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Links: Women's soccer star Gilliland making headlines

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Arin Gilliland has 13 points as the women's soccer team is off to an 6-1-1 start to the 2013 season. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Arin Gilliland has 13 points as the women's soccer team is off to an 6-1-1 start to the 2013 season. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
If you didn't already hear, Arin Gilliland had a big weekend as the women's soccer team put the finishing touches on an impressive run through its nonconference schedule.

Gilliland scored seven points in UK wins over UTSA and West Virginia, assisting on or scoring all five of the Wildcats' goals. The junior's efforts, as you might expect, have earned her a fair bit of recognition. She was named Southeastern Conference Offensive Player of the Week on Monday and Primetime Player of the Week on Wednesday.

On top of that, she is featured in a pair of stories this week on and

First, Gilliland continued her series of blogs on In it, she writes about UK's four wins the last two weekends and the momentum the Cats are carrying into SEC play.

It was such a quick turnaround for Game 2. It was going to be a huge challenge for us because of all the hype of the previous game against Louisville. But we came out with just as much passion, aggression and grit and tallied up a 3-1 win over a very good Dayton team. Here's an excerpt.

So now we were sitting with four straight wins and two weekend sweeps. You cannot allow that to let you get lazy or arrogant. Next up was Texas-San Antonio and West Virginia at No. 10.

After a 1-0 victory over UTSA at home, we packed up on another bus trip, this time to the mountains of West Virginia. Once there, we stepped onto the field and wasted no time. I put a goal away in the first 10 seconds of the game. We were here and making a statement. We came out with a 4-2 win over WVU.

Third straight sweep, six straight wins: We are ready to take on the SEC!

Next, Sean Cartell posted an excellent profile of Gilliland on the SEC's official website. By now, you may have heard the story of Gilliland overcoming an ACL injury and the loss of her mother to cancer during her freshman season, but the story is worth a read regardless.

Sept. 15 Performances of the Week

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Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, September 15:

Volleyball: Whitney Billings

Senior Whitney Billings began the week with 11 digs in a win over Louisville to become the sixth player in program history to amass 1,000 career kills and digs, and the first since the inception of the 25-point rally scoring era. She contributed nine kills in the win narrowly missing out on a double-double effort. In the upset-victory over No.4 Minnesota (the highest ranked opponent defeated in the Craig Skinner era), Billings was unstoppable. She went off for 25 kills on a blistering .467 hitting percentage. The hitting percentage is the highest in her career for a five-set match where she tallied 15 or more kills. With the 25 hammers she became the first player in the 25-point rally scoring era to have two matches of 25 or more kills in a single season. She also picked up 12 digs in the victory for her 35th career double-double effort. She had a season-high five blocks and was perfect from the serve-receive line as the Gophers attacked her 23 times. In the loss to Pepperdine, she reached double-figures in the digs column for the sixth time this season, while also posting a season-best three service aces.

Women's soccer: Arin Gilliland

Arin Gilliland scored seven points on the weekend, netting two goals and adding three assists in the two matches. Gilliland scored 10 seconds into the Wildcats 4-2 win over WVU, and also added another goal and two assists. Gilliland was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Week, and also named to the TopDrawerSoccer National Team of the Week.

Volleyball: Jackie Napper

Junior libero Jackie Napper has found her rhythm in her new position as she led the Wildcats in digs for the week with 3.85 per set. She logged a .966 serve-receive stat line, while registering double-figure dig efforts in every contest. She opened the week with 15 scoops against her hometown rival, Louisville. She also added four assists and an ace. Against Pepperdine she totaled 11 digs. She saved her best for last in helping UK to the biggest upset since 1993 with a career-high 24 dig performance. She coupled that with five assists and an ace. The Gophers served at her 28 times and she registered a perfect 1.000 serve-receive percentage. With the 50 digs on the weekend, she has now tallied 656 career digs which is the fourth-highest total in the 25-point rally scoring era for UK.

Volleyball: Anni Thomasson

Freshman Anni Thomasson continued to provide a spark on the floor for the Wildcats as UK upset No. 4 ranked Minnesota and Louisville who is receiving votes in the AVCA poll. The week began with a career-high 13 kill, 16-dig performance in the victory over in-state rival Louisville. She then continued her streak of 10-or more dig matches with 10 scoops in the loss to Pepperdine. In the upset victory over the Golden Gophers, Thoamsson registered her fourth double-double in five matches with 10 kills and 10 digs, while also adding a pair of blocks. She was served at 41 times in the three matches, and did not make a single error. She averaged 2.08 kills per set, good for third on the team. Here 3.08 digs per frame was second only to UK's starting libero. Her 2.58 points per game ranked third on the squad.

Sept. 8 Performances of the Week

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Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, September 8:

Volleyball: Jackie Napper

Junior Jackie Napper was tabbed the Most Valuable Player and earned Kentucky Classic All-Tournament teams in helping guide UK to a trio of wins this week. Napper averaged 3.91 digs and 1.64 assists per set in the three victories. She logged a season-high 19 digs in a win over VCU, while narrowly becoming the first defensive player to earn a double-double in school history with nine assists in the match. She notched 16 digs in a three-set victory over ETSU. In the final win of the weekend, Napper dished out six assists while accumulating eight digs in the victory over ETSU. Furthermore, she posted a kill in the win over VCU, her first of the year.

Women's soccer: Stuart Pope

Kentucky capped off its second-straight weekend sweep on Sunday, striking for two first-half goals and an extra in the second half to tally the 3-1 win over the Dayton Flyers. UK got goals from Alex Carter, Zoe Swift and Stuart Pope. The goal for Pope was the fourth-straight game that she has scored in, as she has five goals in the last four games. Pope was named the SEC Player of the Week last week by

Volleyball: Anni Thomasson

Freshman Anni Thomasson had a breakout weekend for the Wildcats en route to earning Kentucky Classic All-Tournament team honors. In the opening victory vs. VCU, Thomasson was utilized as a defensive specialist playing in the back row exclusively. The following morning, Thomasson received her first career start and played all six rotations. She delivered her first career double-double effort with a career-high 12 kills on a blistering .435 hitting clip. She notched 13 digs and added a block, while turning in a perfect performance in the serve-receive game. She remained in the starting lineup for the win over ETSU and notched seven kills, while adding eight digs and a career-high four blocks. For the week, she averaged 1.73 kills per set (despite only playing in the front row for two of the three matches). She ranked third on the squad with 2.18 digs per stanza. 
UK junior midfielder Stuart Pope shoots from distance vs. Louisville. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK junior midfielder Stuart Pope shoots from distance vs. Louisville. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Spend any time around Jon Lipsitz at a UK women's soccer training session -- or on the sidelines during a match -- and it becomes clear quite quickly that he puts a major emphasis on playing with a quick tempo offensively.

The Wildcat's possession-dependent system requires fast passing to keep defenses guessing and moving. The Wildcats pushing the tempo of the match was very much the difference in Friday's 2-0 victory over Louisville.

Kentucky went into halftime tied 0-0 having created the better of the first-half chances, but UK also struggled to sustain possession.

Lipsitz and his staff shouted to play faster over and over from the touch line during most of the game's opening moments, but it took until around the half-hour mark for the UK players to respond. Even then it wasn't until the second interval where the fact that the game's pace had changed became evident.

"We have to move the ball and I thought early on we were playing at a pace that was not who we are," Lipsitz said. "I said 50 times: 'faster.' Sometimes players feel like, 'I am playing as fast as I can,' but we know they can do better. So we kept pushing and I thought about the last 15 minutes of the first half we started playing better and continued that into the second half."

On both goals speed was the difference. On the opener, Courtney Raetzman capitalized on quick one- and two-touch buildup play along the left sideline before getting behind the U of L defense and playing a cross for a Stuart Pope mid-range effort near the 18-yard line.

Arin Gilliland created the second scoring chance with sheer individual speed. She ran onto a long ball over the top from out of the UK back line. With the entire pitch in front of her she dribbled into the box and at two defenders, eventually drawing a foul on the penalty spot.|

Both goals came out of playing with pace in two different ways: passing and foot speed, respectively.

"We talk about don't let somebody else set our pace," Lipsitz said. "Louisville is a tremendous team at picking off central passes and counterattacking. They are so good at it. So as we played more slowly in the back because we weren't heavily pressured we are setting up to get picked off and countered and give up a breakaway.

"We don't want their defensive pressure up top to dictate how fast we play. We have to move the ball that is who we are. We have to play to feet."

Pope proves lethal since returning to attacking role

Stuart Pope has been close to unstoppable in the attacking midfield since moving back to her more comfortable creative role after starting the season as a defensive outside back.

Having found the back of the net on Friday, the junior now has four goals in three games since her positional switch. Indeed Pope has proven to be a perfect fit at the heart of the UK attack, but as early as this offseason Lipsitz himself wouldn't have believed she could be so effective up front.

"Stu has just changed who she is," Lipsitz said of his versatile junior. "She would be the first one to tell you that she did not like me her first two years here. And I don't apologize for it at all. We always knew that Stu had tremendous potential. One of the greatest conflicts in a coach-player relationship is when the coach feels that a player is not reaching her potential.

"Her confidence, her fitness, she has always been very technical and tactical but for her to be able to control the game the way she does now that is all her. She did the work. I could not be more proud of her. To imagine a year or two ago her commanding the middle of the field for 90 minutes, we imagined it but there is no way she could have done it, but now she deserves every accolade that she gets."

Pope was in many ways the Wildcats' most lively attacker from the start of the game, but on multiple occasions early Lipsitz felt she was being to patient in buildup play. He instructed her to shoot more.

The suggestion worked as she began to try her luck from distance late in the first half, and a long-range effort ended up being the game's first goal.

"He has been telling me for three years to shoot the ball more and one of these days it is going to come," Pope said. "I finally put one in and hopefully next game I can work on Jon's coaching points. I just like attacking.

"I am an attacker at heart and been an attacker my whole life. It suits my style and suits me better to attack and I can be in the right place at the right time and not have to worry about the back line."

King unblemished at home.

Senior goalkeeper Kayla King has yet to concede a goal at the UK Soccer Complex this season. In three matches at home the Wildcats have kept three clean sheets.

"It was a great team shutout," King said. "The shutouts are what (Assistant) Coach Ian (Carry) and I always talk about and what we always want. It's just a little sweeter against Louisville on our home field in front of our home crowd."

Friday's 2-0 victory may have been the Wildcats' most convincing defensive performance. UK faced 13 shots, with King only called upon to save four times.

When King did come to make a save, she came strong as she decisively caught multiple Cardinal crosses and notably punched another well out of danger.

The Wildcat captain has shown impressive confidence in this, her second season as a starter.

"On your home field, you can't lose and you can't give up goals," King said. "I joke that (Associate Head Coach) Michelle (Rayner) has tricked the goalkeepers out with our team outfits. We call our kits the shutout shirts. We don't give up goals especially not at home. We earned the shutout on the practice field."

Gilliland picks power

Gilliland, UK's junior forward and captain, converted her second-half penalty with authority.

The Wildcats' designated penalty taker, who also drew the foul in the penalty box after dribbling from midfield to the penalty spot chose to go high and down the middle on her PK.

The decision was tactical ... sort of.

"To be honest on the PK I usually place them, but I was so tired I literally just kicked the (you-know-what) out of it," Gilliland said. "That was my tactic. I knew she was going to dive one way so I just decided to kick it as hard as I could."

Wildcat goalies stand out. Literally.

Kayla King (Chet White, UK Athletics) Kayla King (Chet White, UK Athletics)

The sartorial talk around the Wildcats usually revolves around head coach Jon Lipsitz's suit selection (he wore a navy subtly striped suit with a white shirt and royal blue tie on Friday, by the way). For the Louisville game, the Wildcat goalies dominated the soccer fashion conversation as their shirts and shorts were a shade of yellow that would be most aptly compared to a highlighter.

"It looks great," King said. "I'm pretty much glowing in the dark. Coach Rayner picks out all of our stuff and she does a great job. I was surprised at this one when I came in the locker room, but I really like the look."

UK players celebrate during the 2012 UK vs. U of L game. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK players celebrate during the 2012 UK vs. U of L game. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Kentucky vs. Louisville. Any mention of said match up is enough to make most any member of the Big Blue Nation take notice, no matter what sport.

The rival schools will face off for the first time this 2013-14 athletics season at the UK Soccer Complex on Friday evening. The Kentucky women's soccer team couldn't be happier to do the honors of kicking off the UK-U of L rivalry this year.

"We always feel like what we do means a lot to the (UK athletics) department," Jon Lipsitz said. "When we're on the field against Louisville the only thing that we can control is how well we play. Getting a great victory last year in front of all our fans that bused over was a huge moment for us."

Without doubt the Wildcats will be up for Friday's match, and UK's head coach embraces the edge that comes with such an intense rivalry. The Wildcats will need to be ready for Louisville's best shot having dominated the all-time series with an 8-2-1 advantage with wins the past two years, including last season on the road.

"Obviously every game means something special to us," Lipsitz said. "Every team needs to get our best. We need to respect the game and respect every player, but we're lying if we don't say there's a little edge on this game."

The Wildcats seemed to find their form last weekend after getting off to a less-than-ideal start to the season with a loss and scoreless draw in the first two matches of the season.

UK picked up two wins in two games against Eastern Kentucky and Toledo. Perhaps more assuring than the victories was the outburst of goals.

UK struggled to find the back of the net during the opening weekend, and following the 0-0 result with Utah, Lipsitz tinkered with his team's setup.

"My grandfather used to say, 'Never waste a good crisis,' " Lipsitz said. "After we tied Utah, as I've said, somehow we all thought it was a crisis when we tied at home. Good for us, good for the players to feel urgency like that because the result wasn't good enough."

Headlining Lipsitz's five positional changes, junior captain Arin Gilliland moved from central defense - where she normally plays when called into the United States National Team Program - to a more attacking role. The alterations paid dividends immediately as Gilliland contributed a school single-game record three assists vs. EKU and another assist against Toledo.

UK's tactical shifts undoubtedly contributed to the Wildcats' improved results during the second week, but a shift in attitude may have made the biggest difference, and it was best exemplified in a gastronomic setting.

The Wildcats passed on a long-held program tradition of enjoying dessert at the team dinner following a victory. After the win against EKU, however, the team was still unsatisfied. The UK players decided to pass on the treat until the full weekend objective was attained: two wins in three days.

"This team has always known that if we play extremely well and lose - and that happens in athletics - I'm going to proud of us," Lipsitz said. "I'm going to say the things we need to do better, but I'm going to be proud of our work. There are also days when we win games and I'm very unhappy with our play.

"We get judged on winning and losing, but it's more about our play. Our players felt we let one get away there (vs. Utah). I think it says a lot that our expectations are totally different than they were."

Freshman striker Zoe Swift was one of the major beneficiaries of Lipsitz' moves and the additional attacking chances they brought about.

Swift had shown the pace needed to get in behind opposing defenses throughout the opening weekend, but she also spurned multiple scoring chances, and was unable to get onto the score sheet. The talented youngster brought her shooting boots to last weekend's matchup as she contributed a hat trick on Friday and another goal on Sunday.

Despite struggling the opening few matches, her coach wasn't worried that she would eventually breakthrough.

"Zoe's obviously a very special player," Lipsitz said. "The thing I like most about Zoe is as good as she is, she is constantly asking what she can do better. She was an amazing player in the second half in the season opener against Wake Forest. When the game ended she came up to me and said, 'I was horrible in the first half, in the second half was good. That's not OK.' That makes Zoe easy to coach because I get to build her up since she's her own critic."

Given her self-criticism and eagerness to learn from her early struggles, it came as little surprise that when she eventually did score the goals came in nearly unprecedented numbers. Swift's three goals vs. EKU marked the first hat trick for a UK player in seven years.

Lipsitz indicated that he was most confident in his defense before the 2013 season started, and his major worry was where the goals would come from. After sacrificing some defensive experience to facilitate a more attacking offensive outfit, the Wildcats' biggest question marks are at the back.

The first step in answering some of those questions is likely to come on Friday evening.

"I am excited about the way we have attacked, but I also think we're going to be tested in new ways," Lipsitz said. "Our defense will be tested in ways we haven't been yet when we play Louisville. I think you'll find out a lot about us."

Video: Lipsitz, King on matchup with Louisville

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Head coach Jon Lipsitz

Goalkeeper Kayla King

Throughout the fall, women's soccer standout Arin Gilliland will be describing Kentucky's season from her perspective in a regular blog for On Wednesday, the first installment was published, and it came at an interesting time.

The first weekend of UK's season was a disappointing one, as the Wildcats dropped a 3-1 decision at No. 10 Wake Forest and came away with only a draw at home against Utah. Head coach Jon Lipsitz didn't mince words in demanding more from his team, and his captains - one of whom is Gilliland - followed suit.

As captains, we concluded that the issue that weekend was on us. We had not stressed to our younger players the heart, passion, desire and grit you must play with when wearing the Kentucky-crested jersey. We will make sure we don't make that same mistake; a lack of passion will never be a setback for us again in 2013.

With a roster of only eight upperclassmen and 22 underclassmen, some people might think we are at a disadvantage. But I beg to differ. The talent we have brought in through our younger classes, coupled with the wisdom and passion for the game of our upperclassmen, could be lethal this year.

Last weekend, we played Eastern Kentucky on Friday and were at Toledo on Sunday. We expected nothing less than greatness after the previous weekend. We beat EKU 7-0, making a statement that we are Kentucky and this is our state!

UK would go on to sweep the weekend, defeating Toledo 2-1 to move to 2-1-1 entering a Friday-night showdown with archrival Louisville.

For more inside perspective on the way the Cats rebounded from a tough first weekend, check out Gilliland's complete entry and make sure to stay tuned all season long for more.

Link: Season off to challenging start

Video: Women's soccer 2013 intro

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