Men’s soccer hopes to move deep in NCAA tournament


Junior JJ Williams celebrates with Sophomore Kalil Elmedkhar after Kalil scores a goal. University of Kentucky #3 ranked men’s soccer defeated University of Portland 4-0 in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Wendell and Vickie Bell Soccer Complex on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018 in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Mohammad Ahmad

Two Novembers ago, the UK men’s soccer team was awarded a first-round bye in the NCAA Tournament. The team had hopes of going deep in the tournament, but instead, they were upset by Creighton at The Bell, 3-2.

After the Cats advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time in almost two decades following Sunday evening’s 4-0 routing of the University of Portland Pilots, UK defender and team captain Tanner Hummel said he put the hard loss the Cats took two years ago behind him.

“Don’t live in the past. You have to live in the present,” Hummel said.

According to UK head coach Johan Cedergren, he said that him and his team “kept pushing” in reference to how his team responded to such a shortcoming.

“Despite those frustrations that we’ve had year after year, we’re out in February doing team competitions with sleds and their running in the Arboretum and they’re doing pull ups,” Cedergren said. “I think there are so many programs in the country that they don’t understand the value of that.”

Hummel said that his team “set goals throughout the year” and echoed the grueling offseason efforts that Cedergren referred to.

“Me and JJ (Williams) and a couple of other players were out there freezing and we were like, ‘man, we need to run through this if we want to do something special next year, it starts now’,” Hummel said.

Historically, UK doesn’t fare well in tournament games. UK entered the game 1-8-2 in the NCAA tournament overall and 0-4-1 at home matches. The Cats’ last outright win in a tournament came in 2001 against Mercer University.

However, the Cats’ efforts this season have looked to rewrite the script and take the team down a journey they’ve never experienced.

After winning the C-USA regular season title and conference tournament in the same season, something the Cats have never done, they added an NCAA tournament win to their bucket list. If they win their two next games, they will find themselves at the College Cup in Santa Barbara, California.

“We have a great team here no matter what. If we preform our best, the sky is the limit here”, Hummel said. “We have no idea where we could end up.”

C-USA Player of the Year and Offensive MVP J.J Williams and All C-USA First Team midfielder Kalil Elmedkhar led the way for the Cats on offense as each player had two goals. For the sixth time this season, both players scored in a game for the Cats.

Despite the efforts of Williams and Elmedkhar, though, Williams gave credit to his teammates’ efforts.

“Just as much as it’s me or Kalil have been scoring recently, there’s just so many guys that put us in situations to be successful, and that’s what we’re really thankful for,” Williams said.

With the Cats slated for a rematch against Lipscomb University at The Bell next weekend, Cedergren said “they will play anyone in the country.”

“It’s just really, really impressive what we’re doing,” Williams said.