Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, October 20:
Women's soccer: Arin Gilliland
Junior Arin Gilliland recorded her second hat trick of the season on Sunday afternoon, scoring the first three goals in Kentucky's 4-2 win over Alabama on Sunday afternoon. With the three goals, Gilliland now has 10 goals on the season and a team-high 28 points in 2013. Gilliland becomes just the second player in UK history to record two hat tricks in the same season, as she also had a hat trick last Friday night vs. Tennessee. All of Gilliland's goals were scored in the first half (23', 40', 45').
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, October 13:
Volleyball: Whitney Billings
Senior Whitney Billings registered her 38th career double-double with an 18-kill, 10 dig performance in a 3-0 sweep at South Carolina. Billings was UK's top threat with the 18 kills on a blistering .484 hitting percentage, while adding the 10 scoops. The 18 hammers marked a career-high in a three-set match. Even more impressive with Billings' play against South Carolina was that it was in response to a blatant effort by No. 2 Florida to slow the right side hitter down in the top-15 showdown. Billings managed five kills (one shy of a team high), but was one of only two players to record double-figure digs with the 10 scoops against the Gators.
Women's soccer: Arin Gilliland
Arin Gilliland scored three goals in Friday night's 4-1 win over Tennessee, collecting her first-career hat trick. Gilliland scored all three goals in the run of play, with the tallies coming in the 8th, 25th and 40th minutes. The MAC Herrmann Award finalist now has seven goals and eight assists on the season, and has scored multiple times in two games this season.
Women's soccer: Caitlin Landis
Senior Caitlin Landis had her best game of the season, scoring a goal and assisting on two other goals, both to Arin Gilliland. Landis' goal was the game-winning goal, which was her first of the 2013 season, and sixth in her career.
Volleyball: Jackie Napper
Sophomore Jackie Napper led the defensive effort for the Wildcats in a 1-1 week. Napper logged 28 digs for an average of 4.67 for the week, well above her season average of 3.88. She's eclipsed the 10-dig plateau in 12 of her last 13 matches to lead the Cats. She also contributed four assists on the week continuing to be a strong presence in the offensive game as well.
Mike Tyson once said: "Everyone has a plan 'til they get punched in the mouth." The former heavyweight champion's words often hold true in the world of Southeastern Conference soccer.
Jon Lipsitz spends a great deal of time analyzing video with his staff, breaking it down and showing it to the UK women's soccer team as part of devising a game plan.
Still, sometimes the opponent executes its own game plan a little better. They hit you before you can get to them and once you're down you can't recover.
Kentucky's 3-0 home-loss to Arkansas three weeks ago was a notable case of an opponent preventing UK from settling into its ideal style.
Since the loss two Fridays ago, UK has drawn first blood three straight times. Friday's 4-1 victory over Tennessee -- in which the Wildcats scored twice inside the first 15 minutes for the second time in as many matches -- was no exception.
Kentucky scored early and often, figuratively hitting Tennessee in the mouth, and the Lady Volunteers were unable to adjust, let alone recover.
"We had a very tactical week in training," Lipsitz said. "We got way ahead last week on film because there was only one game this week so we could focus a lot more on it, and I thought that helped us a lot. As I have said all year when the coaches get to give the players a game plan and they work so hard to meet that plan we can show how special we can be.
"Tennessee is a great team. We caught them early, and that was obviously the start we were looking for being back home. It's just a lot of hard work. You don't know from day to day if a shot is going to go in or not go in. What we can control is how hard we work. I thought we worked hard tonight."
Lipsitz's plan required some of his defenders to play major roles in attack. After picking up some of Tennessee's tendencies in film study, the UK coach knew he had advantage on the flanks with his wide backs getting forward.
Indeed both Kelly Hubly on the right and Cara Ledman on the left played in forward positions throughout the first half, with a cross from the latter leading to the opening goal.
Lipsitz's plan was certainly aided by having two talented fullbacks, who have spent most of their careers as forwards. As such, they are more skilled than the typical college defender.
Hubly had the second-most goals on the team last season as a freshman, and Ledman is no slouch as an attacking player herself. Lipsitz has described the converted left back as the team's most talented finisher inside the 18-yard box, a bold statement considering she plays on the back line.
"One of the things that is difficult about playing Tennessee is they have great movement between their midfielders and their backs interchanging positions," Lipsitz said. "We actually said what might end up happening is we may have to track their backs into our back line, but then our wide backs would get to take off. We worked a lot this week on our wide backs setting the play instead of our wide forwards. It obviously is an advantage having two forwards at wide back in a game where they get to go forward like they did."
UK went into the Tennessee game with an aggressive plan, but such tactics require a great deal of confidence and fearless attitudes. Such qualities are central to Lipsitz's most trusted on-field leader: Arin Gilliland.
The junior captain certainly repaid her coach's trust as she enjoyed her first-career hat trick, but her third goal was what best exemplified the aggressiveness Lipsitz has be preaching.
After receiving the ball with space in midfield ahead of the rest of her teammates, Gilliland decided to run on the ball straight toward goal. Electing to take on the defenders, she used her speed to get by three Lady Volunteers.
All three defenders attempted to knock Gilliland off the ball, and all three seemed to bounce off as the Lexington product found herself one on one with the goal keeper before she calmly slotted the ball home.
"Jon has talked about being more aggressive and having a fire when attacking," Gilliland said. "He started telling us that before the Vanderbilt game. When I saw three players coming through with all the space behind I thought I would take a touch, run through them because I am either going to get out into space or they will foul me and I'm going to get a penalty kick. I definitely think practicing that definitely worked and I hate to say it, but Jon's practice did work."
With all due respect to the rest of the Wildcats, Gilliland is the team's most talented player. But she's also the hardest worker, and she's always looking to improve. She has certainly improved her physicality in recent months, her second goal showed as much.
"I actually watched a game from last year this week because only preparing for one team allows you a little extra time," Lipsitz said. "I watched in order to evaluate how our individuals were developing. One of the things that was pretty stunning on the film was to see how different Arin is as a complete player than she was a year ago. Her ability to handle physical play without having it get under her skin is a huge part of that."
Gilliland would also reluctantly, but jokingly, admit -- because it would require crediting her coach -- that she was the beneficiary.
Lipsitz's initial tactical decision as UK's second goal came on a glancing header -- which she barely made contact with, redirecting the ball just enough to put the goalkeeper out of position -- from a cross made deep into the box, very close to goal. The Wildcats worked on such balls all week after too many crosses were too far from the goal in weeks past.
Like so many other training-pitch exercises from the previous week, the work paid off.
Even up 4-0 at half, Lipsitz still had helpful hints to give his players. After all, he couldn't let all the knowledge gained from hours spent in the film room go to waste just because his team had scored four times in one half.
"If you looked at Tennessee's stats they have now scored 12 goals in the second half and they've allowed one," Lipsitz said. "We knew they were going to come out in the second half. Obviously they are very well coached. We knew they were going to make adjustments so the key for us was to stay calm. Did we want to give up a goal? Well heck no. Did we want to score more? Absolutely, but the key was to stay calm. We had done the work so we just had to keep possessing the ball. We say all the time the best way to kill a clock is to have the ball."
Such a stat may have seemed miniscule amongst the broader themes of such a lopsided win, but his players' response illustrated the clear lines of communication, which have allowed UK to win 10 of its last 11 games.
Without prompting, Gilliland referenced Lipsitz's halftime message after the game.
"Jon put up a statistic on the board at halftime saying Tennessee has 11 second-half goals, and just one in the first half this season," Gilliland said. "We knew coming into the second half that they were going to be impressive from the start. At first we struggled because they were so aggressive out of the locker room. We got the restart under our belt, got a feel for it and handled it."
And yet, as perfectly as UK executed the game plan on Friday night, scoring four goals in the first half of an SEC game still came as a bit of a surprise.
"Any time we score four goals on a fantastic team of course it's a huge surprise," Lipsitz said. "There's a part of me that expects that because I've seen that in training. There's another part of me that goes, 'Wow, it came out in the game.' You're always surprised when you respect a team so much and you know that they're so good. To be up four goals at half is very surprising, but the other side of that is we didn't do anything today in this game differently than the way we trained this week."
Lipsitz may have been surprised that four goals came with such ease, but careful execution of a game plan allowed UK to land an early knockout blow on Friday.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, October 6:
Volleyball: Morgan Bergren
Sophomore setter Morgan Bergren led UK's offense to a pair of sweeps against SEC foes. Bergren dished out 10.5 assists per set while leading UK to a .391 hitting percentage combined in two victories well over UK's season average of .247. Bergren had seven kills of her own on a .333 clip, but it was her serving that was masterful. The sophomore had five aces on the weekend for an average of .83 per outing. She also contributed six blocks on the weekend and averaged 1.00 per set, second only to reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Week Alexandra Morgan's 1.09.The three aces she posted vs. Tennessee is a career-high total.
Men's soccer: Brad Doliner
Senior Brad Doliner had the best game of his career in leading Kentucky to a thrilling 2-1 overtime win at Old Dominion ... Doliner had his first career two-goal game, including netting the golden goal in the 98th minute to seal the win and adding a go-ahead score early in the second half ... Doliner now has four goals and one assist - his first career goals - with two game winners, 19 shots and 10 shots on goal ... A native of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, Doliner leads C-USA in conference games only in points (six), goals (three), goals per game (1.50), shots per game (four) and game-winning goals (one), also ranking second in shots (eight) ... Doliner's first goal of the game at ODU came as a penalty kick tally in the 52nd minute, his second consecutive game with a PK goal ... After UK allowed the tying goal in the 77th minute, Doliner struck for the golden goal in the 98th frame, a laser from the edge of the 18-yard box, lifting UK to the thrilling win ... A selection to the Gamecock Classic All-Tournament Team earlier in the year, Doliner has played throughout the lineup for UK as a versatile weapon, seeing starts at center back, outside back, outside midfield, holding midfield and forward.
Men's soccer: Callum Irving
Sophomore goalkeeper Callum Irving had a breakout game in between the pipes at Old Dominion on Friday night, equaling his career high with six saves in leading UK to a 2-1 win in overtime ... Irving made all of his saves after halftime, including four in the second half and a pair of thrilling saves in overtime ... Irving had a save with a minute remaining in regulation after the ball bounced curving off the far post, keeping the well-struck, curving ball from crossing the end line ... A native of Vancouver, British Columbia, Irving also made a tremendous, diving save on a hard-hit offering in the second half ... "There were a couple of times today that I was sure the ball was in the goal and he came up with the save," UK head coach Johan Cedergren said postgame. "There were a couple of times when there were cleats flying around his head and he did not back down." ... On the year, Irving has started five games with a 1.18 goals-against average, saving 10 and owning two clean sheets.
Volleyball: Jackie Napper
Junior Jackie Napper led the defensive effort for the Wildcats in a 2-0 week that included two sweeps over SEC foes. Napper opened the week with a career-high 18 digs for a three-set match, while also contributing five assists and a career-high two aces. She followed that performance with 16 scoops vs. Tennessee while adding three assists and a kill. It was her third kill of the season. The 34 digs in back-to-back three-set matches is a career-high for six sets. She registered a .950 serve-receive percentage for the weekend, while helping lead UK's offense to a .391 hitting clip for the two victories.
Women's soccer: Zoe Swift
Freshman Zoe Swift continued her prolific freshman season, scoring just one minute into the match on Sunday to give No. 19 Kentucky the early 1-0 lead on Sunday atVanderbilt. The Naperville, Ill., native then assisted on the game-winning goal just two minutes later, as she gave a pass off to Arin Gilliland, who struck the back of the net in the fourth minute. The multi-point game was Swift's third of the season, and the second time she has scored three points in a single game in her career.
Volleyball: Anni Thomasson
Freshman Anni Thomasson had an outstanding weekend for the Cats en route to a pair of sweeps over conference opponents. Thomasson opened the weekend with eight kills and 10 digs in the victory over Ole Miss. She followed that performance with the first errorless match of her career with six kills on a career-high .545 hitting clip vs. Tennessee. She also added a pair of assists and a career-best three service aces. Furthermore she totaled seven digs. For the weekend she ranked second on the squad in kills, hitting percentage, aces, digs and points. She was perfect from the serve-receive line, being served a team-high 22 times and did not commit a single error. Her 2.33 kills per set on a .444 clip is significantly improved over her season averages of 1.61 kills per set on a .196 hitting clip.
On Sunday, the Kentucky women's soccer team held its annual Kick Cancer Match. You may have already read about how the Wildcats' victory over Georgia made the evening even more special, but today you can hear about it directly from one of the players.
Before the game, we celebrated the life of a very special young lady and our honorary ball girl, Allison Berger. She and her family (Steve and Crystal Berger) forever changed multiple people's lives on this team, and they did the honors of presenting the game ball before the match, followed by a moment of silence in remembrance of Allison.
We came out ready to play. Every person on that field had channeled every bit of emotion they had bottled up. This game was much more than just a soccer game for us, and we weren't settling for anything less than a win. After a long battle against a great Georgia team, we finally found the back of the net to take home a 1-0 win.
Afterward we held a ceremony with all the fans and family and whoever else wanted to participate in the remembrance of their loved ones, family and friends who had fallen to cancer. Everyone received a flower that was donated by a local grocery company and placed it on the goal line inside the goal, when they were ready, during a moment of silence.
The Cats wore special gold jerseys for the match and they are now up for auction here along with other items. All proceeds from the auction will go toward the fight against pediatric cancer.
Jon Lipsitz's reaction to his UK women's soccer team's 1-0 win over No. 19 Georgia on Sunday night said everything.
His program has become accustomed to knocking off high-ranked teams over the past few seasons, but the circumstances surrounding a Sunday-evening matchup of elite Southeastern Conference teams made the game about more than just winning or losing for Lipsitz and Company.
The setting for the win was what caused a rain-soaked and suit-wearing Lipsitz to enthusiastically hug each of his assistant coaches and staff members near the touch line as the referee's whistle blew. After respectfully shaking hands with the opposing coaching staff, the fifth-year coach unleashed at least seven fist pumps and then went to midfield to embrace his players.
The Wildcats passed Sunday's stern test with flying colors. The win was an admirable response to a 3-0 loss to Arkansas on Friday night, and the fact that the game marked the program's annual "Kick Cancer Match," which benefits pediatric cancer -- a cause near and dear to Lipsitz and his players' hearts -- all on a national television broadcast.
"I think today was our best performance of the year," Lipsitz said. "There might have been days where we have scored more goals or had more opportunities, but Georgia is such a fantastic team. We watched a lot of film and saw how difficult this game was going to be. For us to win this game means the world to us."
The Wildcats wore gold jerseys for Sunday's match not as a fashion statement, but as a way to signal the game's significance amd a platform to raise awareness for pediatric cancer, fundraising for research and the fight those affected by the disease face.
"I thanked the team afterwards as I was crying a little bit before the game when (Steve and Crystal Berger) walked out on the field," Lipsitz said of the pregame ceremonies in which the team honored the late Allison Berger. "That's what this game is about. The thought of wearing our gold jerseys tonight on national television, doing that for Allison -- there is nothing better."
The UK women's soccer team chose to play an annual match to benefit pediatric cancer largely because of the Berger family.
"We decided to specifically do something for pediatric cancer research," Lipsitz said. "So many people have done 'pink games,' and what a wonderful cause. A few years ago we got invited over to the hospital to meet a young girl named Allison Berger.
"She had just come out of surgery and we heard she was a soccer fan. She became a part of our family and has since passed away. It's was a very difficult time for all of us, but she has positively impacted all of our lives in such a positive way. We want to do something every year in her memory for all of the kids. We wear gold, which is color for pediatric cancer research, to try and benefit 'Dance Blue,' because they do an amazing job here raising money for pediatric cancer research and we just want to be part of that."
Without doubt, the Wildcats' second win in conference play was important in terms of league positioning let alone bouncing back from Friday's performance. Still the meaning of a win to honor a special cause went beyond the value of three points or any other quantifiable metric.
The gold jerseys UK wore on Sunday -- along with the game ball and Lipsitz's tie -- will be auctioned off on UKathletics.com. All proceeds will go toward the fight against pediatric cancer.
The Kentucky women's soccer team's current seven-match winning streak has been catalyzed largely by the offensive output of two players who started the season as defenders.
Kentucky has not lost since former defenders Stuart Pope and Arin Gilliland moved into attacking positions before the third match of the season. Pope leads the team with nine goals. Gilliland ranks second in the nation and leads the Southeastern Conference with eight assists.
While Pope and Gilliland have shown off a lethal chemistry in the field's final third, each has a distinct pedigree.
Gilliland has proven a potent offensive weapon for the Wildcats in the past as she led the team with seven goals in an All-America 2012 season. She started the season starting as a central defender largely because she's likely to play there during her United States National Team call-ups.
Pope's offensive success seemed a novelty early in 2013, but it's been sustained through each of UK's seven straight wins. She has found the back of the net at least once in each victory.
That Pope has been so clinical on the offensive front has been due to expert navigation of largely uncharted territory by a player who plied her trade predominantly in wide areas before this season.
Pope had been UK's most creative player during Kentucky's disappointing offensive performances in the first two games of the season. Pope looked lively playing balls over the top into dangerous areas and making surging runs down the flanks in the first two matches.
Her ability to create from the back proved an idea Lipsitz had been considering since Pope arrived in Lexington more than two years ago.
"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," Lipsitz said.
The move proved to trigger Kentucky's recent excellent run of form, and also appears to have put Pope in her ideal position.
"I was always more of a winger in club," Pope said. "This is really the first time I've played in the No. 10 position, but it feels natural to me. Even when I was out wide as a club player I would pinch in a lot into the hole. It's not really any different than where I've been playing, it's just more freedom."
Pope has scored four game-winning goals since moving into the traditional No. 10 role playing behind the striker in the heart of the UK attack. Pope struck the game-winner in last Friday's SEC-opening win at Auburn off an assist from Gilliland.
Indeed both Pope and Gilliland have shown an excellent rapport having both moved from defense to attacking roles earlier this season. The duo's symbiotic relationship is best illustrated be the fact that four of Pope's goals have been assisted by Gilliland.
"Arin's always had the desire (to score goals) and over the past year I've come into that role so we work well off of each other," Pope said. "We work well off of each other because we both work toward getting a goal. She's very good in pressure situations, whenever she needs help up there we work well together."
No one thing can be attributed to Pope's emergence as one of UK's most important attacking players, but her coach has a hunch where the newfound success started.
"Let's just go there and really say what happened last year," Lipsitz said, "She had zero goals and zero assists so zero points to help us last year. The biggest thing that has changed is her fitness.
"Stuart has always had an amazing mind for the game. She's extremely technical because she was so well-coached growing up so she had it all, but she had to decide to do the work. She decided to do the work and now she has become our playmaker."
Pope is in agreement with her coach: The biggest reason she's gone from no points in 20 games last season to 18 points in half as many so far this year is largely due to her offseason training regime.
"I just changed how hard I wanted to work on my fitness," Pope said. "Last spring was when I really got fit and I carried that through the summer. It changes everything when you don't get tired because you don't mess up technically.
"You don't get tired mentally because you don't get tired physically. Raising the fitness level as much as I did has helped me in all areas of soccer."
Pope had a sort of epiphany in regards to getting into better shape in an unlikely setting: on vacation.
"Last Christmas I went to Australia to visit my sister, and being over there and witnessing a lot of Australians' active lifestyles changed my opinion on everything," Pope said. "It made me start eating better. When I got back I just knew I wanted to work."
Lipsitz has indeed found the right formula during UK's current run and Pope is central to that equation, literally, but he did not always have the easiest time getting through to his star midfielder.
"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," Lipsitz said. "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."
Pope changed her nutrition plan, her offseason training and even her position. Still, an attitude change was necessary before she could integrate all her changes in preparation into on-field performance.
"My first two years in college I just had a bad attitude," Pope said. "I was always blaming other people for my mistakes. Last spring I decided to turn it around. I changed my diet, my fitness and my attitude to be more coachable. I think that has all just come out on the field this season."
The personal changes Pope undertook prior to the season and even some in-season adjustments have put her in the playing form of her life. If she can keep that form up -- which will be a challenge as UK begins its first two-match SEC weekend on Friday at home against Arkansas -- the sky is the limit for an already-effective offense that goes through a player who started the season as a defender.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, September 22:
Volleyball: Morgan Bergren
Sophomore Morgan Bergren led the Wildcats to their most complete offensive performance of the season in a sweep at Lipscomb. Bergren directed the UK offense to 40 kills on a .522 hitting clip, while the Blue and White committed just five errors as a unit in three sets of action. Bergren found seven different players for at least three or more kills. Bergren had six kills herself on a .556 hitting clip. She also contributed six digs and a trio of blocks in the win.
Women's soccer: Kayla King
Kayla King recorded her fourth shutout of the 2013 season on Friday night, making six saves en route to leading the Wildcats to the 1-0 win over Auburn. King dropped her season-low GAA to .079, as she led Kentucky to itsseventh-straight win on the year. King was forced to shot 12 Auburn shots, and a barrage of chances in the final stages of the match, as she helped Kentucky keep a clean sheet for the fifth time of the year. Kentucky is now 3-0-0 inone-goal matches this season.
Volleyball: Alexandra Morgan
Senior Alexandra Morgan was spectacular in UK's 3-0 sweep at Lipscomb on Saturday. She registered a team-high six blocks for an average of 2.00 blocks per stanza in the win. Her presence at the net flustered the Bison into a .089 hitting percentage and the home team did not hit above .100 in two of three sets. She also contributed offensively with six kills on a dazzling .750 hitting percentage.
Women's soccer: Stuart Pope
Stuart Pope connected with Arin Gilliland forPope's team-leading eighth goal of the season in the 27th minute to give UK the win. The goal for Pope was her sixth in the last seven matches since being moved up to an attacking center midfielder.
Following his program's first NCAA Tournament victory in November 2012, UK women's soccer head coach Jon Lipsitz became noticeably emotional.
"I thought about what I was going to say in this moment so many times and now that I'm at the moment I'm at a little bit of a loss," Lipsitz said just minutes after Kentucky's overtime first-round NCAA Tournament win last autumn. "This is a really special moment for this program. One of the things I talk about is leaving a legacy while you're here ... I was brought here four years ago to make it to this moment."
The huge step forward was emotional for all involved with the program that has done nothing but progress since the fifth year coach took the helm.
Last season's postseason victory marked a major milestone for Kentucky women's soccer, but UK also took another big leap forward last weekend with the program's first win over a top-10 team, at West Virginia.
Lipsitz's reaction to the West Virginia win said a great deal about the state of the 2013 team, and the program as a whole, especially considering how emotional he was following the 2012 NCAA Tournament victory.
"We went into the match at West Virginia expecting to win," Lipsitz said. "I think that's where our program is. It doesn't mean that we didn't expect that last year. That (the 2012 NCAA Tournament win) was a huge momentous occasion that can never happen again. That was the first one.
"This is just a step along the way in a long season so last year I was excited for what that meant to the program, to get over the hump. Beating West Virginia on the road, I was excited for how well we played, but it's a very small step in what will hopefully be a successful and long season."
The Wildcats were no doubt ecstatic to pick up the program's first win over such a highly ranked opponent -- with an emphatic 4-2 score line no less -- but the Wildcats' expectations far exceed one win in September.
Those in and around the UK women's soccer program wouldn't trade the noteworthy victory over West Virginia for very much, and the victory surely turned some heads around the country, but Lipsitz is using the milestone victory as a new challenge to his team. After all, UK, which entered the national polls for the first time in 2013 at No. 19 this week, begins Southeastern Conference play on Friday at Auburn.
Indeed Kentucky is looking to exorcise the demons that go along with a recent history of disappointing results following strong performances.
Take the 2012 season for example.
After an emotional upset win over then-No. 12 Louisville on a Friday night, UK fell 3-1 to Samford two days later. UK defeated top-15 Florida last season as well, but lost to Arkansas the next time out. Again after a hard-fought draw with No. 6/8 Texas A&M in late September, the Wildcats lost 2-1 to Alabama two days later. Even after the NCAA Tournament victory of UT-Martin last November, Kentucky lost to an admittedly superior UCLA team in the second round.
The 2013 Wildcats are looking to prove they're a different group. The Wildcats did well to prove that point in their first opportunity to do so two weeks ago as they topped Dayton 3-1 two days after a 2-0 win over Louisville.
The proposition is very much the same as UK will look to extend its six-game winning streak with Friday's SEC-opening trip to Auburn.
"The SEC is a different level," Lipsitz said. "We as a staff keep telling our young players that they have never experienced soccer at this level. They all thought the Louisville game was tough, but SEC soccer is another animal. I trust my captains and upperclassmen to guide them along the way, and we are looking for a great challenge from a very well-coached and extremely organized Auburn team."
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!