scoring all three times they entered the redzone. The UK defense, which forced and recovered a fumble in the game, ended the contest with three sacks, six tackles for loss and six pass breakups. Volleyball - The Kentucky volleyball team capped off non-conference action against its toughest competition of the season at the Ameritas Players Challenge on the campus of the University of Nebraska. UK earned a win over Duquesne, before suffering heart-wrenching four-set losses to Oklahoma, a team receiving votes in the latest poll, and No. 1 Nebraska on its home floor. - Senior Ashley Frazier was simply sensational against the Huskers with a career-high tying and match-high 20 kill performance on a sizzling .459 hitting percentage. - Freshman setter Morgan Bergren had a coming-out party of sorts against the Huskers in front of 4,163 fans as she recorded her first career double-double effort with a UK single-match high 47 assists and 10 digs. She also added career-high marks with four kills and five blocks. - In the victory over Duquesne it was the middle blockers who shined as the duo of junior Alexandra Morgan and freshman Sara Schwarzwalder combined for 20 kills with no errors. Morgan's defensive presence continues to aid the Wildcat cause as the junior turned back 19 opponent attacks in 11 sets for a blistering 1.73 rejections per frame.
Women's soccer - Kentucky opened its road portion of the schedule with a dramatic 2-0 upset of No. 12 Louisville on the road at Cardinal Park Friday night. - Junior Kayla King was inserted into the game in the opening minutes, and recorded six saves, keeping a clean sheet and saving a penalty kick late in the game which would have tied the score at 1-1. - Freshman Cailin Harris scored UK's lone goal in a 3-1 loss to Samford. Harris, Arin Gilliland and Kayla King were named to the Cardinal Classic All-Tournament Team. - UK returns home Friday night for its Southeastern Conference opener against No. 24 Florida Friday night, with a Sunday matchup vs. undefeated Mississippi State.
Men's soccer - The Kentucky men's soccer team finished second at its invitational tournament over the weekend, picking up a 2-0 win over St. Joe's and falling to No. 4 Charlotte on Sunday, 1-0. - Kentucky has played an extremely grueling schedule to open the 2012 season, as the Wildcats have played three top-25 foes in their first five matches. UK entered the matchup with Charlotte, the 2011 NCAA runners-up, fresh off a dominating 2-0 win over St. Joseph's in its home opener on Friday night. - UK finished second in the 2012 UKIT with the loss, as the high-octane 49ers claimed the championship, Stony Brook third place and St. Joe's fourth. - UK freshman midfielder Bryan Celis - who scored his first career goal on Friday - junior defender Steven Perinovic and junior forward Tyler Riggs were selected to the UKIT All-Tournament team by the UK coaching staff. Upcoming schedule Monday, Sept. 10 Men's tennis at Southern Intercollegiate (Athens, Ga.) Women's golf at Old Waverly Bulldog Invite (West Point, Miss.) Tuesday, Sept. 11 Women's golf at Old Waverly Bulldog Invite (West Point, Miss.)
Wednesday, Sept. 12 Women's golf at Old Waverly Bulldog Invite (West Point, Miss.)
Friday, Sept. 14 Men's soccer at Louisville - 7:00 p.m. Women's soccer hosts Florida - 7:00 p.m. Men's tennis at Duke Invitational (Cary, N.C.)/ Illinois Invitational (Chicago) Women's tennis at Muirfield Village Invitational (Muirfield, Ohio)
Saturday, Sept. 15 Football hosts Western Kentucky - 7:00 p.m. Men's golf at Wolf Run Invite (Zionsville, Ind.) Men's tennis at Duke Invitational (Cary, N.C.)/ Illinois Invitational (Chicago) Women's tennis at Muirfield Village Invitational (Muirfield, Ohio) Sunday, Sept. 16 Volleyball hosts Florida - 1:00 p.m. Women's soccer hosts Mississippi State - 1:00 p.m. Men's golf at Wolf Run Invite (Zionsville, Ind.) Men's tennis at Duke Invitational (Cary, N.C.)/ Illinois Invitational (Chicago) Women's tennis at Muirfield Village Invitational (Muirfield, Ohio)
With six saves - including this one on a penalty kick - Kayla King helped lead UK to a road win over No. 12 Louisville on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
LOUISVILLE -- Kayla King knew she would be playing on Friday night, but didn't have the faintest idea of the circumstances under which she'd be taking the field. The junior goalkeeper was returning to her native Louisville to face the archrival Cardinals, and that on its own would have been enough to put her emotions on edge.
Jon Lipsitz, her head coach, planned to start Kayla Price in goal and bring in King for the second half against U of L. Less than four minutes into the game, King was on the sideline cheering on Price and the Wildcats when everything was thrown into chaos.
Price charged a ball played high into the box, jumping and colliding head-to-head with U of L's Irene Young. Immediately, it was clear Price was hurt and bleeding. Trainers raced to Price, who remained on the ground for a few minutes before coming to the sideline.
Price was clearly out for the game and King had to step up in a moment no teammate ever wants to face.
"When I saw KP go down, my heart broke for her," King said. "That's not a situation I want to come into."
After staying on the sideline briefly, Price was taken to the hospital, where she was treated for a cut that would need stitches and a tooth that was knocked out. King's thoughts were with Price - who is alert and in good spirits - but for the next two hours, there was a game to be played, and a big one at that. It's difficult to imagine King playing much better than she did.
King led the Cats (5-0-0) to a 2-0 upset of the 12th-ranked Cardinals, keeping the clean sheet that Price started. She was UK's anchor at the back, making six saves and stymieing a U of L attack that scored seven goals in two matches last weekend.
"It was just so much fun," King said. "After the initial shakes and jitters and rush that comes with that sort of situation, it was just fun. My team kept me in it and they kept me focused."
In her first two seasons as a Wildcat, King was a backup. In 2011, she saw only limited action behind Price, who started as a freshman. But heading into this season, King played her way into a time share at keeper. Through four games, she didn't allow a goal. That streak continued on Friday night.
"We talk about how you never know who is going to be the one," Lipsitz said. "You look at someone like Kayla King who got herself fit and had to make a decision who she wanted to be. She made a decision to be a great soccer player."
Her fitness and her improvement were tested in almost every conceivable way against the Cardinals. Into the 60th minute, King kept her team in a scoreless tie as the Cats' troubles with converting chances into goals continued. Finally, Natalie Horner headed in a Danielle Krohn corner to give UK a tenuous 1-0 lead. Just under 20 minutes later, it appeared that advantage was certain to disappear.
The referee whistled Kentucky for a foul inside its own box and Louisville was awarded a potentially game-tying penalty kick. Before Charlyn Corral stepped up to take the shot, King dropped to a knee to say a prayer and focus on the guidance of her coach.
"Jon says, 'Just react,' " King said. "That's the attitude I had going into it. I was fortunate enough that she didn't hit it upper 90 or to the other side. Luck, a big help from the Big Man and the coaches allowed me to make that save."
In an instant, King dove to her left, stretched and, not only made the save, but held onto the ball. Two teammates rushed to celebrate with her, but King brushed them aside; she had an attack to start. Within moments of the save, Arin Gilliland found Kelli Hubly from 35 yards out. The freshman found the back of the net for the first goal of her UK career.
"After a PK, as much as you want to be like, 'Yeah, this is awesome, woo hoo!' you can't lose your focus, especially against Louisville," King said. "They're a fantastic team. If we could use that emotion and go score a goal like we did, then fantastic. Then I'll give everyone hugs."
There was plenty of time for hugs when the final whistle sounded.
Entering the annual matchup with Louisville - the young Wildcats' first road game - Lipsitz said, win or lose, he was looking forward to learning about his team. He got more information than even he was bargaining for.
"I learned that we have an incredible amount of passion," UK head coach Jon Lipsitz said. "Not just for the game of soccer, who we want to be on the field, but for one another. We had a player seriously injured five minutes into the game and there are a lot of teams, that when that happens, they shut down out of fear or out of worry. They didn't do that."
Even if they had wanted to, the hundreds of Kentucky fans that had invaded Cardinal Park may not have let them. The goal that King stepped into when she came in for Price was surrounded by a boisterous group of Wildcat faithful who had boarded a pair of buses commissioned by the athletic department to make the drive from Lexington.
"When I came in, it was a rush of emotions to say the least," King said. "What actually calmed me down was the Big Blue Nation right behind me cheering for me and drowning out the Cardinal fans."
Without all the UK fans, it's unlikely that U of L would have set a school record with an attendance of 3,520 on Friday.
"I hope that everybody in Big Blue Nation understands what they did for us tonight," Lipsitz said. "I want to say thank you to the department for getting t-shirts and buses. We felt that the whole time. We always say, 'Blue got in.' I think that's a phrase. Let me tell you, Blue got in."
Among those blue-clad fans were King's mother, stepfather, both of her sisters and numerous friends from Manual High School, including her best friend - a U of L student - who wore blue body paint with King's name and her No. 33 on the back.
The way Price entered the game may have been something she'd rather forget, but the way she left the field is something she'll never want to.
"It's really special to come home and have my team play so well under the lights on a Friday night against our archrival," King said.