Kentucky Full-Back Arin Gilliland Will Hope to Help Push Her Side Closer to SEC Glory in 2012
ACC – Clemson | NC State
Big XII – Iowa State | Kansas | Oklahoma | TCU | Texas | Texas Tech
Big East – Cincinnati | DePaul | Georgetown | Notre Dame | Pittsburgh | Providence | Rutgers | Seton Hall | South Florida | St. John’s (NY) | Syracuse | UConn | Villanova
Big Ten – Indiana | Iowa | Michigan | Michigan State | Minnesota | Nebraska | Northwestern | Ohio State | Purdue | Wisconsin
Mid-Majors – Central Michigan | Denver | Florida Gulf Coast | Harvard | Illinois State | La Salle | New Mexico | Rice | Richmond | Samford | Stephen F. Austin | Toledo | UMass | Utah State | Western Michigan | William & Mary
Pac-12 – Arizona | Arizona State | Cal | Colorado | Oregon | Oregon State | USC | Utah | Washington | Washington State
SEC – Alabama | Arkansas | Georgia | LSU | Mississippi State | Missouri | Ole Miss | South Carolina | Tennessee | Vanderbilt
WCC – BYU | Gonzaga | Loyola Marymount | Portland | San Diego | San Francisco | St. Mary’s (CA)
Steady progress has been the order of the day for Kentucky through the first three seasons of Jon Lipsitz’s reign in Lexington, and the fruits of his labors really began to show last season as the Wildcats returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006. Lipsitz might have been caught wondering just what he had gotten himself into during his first season in charge in Lexington in 2009.
The Wildcats, under a coach who had made a name for himself with free-flowing, attacking football while the boss at Charlotte, were deadly boring in Lipsitz’s first year. Being shut out in twelve of nineteen matches, including a stretch of five straight matches without a goal told its own tale, as did the Wildcats’ paltry eleven goals on the season. The painful 5-10-4 2009 campaign only seemed to confirm that there were not going to be any quick overnight fixes in Lexington of a program that had fallen upon hard times after its last trophy in 2006 when Kentucky managed to upset the odds and win the SEC Tournament.
It was the last dying gasp of the good times under former head coach Warren Lipka as the Wildcats struggled to make the SEC Tournament the season after and then fell apart altogether in 2008 with a 5-12-2 mark that saw Kentucky out of the postseason and tied for tenth in the conference. The broom promptly came out from the administration, and in came Lipsitz, who had turned Charlotte into a regional mid-major force through some beautiful football and shrewd recruiting.
But the remnants of Lipka’s players and Lipsitz’s system were, for the most part, like driving round pegs into square holes, thus the abysmal first season in charge in 2009. With more of his players making their way into Lexington in 2010, most figured that Kentucky would be a better side. It was hard envisioning them being much worse. The burning question was just how much difference a year could make and how much better UK would really be in 2010. The answer was quite a bit better, but still with a long way to go to trouble the big clubs in the league. UK did manage to pick up some decent wins and finished seventh in the league, earning the club’s first trip back to Orange Beach since 2007. They’d exit at the first hurdle on penalties to South Carolina, but it had been a season of real progress in Lexington and raised hopes of further improvement come the 2011 season.
Kentucky would indeed bare their teeth early, winning their first seven on the trot, including wins over Central Michigan, Baylor, and rivals Louisville that all put them in good stead for the NCAA Tournament already despite dropping their last non-conference game to Dayton. Putting in some consistent league form was much more difficult though. The club split their first four league games on the road, beating Alabama and South Carolina before emerging into a familiar pattern in the stretch run of the season: Win on Friday (or Thursday), lose on Sunday. Naturally, such form was good enough to ensure Kentucky finished directly in mid-table, climbing to sixth in the league standings come the end of the regular season.
Though Kentucky had certainly made inroads towards becoming a contender during the season, postseason success still eluded them. Tennessee was able to avenge their regular season loss to the Wildcats, beating Lipsitz’s team in the opening round of the SEC Tournament. UK’s seasonal form saw them back in the NCAA Tournament and even hosting a first round game. Solving Washington State’s tenacious defense proved to be beyond the Wildcats though, and Kentucky would bow out on penalties to their Pac-12 opponents.
There’s still a ways to go towards lifting trophies again in Lexington, but the Wildcats appear to be on the right track given the evidence of the past three years. Of course, the next step is often one of the hardest, and Kentucky knows that continued growth will be needed with a pack full of hungry league rivals snapping at their heels in the quest to rise to the top of the ladder in the SEC.
Aiding that quest this season are some reinforcements to the ranks. OK, a lot of reinforcements to the ranks. Lipsitz brings in a recruiting class that certainly doesn’t lack for either quantity or quality, as the star studded freshman group coming into Lexington should have a chance to make an impact right off the bat in every unit on the pitch for UK. First and foremost though is finding a consistent source of goals and assists after the graduation of all-everything senior Kelsey Hunyadi. The former Louisville player was a major force on offense after crossing the divide, and led the club in goals and assists last season, more than doubling the total of the next ranked player on the club in both categories. That should give a little indication as to just how important the departed attacker was to the offense.
Only returning junior Caitlin Landis also managed more than four goals last season, and no returnee managed more than two assists, meaning Lipsitz could have his hands full in organizing an offense that can compete with the upper echelon of the SEC. With that in mind, the Wildcats might need to win with defense this year. UK should be in decent shape on that end, returning all but one player who started ten games or more. With another year to gel, that backline could well round into one of the league’s best. In that regard, rookies should help bolster depth, not just on defense but everywhere. It’s a further sign of progress after UK were a little short of such luxuries last year.
Hometown heroine Kayla Price entered campus as a highly touted prospect last season and wrested away the starting job as a rookie for the entire season. The sophomore ended up nearly monopolizing the minutes in 2011, playing all but twenty in goal for the Wildcats. She’d show flashes of real talent as a rookie, including keeping three clean sheets in the league for UK. Though she’d dominate the minutes in goal for the club last season, that counts for little this year, with last year’s reserves both returning, with the club also adding another highly touted newcomer.
Junior Kayla King is the veteran head of the group in a sense, in that she’s entering her third season with the club. Minutes have been a bit sparse for her though, having seen three matches of action as a rookie in 2010 before making just one appearance last year. UK’s been stretched so thin on numbers the past few seasons that King’s also suited up in the field as a reserve on a few occasions, something that won’t likely happen this year with the increase in numbers. Sophomore Taylor Mogel’s most significant action last year was being thrown in as a designated penalty kick stopper in the team’s shootout defeat against Washington State in the NCAA Tournament. With plenty of competition, she may struggle for major minutes again.
Added to the mix is Kylie Morgan, a highly touted goalkeeper who has been a mainstay on the Region II ODP teams while also competing with the powerful Sockers FC club. If she lives up to the billing, she should be an immediate threat for the backup job at the very least, with an eye towards perhaps stealing starting minutes as well. Price should be more settled in her second full season with the club, and with what looks like a relatively stable defensive situation in front of her, she should have a great chance of showing real growth in between the pipes.
Kentucky’s defense ended up behind the eight-ball in pretty swift fashion last year when senior Jenna Goblirsch, expected to play a major role on the backline, was injured in preseason, ruling her out for the entire year. The defender chose to forego her final year of eligibility after being injury hit for two seasons for the Wildcats. Also departing is Kiondra McGee, who bounced in and out of the starting lineup throughout her career, including as a senior last season. After starting nearly all of 2009, McGee had been relegated to a reserve role in 2010 before beginning last season in the starting lineup. She’d shift back into a reserve role for about a month before starting the club’s last seven games to close out her college career.
Much may depend on the form of sophomore Arin Gilliland this season. A potential program changing recruit as she arrived in Lexington last season, Gilliland soon found herself a home on the backline as the club’s starting left-back. Also capable in an attacking role, Gilliland ended up scoring four goals as a rookie, including a pair of game winners and a pair of game tying strikes. She was cut down by a serious injury in the SEC Tournament though, which cost her a starting spot in the NCAA Tournament and likely a spot on the U20 World Cup team where she had also played full-back. A return to health and form would be huge for UK this season.
The defense’s senior lynchpin is Alyssa Telang, who’ll also likely be the only senior on this starting unit this year. Recruited as a midfielder, Telang has since turned into a reliable defender and a real workhorse, often playing the entire game or close to the entire game in defense for the Wildcats. There will also likely be starting roles for juniors Ashley VanLandingham and Kacie Kumar. Another minutes eater for UK, VanLandingham stepped right into a starting role as a rookie in 2010 and retained that role last year. While she was solid in defense as a sophomore, she probably caught more attention for a stunning long-range free kick goal against Vanderbilt at the end of the regular season. Given that she only has three career shots on goal, it was an even more extraordinary feat.
Kumar also started much of her freshman season in 2010 and parlayed it into a full-time starting job last season, cracking the first XI nineteen times. The junior has also proven to be capable of the odd assist here or there, with three total going into this season. Senior Kirsten Robinson has been a valuable utility player over the years, more than capable of stepping into the starting lineup if need be. She began last year as the club’s left-back but also saw time in attack later in the season. Given the new influx of rookies, Robinson might see a drop in minutes, but her versatility should see her find a home somewhere on the pitch. Fellow senior Brooke Keyes has also been a faithful reserve for much of her career and saw her minutes increase as the season went along last year.
The club adds some intriguing rookies to the mix this season. U15 international Courtney Kobashigawa has been a Region II ODP mainstay for a while now and was invited to last year’s ECNL/id2 National Camp. The Ohio Elite product should be in the mix for immediate minutes in the rotation and could challenge for a starting role if she hits the ground running. Lipsitz will also be hoping that he found a diamond in the rough in West Virginia native Haleigh Hoff. The big rookie is the reigning Gatorade State Player of the Year in her state and adds need size to the defense. Gilliland could be a star in the making, and while the rest of the group is more workmanlike than anything else, an increased level of cohesion given another year together could pay off in a big way this season.
Kentucky’s midfield essentially returns intact from as season ago, with the exception being sophomore Taylor Parker, who transferred to High Point in the offseason. Parker had made a big splash as a freshman with a handful of assists but found herself stuck in mostly a reserve role last season and registered just a goal and an assist as a sophomore.
Junior Danielle Krohn is the veteran of the unit, though she only enters her third season with the club this year. A spot starter for much of her rookie season, Krohn turned into a rock as a sophomore last year, starting every match in the middle of the park for the club. She was another with a long-range bomb for an atypical goal, scoring against Auburn late in a league game. Also looking to reprise a starting role from last season will be sophomore Stuart Pope. Despite entering the college ranks as a relative unknown at this level, Pope ended up being quite the astute signing. She started nineteen games and finished with three big goals, including game winners against MAC sides Central Michigan and Ohio. Considering the offensive questions facing the club, more goals from Pope would be duly appreciated.
Sophomore Molly Huber was expected to seriously contend for starting minutes last year but ended up being more effective as an impact sub. Huber scored on her debut and then against Southeast Missouri State later in the season but only finished with two goals and two assists on the season. She’ll hope for an increased role this season but will face heavy competition from a fleet of talented rookies.
The smallest player on the roster could end up having the biggest effect for Kentucky this season. Either 4’11″ or 5’0″ depending on your source, rookie Courtney Raetzman is nonetheless a very promising player. The U18 international has featured in many youth international camps and competitions and was in the USYS National Championship Best XI in 2011. Capping off a great youth career was Gatorade State Player of the Year honors in Illinois, no easy feat considering the talent in that state.
Of a much taller persuasion is Olivia Jester, another from a rich talent pipeline in Ohio, specifically of the Ohio Elite club, with whom she’s been impressive in ECNL competition. Jester has also been in multiple ECNL/id2 National Camps and was quite versatile as a youth player, playing just about anywhere on the pitch. Additionally, two more newcomers, Cailin Harris and Eliana Musleh both come into the program with extensive regional ODP experience and should at least find a home in the rotation early on. The returnees make this group solid, while the newcomers could make it spectacular in time. How much time exactly might depend on how fast all that young talent acclimates to the college game and the rough and tumble SEC in particular.
Hunyadi casts a big shadow that UK and the Wildcats have to replace this year if they have any chance of being a contender. After beginning her career as a prodigious talent with deadly rivals Louisville, Hunyadi proved to be a heroine with the blue half of Kentucky after two fine seasons to close out her collegiate career. Eight goals and three assists as a junior was just a warmup act for last season, where she had a hand in twenty-four of the club’s thirty-five goals, a startling ratio. Playing the “nine and a half” role to a T, Hunyadi was just as brilliant setting chances up as she was finishing them. She’d score a point in all but five of Kentucky’s games and went on a big offensive run late in the season, scoring in each of the club’s last five matches to cap off a great career.
UK has to hope that the heiress apparent to Hunyadi’s scoring crown is junior Caitlin Landis. Seven goals as a rookie was a very promising tally, but Landis began the season ice cold last year, scoring in the opener but going without a point for the next eight games. She’d score three goals in two games against Alabama and South Carolina, both UK wins, but would have to wait until the regular season finale to score again, netting a brace against Vanderbilt. The ability is there, but the consistency has to get much better if she’s to become a top SEC striker.
Senior Natalie Horner is another expatriate who has found a new home in Lexington and appeared to be headed for big things after five goals and seven assists as a sophomore in 2010. Her offensive form deserted her last season though, as after missing the opening three games, she scored just two times, though one was a crucial golden goal against Tennessee in the league. With new rivals breathing down her neck, a starting spot is far from assured if she isn’t on form. Another of the club’s phalanx of former transfers, Erin Simon, found her feet late last year after coming over from Rutgers. She ended up starting a handful of games later on in the season though she didn’t hit the target once and may face a battle for minutes this season.
Sophomore Emma Brown, a highly touted recruit coming into last season, and senior Cassie Ransdell, who scored the game winner against rivals Louisville, will also be in the mix for minutes in the rotation this year. The team’s bright new young thing in attack this season could be Kelli Hubly, another promising prospect from the Sockers FC club. A U18 international and club teammate of Raetzman and Morgan, Hubly’s a big target up top whom Lipsitz hopes is an effective one as well early in her collegiate career.
Virginia native Danielle Fitzgerald is another rookie to keep an eye out for, with the newcomer having experience in the past with the Region I ODP team. The biggest question marks surrounding Kentucky probably rest with this unit this year. There’s no shortage of potential amongst this unit, but someone naturally has to step up and take charge for the Wildcats as top gun this year.
Upside, upside, upside. It’s the description du jour for this Wildcats side who probably aren’t going to hit their peak for another season or two after some heavy hitting recruiting classes brought in by Lipsitz and his staff. As for this year, the defense should be more cohesive at the very least, which means they could do better than last year’s middle of the road performance, though a lockdown defender still needs to emerge. Going forward, replacing Hunyadi is no small task, and all of those new offensive pieces may have to mesh in a hurry, while the likes of Landis and Horner need to score and score consistently for the Wildcats in the meantime.
UK has a high ceiling if the rookies play beyond their age, but the conservative guess is a finish in upper-mid table in the SEC this season. With so many young pieces though, this club might be much better late than early, which makes them a dangerous proposition in the SEC Tournament. It also means they have a fairly good chance of winning a match, or perhaps more, in the NCAA Tournament.