From champs to underdogs, Cats hope to capture SEC title

In sports, the unexpected can become reality. Take, for instance, the 1980 Miracle on Ice, the George Mason University basketball team in the 2006 NCAA Tournament or the New York Jets defeating the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

The UK women’s soccer team will be looking to add its name to the list of underdogs who pulled out the upset when they enter Orange Beach, Ala., home of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, this week.

The Cats (10-6-3, 4-6-1 SEC) enter as the eighth seed and will face top-ranked Florida in the first round tonight at 6. The Cats lost to Florida 1-0 on Oct. 7, but the team still has a positive mindset.

“We’re very excited we get Florida in the first round,” senior midfielder Megan Jones said. “I personally wanted them because I know we can beat them, and it’s always fun to beat Florida.”

The Cats knocked off the Gators in the SEC championship game last year 2-1 behind two goals from Jones. Even though the Cats enter the tournament as the lowest seed, they feel there is still a target on their back because they are the reigning champs from last year’s SEC Tournament.

“Everybody has a little grudge against us this year,” senior midfielder Kelsey Fenix said. “We aren’t expected to do much this tournament, and I think everyone wants to keep it that way.”

After losing the first six matches of the SEC season, many teams wrote the Cats off, Jones said. UK was in serious danger of not making the tournament — only the top eight teams in the 12-team conference make the cut — but the Cats reeled off four wins in five games to edge into the competition for the 15th consecutive season.

“We’re definitely a Cinderella story,” Jones said. “Starting off the season 0-6, no one expected us to make the tournament. Everybody counted us out.”

Coming in as the underdog suits senior forward Sarah Gaunt just fine. She and the rest of the Cats are embracing the possibility of playing spoiler in the tournament, but they will have to win three games in five days if they want to repeat as SEC Tournament champions.

“Nobody expects us to win,” Gaunt said. “I personally love the role of no one having faith in us, but we know we can win. We know if we keep playing the soccer we have been, we can beat anyone.”

Since the SEC Tournament adopted the eight-team seeding bracket, the eighth seed has only won once, when Louisiana State defeated Auburn 1-0 in 2002. UK has been an eighth seed once before — in 2004 when they fell 2-0 to Tennessee in the first round.

UK is 12-11-1 all-time in the SEC Tournament and won the tournament in 1995 and 2006. This year’s senior class hopes to add another championship while posting the first back-to-back women’s soccer titles in SEC Tournament history.

“We know we can play with nothing to lose,” Jones said. “This is the seniors’ last chance to make our last mark as a player and team for UK and in the SEC.”

Fenix garners All-SEC honors

Captain and senior midfielder Kelsey Fenix was named a first-team All-SEC performer yesterday by league coaches for her play this season.

Despite battling injuries throughout the year, the Westlake, Ohio, native finished with two goals and an assist, including the game-winning goal against Arkansas on Oct. 19. The Cats’ were 10-2-2 with Fenix, but just 0-4-1 in games without her.

Fenix, a first time All-SEC selection, is the 15th UK player to receive first-team honors in SEC Tournament history.