Cats looking to win first conference championship


Sophomore J.J. Williams sprints after the ball during the game against Xavier on Wednesday, September 20, 2017 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky tied Xavier 1-1. Photo by Carter Gossett | Staff

Mohammad Ahmad

Now that the men’s soccer regular season is over, Conference-USA teams are focusing their sights on the conference tournament, set to take place this week. Kentucky has their eyes on claiming the conference championship, but they will be stacked up against some serious competitors.

The top seven ranked teams in the conference qualified for this year’s C-USA tournament in Norfolk, Virginia. This year’s participants, in order of seeding, are Florida International, Old Dominion, Kentucky, Charlotte, New Mexico, Marshall and South Carolina.

New Mexico, the defending conference champions, returned to the tournament this year. FIU, ranked No. 7 in the nation, was the runner-up in the tournament last year.

The Wildcats went 2-2-2 this season against the tournament field.

Kentucky will open the tournament with a match against Marshall on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m in the quarterfinals. Although, the Thundering Herd are underdogs in this matchup, they defeated UK in Huntington, West Virginia back on Oct. 14, 1-0. The game-winner was scored by midfielder Lewis Knight.

Knight led the Thundering Herd with nine goals and was third in assists with three. One of the best tandems in the conference this year, Marshall forwards Dion Stergiotis and Pedro Dolabella combined for four goals and four assists.

Luckily for Kentucky, they have the savvy veteran leadership of Andrew McKelvey, Stefan Stojkovic and Noah Hutchins to counter them. Hutchins and Stojkovic are tied for the team lead in goals this year with three, along with JJ Williams, Mikkel Pedersen and Aime Mabika.

McKelvey’s two goals this year were go-ahead scores, so, the Cats could look for him when Kentucky needs someone to step up in the most pressing minutes. Williams and Tanner Hummel should be able to maintain ball movement as they were tied for the team lead in assists with four.

Both teams boast some of the most elite goalkeepers in the conference. UK’s Enrique Facusse led the conference in both goals against average and shutouts, while Marshall’s Nate Himes led the conference in saves.

The senior talent of Landon Sauder, Alex Bumpus and Kevin Barajas has been instrumental in helping Facusse maintain his 0.88 GAA and seven shutouts. In order for either team to be able to score, they will have to push the pace when stacked against the two keepers.

Kentucky will be looking to win their first ever conference tournament championship, and will have to have some big games to do so. The closest the team ever came to winning a conference crown came in championship game losses to Southern Methodist in 2006 and Tulsa in 2008.