Veteran soccer women meld with young talent

By David Schuh

Youth can be an asset or a detriment to a team. It can spark excitement or lead to mistakes. It can breathe enthusiasm or hold the team back.

For UK women’s soccer coach Jon Lipsitz, it has come as a welcomed advantage. After a 5-0-0 start, the best such start for the program in 10 years, he has seen the benefits of a team comprised two-thirds of underclassmen.

“I don’t think asking freshman to do a lot is ever an advantage, but talent is talent,” Lipsitz said. “They all work hard every day to become better. The older players are doing a great job of being leaders.”

One young bright spot for Lipsitz has been freshman goalkeeper Kayla Price. Filling the shoes of a graduated senior keeper, Price hasn’t missed a beat. Starting all five games thus far, she has a goal per game average of 0.8.  She credits the senior leaders with keeping her focused.

“They stay on me; they don’t let me breathe for a second,” Price said. “While they’re never slow to compliment me after a save, they’re also never slow to get me back on track after a mistake.  It really helps when you have older teammates to keep you focused.”

Two other young players have stepped up and made big contributions for the Cats:  Arin Gilliland, a freshman from Lexington, has scored two goals, both game-winners, to beat Eastern Kentucky and Baylor, while Stuart Pope, a freshman from Fayetteville, Ga., has scored two goals of her own, both also game-winners against Ohio and Central Michigan.

They, along with senior Kelsey Hunyadi, have sparked the offense en route to five consecutive wins.

“We know we’re young, but that doesn’t mean anything to us,” Price said.  “You can’t tell who’s in what class; we’re just one big team. We have a lot of smart players to make up for it.”

While the fast start has been exciting, Lipsitz understands that inexperience isn’t the best thing to rely on at this level.

“The most difficult thing for young players to adjust to is how hard we go every day,” Lipsitz said. “I like to tell them that every ball matters. The level of focus is so high and that can be difficult for young players.”

Going into Friday’s home game vs. archrival Louisville, the Cats are riding a wave of momentum that hasn’t been felt in the program in many years. And a few more non-conference wins would make the fast-approaching conference schedule seem much less daunting. But, with this mix of young talent and experienced veteran leadership, the sky is the limit.