Thu Sep 06 02:18pm EDT
It won't get the same attention that last weekend's game did, but that doesn't mean the Kentucky-Louisville women's soccer game will be any less heated. Louisville (4-0) is ranked No. 12 in the nation by Soccer America, and Kentucky (4-0) is still undefeated.
It's not a conference game, but it's still a major early season test for both squads. Kentucky won 1-0 in 2009, the last time both teams entered the game undefeated. And like last year, head coach Jon Lipsitz has grown a beard to start the season. It will remain until the Wildcats lose a game.
We spoke with Lipsitz before football practice today about how his team is preparing for the rivalry game.
"Obviously, it's a big week for us. We're going into the Louisville game and we're undefeated and they're undefeated and both of us have RPIs in the top 25. It's a pretty exciting game, to say the least. All we want to do is be our best, and we talk about that all the time. The two teams play very different styles, different formations. They're looking to do different things at different times and I think a lot of it will be a battle of wills of which style wins. I greatly respect their coaching staff, (head coach) Karen (Ferguson-Dayes) and the entire staff are good friends, but for 90 minutes we're going to get after it. The kids know that.
"I think one of the important things for us is while we are tense, also relax. We talked about the ability to go full speed but also calm down when we get the ball because you can let emotions get such a hold of you that you forget to play good soccer, to possess the ball. We have to find our moments where we just calm down, keep the ball, play. Obviously, that's easier said than done. But that's something we've been working on very hard this week. We're just excited for the opportunity."
What do you think of having your first road match of the season be this one?
"I think it's great. You have to be ready for new things. We have 15 freshmen and we have been consistently starting four or playing nine or 10 freshmen in the game. I'm a big one that believes you just throw 'em in. Throw 'em in and find out what you've got. You know, when we go into the NCAAs, there isn't any warmup for that. You just go and play an NCAA game. We need to find out when the intensity gets turned up who has it and who doesn't.
"One of the things I've said to everybody is if early in the game we see somebody who has never been in an environment like this who can't handle the challenges mentally and physically, we're going to take them out. No offense. But we're going to sit them down because they're not going to learn that in 90 minutes. Either you have that toughness, you have that mentality, or you don't. We can work on it, but we're not going to fix it in 90 minutes. What we're looking for is to find out right away who are we, and there's not a better place than this."
What's your message to players who haven't been in this situation?
"I've really been letting the upperclassmen take care of that. Our leadership is unbelievable. Our senior class is just full of kids that care so much, that are so passionate about the culture they've developed here and I really let them take care of that. That's what leaving a legacy is all about. I think it's much better coming from them than from me."
You grew a beard before last season, too, didn't you? You kept it until you lost?
"Yeah. I was planning on shaving this year. I don't shave during preseason. I have the maybe misguided philosophy that I'm too busy to shave and it's a good excuse, you know? So getting ready for our opening game I was going to shave. I mentioned 'Hey, I'm going to go home and shave.' And a couple of the seniors were like 'What do you mean? You're not shaving. It's a tradition.' I go 'Tradition? I did it last year. That's not a tradition.' And they said 'Well, it is now. You're not shaving.' I was like 'Whoa, OK. Sorry.' So I didn't know that it mattered to them and I didn't know it was a tradition, but they've made it very clear. Looks like it's something I'm doing now."
Are you hoping to look like Santa Claus by the end of the season?
"Oh, absolutely. My wife has made it very clear that she doesn't like it at all, but she doesn't want me to ever shave again. So, you know, the sacrifices of the family."
What are the big concerns with Louisville?
"They have some brilliant offensive players and we know that. They have a player who I believe is the top young player from Mexico. They have two of the top players from Canada, perhaps the top two, I would say. And a lot of other really fantastic players. Our ability to deal with their attack offensively and collectively is going to be a big key to this game. The other major concern is 'Can we get a good rhythm?' I think we've become more and more of a possession team, keeping the ball is very important to us. Doing that in hostile territory, as they call it, in a big rivalry game, we need to stick to who we are and I think that's going to be a big challenge for us."
You mentioned you had 15 freshmen. Bringing in that many, do you worry about them jumping on board of the foundation of what you've been building?
"No, it never crossed my mind. Here's the difference in recruiting: Three years ago we were talking about a belief in who we were going to be. Now when people come visit, they see who we are. So these players came here for this. They came here, watching us play, seeing our culture, this is who they want to be. And they've come to campus many times. I wasn't concerned about that at all and our leadership has a lot to do with that. The biggest thing is that there are no mysteries in recruiting. We say 'This is who we are. I hope it's a great fit for you If it's not, we wish you well.' These are players who thought this was the greatest place for them."
Is this game every bit the rivalry that you hear about in football and basketball?
"Yes. Absolutely. 100 percent. It is a huge rivalry. It is a passionate and important game to us and our fan base. We understand that. It is every bit the game for every other sport. One of our players was joking around, you could make up a card game and as soon as you play the team in red that we don't say a lot, it's going to get heated. It's going to get after it. We have to bring that intensity and yet be able to relax. This is what it's all about. You come to the University of Kentucky, you come here because you want to play in these kind of games outside of the SEC against Louisville and inside the SEC, obviously. You don't want to play this game, don't come to the University of Kentucky."