The scorebook might say otherwise, but the Kentucky women's soccer team took a big step forward offensively on Friday night.
The Wildcats had scratched across two goals in each of their first two games, and they matched that total in their first game of the Tropical Smoothie Invitational. Don't let the identical final tally fool you; this was the best the Kentucky attack has looked in the young 2012 season.
"I definitely feel like we were very dangerous tonight," UK head coach Jon Lipsitz said. "What I really liked is that we were creating through lots of passing."
Creating through passing is something the Wildcats hadn't done as Lipsitz would like for large chunks of the season's first 180 minutes. UK relied on set pieces to score three of their four goals in wins over Eastern Kentucky and Coastal Carolina. On this night, everything came in the flow of the offense.
Freshman Cara Ledman got the Cats on the board with a goal in the 14th minute, putting the ball past Spartan goalkeeper Jamie Simmons with assists from Caitlin Landis and Arin Gilliland. From there, the Greensboro defense would stiffen, much like it did in a road shutout of then-fifth-ranked Wake Forest, but UK was persistent.
Starting with about 20 minutes left in regulation, the Cats found their feet with a flurry of chances. At the encouragement of Lipsitz, UK kept the pressure on in spite of the risk.
"One bad pass and one mistake and it's one to one," Lipsitz said. "I just kept saying we've got to have the courage to play our style. I'm proud of the way we played."
They were rewarded when Natalie Horner scored her first goal of the season on a cross from Danielle Krohn, giving UK a comfortable 2-0 advantage with less than eight minutes to play.
The two goals the Wildcats scored doubled the amount the Spartans had allowed in their first three games. The one goal Greensboro had yielded came on a penalty kick in an overtime loss to Georgia.
"We knew it was going to be a test. Knowing that, we certainly had their attention all week in training and we trained well," Lipsitz said. "It's no coincidence that when you train well, you play well."
To beat a defense as good as they faced on Friday night, the Cats started at the back.
"(After last weekend's win over EKU) I mentioned we had great individuals in the back line but I didn't think that we were playing together the way we could," Lipsitz said. "Today was phenomenal. It started with our back line and our ability to possess the ball."
Playing twice in a weekend for the first time this season, UK will immediately shift its focus to a game against Southeast Missouri at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday and, just as importantly, to rest and recovery. After playing 22 players in UK's first two games, Lipsitz opted for a shorter rotation when he recognized the 11 players on the field in the second half were playing with great rhythm. The key to surviving two games in less than 48 hours will be sustaining that rhythm.
"The key is to possess the ball," Lipsitz said. "If we come out Sunday and we're chasing the ball, we're going to feel this very quickly. If we're keeping the ball and kicking it around, we're going to be pretty happy with how we feel. When you're playing well and you're scoring goals, somehow nothing hurts." Highlights and postgame with Lipsitz
Over at UKNow, Sarah Geegan has a story about Cailin Harris and Daniel Buckles from the women's soccer and track and field teams, respectively, Harris - a freshman - and Buckles - a sophomore - are both students in the University of Kentucky's Honors Program, in addition to competing for UK Athletics.
The story talks about Harris and Buckles balance school and sports. Here's an excerpt:
Each year, more than 500 UK students get involved through UK Athletics, programs that carry rich tradition. However, freshman Cailin Harris and sophomore Daniel Buckles took their involvement one step further, engaging in a program that upholds another aspect of the UK tradition -- the UK Honors Program.
Buckles, a decathlete on the Men's Track and Field team estimated that he spends at least 20-25 extra hours per week between the two programs, unsurprisingly touting time management as the most important factor in balancing his commitments. However, he and Harris, a member of the Women's Soccer team, both said that this double involvement actually enhanced both programs -- allowing them to gain skills from one program and apply them to the other.
"It can be really easy to make excuses in terms of grades, but the soccer program is an environment that responds to any mistakes with hard work," Harris said. "I think that translates really well to school. If I don't understand a concept, do I mope about it or do I go get extra help? Do I try to find resources that are going to help me get the grade I want? That is something that I have built up, in the short time I've been with this soccer program."
Mitch Barnhart is in his 11th year as Athletics Director at the University of Kentucky. (UK Athletics)
Cat Scratches sat down with Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart this week for a question-and-answer session. With another year in UK Athletics in full swing, Barnhart discussed the state of the athletic department, the upcoming football season and facilities, among other topics. Here is a complete transcript of the conversation.
Cat Scratches: UK Athletics had one of the best seasons in its history in 2011-12 and fall sports are already in action. How important do you believe it is for the fall sports to continue the momentum and set the tone for 2012-13? Mitch Barnhart: I think it certainly creates momentum when you get off to a good start. We just completed our first weekend of play and we were 5-1 coming out of the weekend in a variety of sports between women's soccer, volleyball and men's soccer. Last year, we really only had two of our fall sports that had NCAA appearances - one of them was women's soccer, the other one was volleyball - so trying to recover from a slow start was difficult. We did make a good run in the winter in the spring and that was very helpful to us. To get off to a better start this year in terms of all of our sports is very important to us.
We've made some additions to our fall sports coaches roster, if you will, in Johan Cedergren (men's soccer head coach) and Edrick Floreal in our track and field and our cross country. That will take a little time to develop, but I think it is important that you get off to a good start. Clearly, we don't want to miss opportunities for our program to be in postseason play. I think winning and creating that atmosphere and the old theory of the rising tide raises all boats is very, very true. We certainly want to start out that way. CS: Being around the program and interacting with coaches, it's impossible not to notice a community across the different teams at UK. How much of that culture did you envision when you arrived and how much is simply an outgrowth of bringing in good, like-minded people? MB: We've tried to create a group of coaches, as well as administrators, that get along and that everybody is sort of rowing in the same direction. It starts with your two revenue-producing coaches and that is with (men's basketball head coach John Calipari) and (football head coach) Joker (Philips). They truly want Kentucky Athletics in total to be great. The things that they do and the things that they put in place help us to get to those spots. They produce and provide opportunities for everybody else, but they take great pride in that and I think they enjoy other people succeeding.
What we do is try to create an atmosphere where coaches enjoy feeding off one another's successes and I think that's sort of what we got. I've joked around and said I've got a group of very normal people. I say that in the nicest of ways in that they have real balance in their lives. The way that they treat people is with respect and they're honorable folks in the way they do their business. But most of all, they understand student-athletes and how to treat them and grow them into the young people we want them to be.
When you put all those pieces of the puzzle together, we've got a group that really, really gets along well. You'll go to matches or games and you'll see all the coaches from other sports hanging out on the sidelines or in the end zones or in the corners watching. And I think they learn from one another. I think everybody's learned a little bit how you manage superstar athletes like Cal has gotten. You've seen some people that have been what I call grinders in grinding away with a group of athletes and how they've won with that and how we've won with some overachieving athletes. They've all taken bits and pieces from one another and I think they're not territorial in any way, shape or form. They get along extremely well.
CS: Moving on to football specifically, expectations on the part of fans and experts are relatively low for this season, while many around the program seem to have a quiet confidence that the team is better and more talented than outsiders think. For the sake of ticket sales, you would obviously prefer that fans would agree, but are there also positives associated with being under the radar? MB: I think, sometimes, you need to be able to play with a chip on your shoulder a little bit. I think that's what we're going to have to do this year. We're going to have to play with a chip on our shoulder. People aren't giving us much of an opportunity to compete and I think you're going to have use that as a rallying cry around your program. You're going to have to believe in one another. We're going to have to have some things go our way. We've got to stay a little bit injury-free and we've got to stay clear of that. And we've got to be able to go out and perform.
We've got some young people certainly capable of that and I think we've got a really good group of coaches. They believe in one another and they believe in our kids. That's the first step. I'd agree with you. I think there is a gentle confidence about them, but we've got to go out and prove that. CS: Another much-discussed topic is the Alumni Charity Game at Rupp Arena at 2 p.m. on Sept. 15. What kind of thought went into planning that and why do you believe it can be a successful doubleheader with football's home game at 7 p.m. against Western Kentucky that same day? MB: You've got some restrictions about when you can play the game and do those kinds of games by NBA rules. We've got a unique set of alumni - probably a different alumni base than most programs have - an alumni base of over 20 NBA guys, and it's growing rapidly. To have a unique group of folks that want to come back and be a part of something like that at Kentucky is very different from a lot of places.
I've always been a believer in creating multiple things for your fans to be a part of on a weekend and let them enjoy a lot of things. It goes back to what we talked about with the culture here. Just being able to share assets and share ideas and share fan bases and share things that promote Kentucky in total rather than one thing individually I think is really, really important. If we can use the incredible traditions we have in basketball to help augment people wanting to come be a part of an incredible weekend with Hall of Fame Weekend and Alumni Weekend and Western Kentucky, what an opportunity for us to do that.
CS: The Alumni Game is just the latest example of the department reaching out to former student-athletes. Across sports, former Wildcats are joining coaching staffs and being invited to be more involved with the program. Why do you believe that to be so important? MB: I think that Joker has done a great job of bring guys back in the program and allowing them to work and begin their careers. That fosters that sense of family that we are trying to create. We want people in our program that love Kentucky and understand Kentucky and take great pride in what we do. To have Jeremy Jarmon, Andre' Woodson, Glenn Holt, Sam Simpson, Braxton Kelley and Tyler Sargent back on your staff in football (as director of player personnel) or to have a Marquis Estill who comes back to get his degree and works on (the basketball) staff and (former student assistant) Wayne Turner now out there in the working world out there representing Kentucky is really good. You've got Tony Delk and Scott Padgett out there in basketball (now assistant coaches at New Mexico State and Samford, respectively, after a stint on Calipari's UK staff).
Most of our coaches are beginning to reach out and pull those folks back. There was a time when there weren't a whole lot of folks interested in coming back to be a part of this, but that has become more the norm. Our athletes are now wanting to be a part of us differently than they have in the past. I think that's very helpful to us.
CS: It doesn't take long for anyone who regularly attends UK sporting events to notice that you attend pretty much every game or match that you can. Why do you make such an effort to do that? MB: I think it's a couple things. One, the young people, our kids, put in an incredible amount of time. For us to be able to come and make sure they know that we care and that and we know who they are, I think that's important for them to know that you care.
Two, if you're going to evaluate your program properly, you've got to understand what the climate is in your program and what's going on. You've got to have an ability to see firsthand how your players, your athletes are reacting to the things that your coaches are teaching.
Three, I think we've got to know that the environment we're providing is organizationally sound and that it is run efficiently and safely for everybody that's coming, whether it's to play in it or to participate in it or to watch. We've got to make sure those things are sound.
I don't think you can do those things if you're not there and you're not around it. Come about mid- to late-June, I'm about done and I need to get away a little bit. So July I try to get away and go do stuff and get my head clear before we crank back up again. CS: We have discussed the challenges UK Athletics faces in maintaining and building new facilities in similar settings before, but can you provide an update on how you believe the department is coping with those challenges and what your priorities are going forward? MB: We came here and I would say - out of the 12 teams at the time that were in the SEC, now it's 14 - I'd say we were bottom three in the league in terms of actual facilities. The way that financing is done on campus and in our state, it is very difficult for us to secure financing. We don't have a private foundation. The way that funding in our state is done is very different from everybody else in our league, and that's another conversation completely.
We have basically piecemealed together everything that we've done. We've saved money, we've raised money, we've put pockets of money together systematically, piece by piece by piece taking care of facilities. We're in the process of finishing up the last two pieces of the soccer/softball complex down there on Alumni Drive. That would be a very important piece. That would leave us three or four projects away. Two of them are really, really big ones - one of them is a new baseball stadium and the other one is obviously the renovation of Commonwealth Stadium - that we're going to have find ways to get help on, whether that's through bonds or through additional fundraising. And then our indoor tennis center, which really desperately needs help. Those three facilities are still on the docket for us of things we really need help with.
How we get all that done and work on that is important because athletes today pick schools for a variety of reasons. We just did a study and they come for that relationship with that head coach, generally, and then secondarily with the players involved and the folks on the team. Can they make those relationships work? Beyond that, we have heard them say over and over again as they have left our program, 'It isn't about facilities, but we just don't want to have horrible facilities.' We've felt like we've always had decent playing facilities, but the amenities around them that make it really warm and accommodating have just not been where they need to be.
We've done the math. In the last 10 years, we've done about $115 to $120 million of cash, capital construction, but we close to no debt. That's a really good thing. The downside is that we haven't been able to move as fast as we've wanted to move. Hopefully, with getting some changes in the way we look at bonding, we'll be able to do that.
CS: The 15 by 15 by 15 plan to win 15 conference and national championships and finish in the top 15 of the Director's Cup standings by 2015 is the centerpiece of your goals for this department. Having won 10 titles already, that benchmark looks to be clearly within reach. But in 2011-12 - one of the best seasons in UK history - the department finished 29th. How difficult will it be to reach the top 15 and how important will the new direction of the track and field and cross country be to that? MB: Our goal is to obviously get the championships, and that's one piece. You could legitimately capture three championships a year for five years, meet that goal and still not be closer to a top-15 program. Our goal is to be a top-15 program and that hasn't changed. We got to 29th last year and it's the second time we've done that in the 10 years we've been here.
The big piece in that is you've got to be able to have success in your track and field program consistently. It counts six times for you when you take cross country, both men and women; indoor track and field championships, both men and women; and outdoor track and field championships, both men and women. That is six opportunities with essentially the same athletes and same coaching staff. We've been relatively inconsistent. We've had some championship performances in those sports. We've had some people do, individually, very well, but not collectively as a team getting us to a spot where we could say we're finishing top 20 in cross country, top 20 in indoor track and outdoor. We've got to get to that spot.
When you get a guy like Edrick to come on board who has got a great ability to move your program forward coupled with the investment we've made in a 13 million dollar outdoor track plus the indoor track, the resurfacing of that, new locker rooms and a new lounge, it's about as good a scenario as you could possibly have for track and field. It gives us all the resources necessary to go compete to get us to that top 15. I'm not saying in year one we make this dramatic move from 29 to 15. It's going to take him a year or two to get all his folks in place.
In time, that has a major impact on our ability to be a top-15 program. If we had everything else in place like we've had the last few years, just the moderate successes we've had and some of the championships we've won, and you added four finishes out of six in track and field, we would have been a top-15 program in I think three of the last six years. That significantly changes the way you do your business. We've got to pay attention to that and we've got to work really, really hard to give that the attention it needs.
I think we've done that and I think we have a legitimate chance to be a top-15 program or we wouldn't have done some of the things we've done. I think we have a tremendous pool of head coaches. Now we have to find a way to keep them in place and grow them the right way for the long-term stability of our program so we're not a transition place where they come here to go to another place. We want to give them the resources necessary to say this is a destination spot at Kentucky and we build toward being a top-15 program and stay there.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Aug 26:
Women's soccer: Arin Gilliland
Sophomore defender Arin Gilliland netted the game-winner for the Wildcats on Friday night vs. EKU in a thrilling 2-1 game. The sophomore headed in a corner kick to the nearside post for her first goal of the season in the 53rd minute of the game. The goal was the second goal in the game in which the Wildcats scored off a set piece. The Lexington, Ky., native's game-winner was the third of her career just two games into her sophomore season at UK.
Volleyball: Alexandra Morgan
Junior Alexandra Morgan made the most of her first three career starts by posting eight or more kills in all three of UK's victories including a career-high nine in a win over Long Beach State. Morgan led the Wildcats with a blistering .388 hitting clip, committing a mere six errors in 12 sets of action. Furthermore, her defensive presence as the net proved to be a momentum changer to keep the Wildcats' early-season record at an unscathed 3-0. Morgan turned back an SEC-leading 16 opponent attacks for an average of 1.33 blocks per set. She logged four or more blocks in all three matches in leading UK to a league-high 3.46 blocks per set. She also logged four digs including a career-high three in a win over the 49ers. Her defensive prowess limited UK's opponents to a mere .120 attacking percentage for the weekend. For her efforts she earned Kentucky Classic All-Tournament team honors, marking the first tournament honors of her career.
Volleyball: Sara Schwarzwalder
Freshman Sara Schwarzwalder made a positive impact in helping lead the Blue and White to a 3-0 record to begin the season. Schwarzwalder posted 1.42 kills per set and added 1.08 blocks per frame in her first collegiate action. Her eight blocks against Lipscomb were the most opponent turn backs recorded by a UK freshman since 2010.
Volleyball - The 13th-ranked Kentucky volleyball team opened the 2012 season with a flawless 3-0 record in capturing the Kentucky Classic. UK earned wins over North Carolina, Lipscomb and Long Beach State - a field of teams that all advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2011. - Kentucky's opening night win over North Carolina ensured the Wildcats their seventh opening day win in eight years under Craig Skinner. The sweep of the Heels marked the first opening-night sweep since 2007 for the Blue and White. - Junior Alexandra Morgan led the Wildcats en route to All-Tournament team honors. Morgan averaged 2.08 kills per set on a squad-high .388 hitting percentage in the wins. Morgan also registered an SEC-leading 16 blocks for the weekend for an average of 1.33 rejections a set in helping UK to a league-leading 3.46 blocks per stanza. She was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week on Monday following her efforts. - Sophomore Lauren O'Conner joined Morgan on the All-Tournament team with a team-high 39 kills for an average of 3.25 for the weekend. Senior setter Christine Hartmann was the final Wildcat on the All-Tournament team after directing the Wildcat offense to the tune of 12.8 kills per set and .235 hitting. She found five attackers for 1.42 kills per set or more. She also contributed nicely on the defensive side of the net with 1.08 blocks per set and 2.33 digs per frame. - Kentucky will now hit the road for its next seven matches beginning with an instate rivalry match at Louisville on Wednesday. UK will then travel to the Ohio University tournament and take on the host Bobcats as well as top-20 ranked Oregon and Western Carolina.
Women's soccer - Kentucky moved to 2-0-0 on the season Friday night with a 2-1 win over Eastern Kentucky. - The 2-0-0 start marks the fourth consecutive season that Kentucky has been undefeated through the first two games of the season under head coach Jon Lipsitz. - UK has been dynamite on set pieces, as three of the four goals that Kentucky has scored this season have come off set pieces. Junior Ashley VanLandingham scored her second goal off a free kick in as many games Friday night in addition to the corner kick goal tallied by sophomore Arin Gilliland. - UK welcomes Louisville, Southeast Missouri State and UNC-Greensboro to Lexington next weekend for the Tropical Smoothie Invitational. The Wildcats will play against UNC-Greensboro at 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday night before concluding the weekend against SEMO at 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday afternoon as the calendar turns to September.
Men's soccer - The Kentucky men's soccer team opened up the 2012 season and the Johan Cedergren era with a thrilling 4-3 loss in the opener at Dayton on Sunday night. - Kentucky suffered the loss in a riveting game that saw the Wildcats dominate play in a scoreless first half. In the second frame, the two teams combined for all seven goals, with UK getting three tallies. UK's three-goal output in the opening game marks its highest since the 2008 season, a 6-0 win over Central Arkansas. Overall in the game on Sunday, UK owned a 21-15 advantage in shots and a 7-5 lead in corner kicks. - UK got goals from Matt Lodge, Charley Pettys and Tyler Riggs and a six-save performance from freshman goalkeeper Callum Irving. Lodge and Riggs each netted goals in traffic, while Pettys nailed a penalty kick goal in his first career penalty try. With the goals from its trio of veterans, Lodge and Riggs moved up in the UK soccer career history record book. Lodge now owns 18 career goals to rank eighth-best and his 51 career points ranks him tied with Lee Baker for sixth-best. Riggs now owns 17 goals in his career, the ninth-best total in UK history. - The Wildcats will return to action with their annual trip to the Gamecock Classic in Columbia, S.C. UK will face Northwestern on Friday at 5 p.m. ET at Stone Stadium, before facing St. John's on Sunday at 11 a.m. ET.
Wednesday, Aug, 29 Volleyball at Louisville - 7:00 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 31 Men's soccer vs. Northwestern - 5:00 p.m. (Columbia, S.C.) Volleyball at Ohio - 7:00 p.m. Women's soccer hosts UNC Greensboro - 7:30 p.m. Cross Country at Belmont-VU Opener (Nashville, Tenn.)
Saturday, Sept. 1 Volleyball vs. Oregon - 1:00 p.m. (Athens, Ohio) Volleyball vs. Western Carolina - 8:00 p.m. (Athens, Ohio)
Sunday, Sept. 2 Men's soccer vs. St. John's - 11:00 a.m. (Columbia, S.C.) Women's soccer hosts Southern Missouri - Noon Football at Louisville - 3:30 p.m.
Arin Gilliland scored her first goal of the season in a 2-1 victory over Eastern Kentucky on Friday. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
With eight freshmen playing significant minutes, there were going to be some growing pains.
Through two games, those have been on display for the Kentucky women's soccer team. Players are just a little out of sync. Passes are delivered a moment early. Runs are made a split second late. Communication is a little lacking at key junctures.
From UK's perfect record, you wouldn't know it though. The Wildcats have posted a pair of victories to open the 2012 season in spite of play that has been, at times, predictably disjointed.
"Quite honestly, tonight we didn't solve problems well," head coach Jon Lipsitz said. "We talked about that at halftime. (The coaching staff) did a lot of the communicating. I would rather sit down and say nothing. But unfortunately today we had to get up and do a lot more as a staff."
The latest of those victories came over in-state foe Eastern Kentucky on Friday night at the UK Soccer Complex by a score of 2-1. Kentucky managed just nine shots, four of which were on goal in moving to 2-0-0 on the season.
During the week leading up to the game, Lipsitz talked about his team needing to capitalize on opportunities, but the visiting Colonels effectively limited them. UK wants to be a team that builds from the back, but Eastern Kentucky forced the Wildcats into playing long ball.
"Tactically, what that did is it gave us almost no room to play," Lipsitz said. "We don't like to play the ball over the top and the end result was we had to."
The Cats lone two goals came on set pieces, meaning three of their first four goals on the season have come on such plays. For the second time in as many outings, junior defender Ashley VanLandingham put UK ahead on a free kick. Later, Arin Gilliland provided some insurance with her first goal of the season when she headed in a corner kick.
"That's great that we can win a game on set pieces, but when we have as much possession as we had - I think we had 60, 65 percent of the possession today - we've got to score goals from it," Lipsitz said.
Although the Wildcats realize they can't rely on set pieces the way they have so far, their success on corners and free kicks is encouraging.
"We chart exactly how many goal we score on set pieces each year and last year was the lowest percentage since I've been here," Lipsitz said. "We've definitely made an emphasis that we need to care about them more, that we need to be more dedicated to the little details."
VanLandingham has been the primary beneficiary.
"I did work on (free kicks) over the summer, but I think it comes from the emphasis that we put on set pieces in practice," VanLandingham said. "It's a very important thing in games and we worked very hard on it."
The junior scored just one goal her first two seasons, but has come out firing as a junior. She certainly didn't expect to be on goal-a-game pace through two games, but VanLandingham is enjoying it while it lasts.
"No I didn't (expect it), but it's alright," VanLandingham said with a smile.
If you were going to predict a UK defender to score goals in each of the team's first two games, it likely would have been Gilliland. As it stands, she'll have to settle for one, but it proved to be big.
UK's defense hadn't even allowed a shot through almost 70 minutes, but Eastern Kentucky mounted an attack in the 69th minute that resulted in an own goal off the leg of Natalie Horner. It was a perfect teaching moment for the way an individually excellent group can be beaten.
"We've got great potential in the back line," Lipsitz said. "What we need to continue to work on is the willingness to communicate with each other earlier. Individually, everyone we play in the back line is a fantastic player. The question is, 'Can we be fantastic collectively?' "
On both defense and the attack, the Wildcats have work ahead, but their unscathed record is quite positive sign for the most talented team of Lipsitz's UK tenure.
"We evaluate based on, 'Did we get better today?' " Lipsitz said. "Yeah, we are young. We know there are players that are hearing things for the first time, but once it's heard, we need to do it."