Kentucky womens soccer kicks off new era under Fabiano


Jack Weaver

Kentucky womens soccer first-year head coach Troy Fabiano speaks during a press conference at the Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jack Weaver | Kentucky Kernel

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

With the fall 2022 semester underway, UK womens soccer began not just its athletic season on Thursday but a new era for the program as a whole.

While it was easy to lose in the shuffle that was the 2021 fall semester, the womens soccer team was one that failed to live up to the standards set in place by other successful programs such as mens soccer, mens basketball and football.

The Wildcats, led by then head coach Ian Carry, started the season 5-2-1. The lone loss came from then No. 15 South Florida before a catastrophic collapse saw the team go 1-9 in the SEC, finishing 7-10-2 overall.

The lone win in conference play came against Missouri on Oct. 24, conveniently 10 days after Carry was relieved of his duties following UK’s 1-0 loss to LSU on senior night, but was not enough to see the Wildcats even qualify for the SEC Tournament, ending their season with a loss to No. 12 Tennessee in Knoxville.

Looking to start over fresh, Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart brought in former Milwaukee womens soccer coach Troy Fabiano to take the reins.

Even before the season began, it was apparent that the Fabiano era would differ from Carry’s before him.

Having been with both the Irish and Scottish football associations in his past, Carry had a well-established rapport with European athletes, with the roster comprised of 10 players from the continent during his final season.

Now with Fabiano at the helm, just four of those players remain listed on the roster: Danish forward Emilie Rhode, Danish defender Sarah Makoben-Blessing, Icelandic midfielder Ulfa Ulfarsdottir and Danish defender Marie Lynge Oleson.

While not all of the European departures will have their absences felt equally, notable losses include German midfielder Lilly Huber, who transferred to Memphis, former starting goalkeeper Laura Nielsen and Danish midfielder Maria Olsen, who signed with a womens football club in Austria.

In their place, Fabiano brought in five transfers from his previous team in the form of graduate students Hailey Farrington-Bentil, Taylor Hattori and Rafferty Kugler, as well as redshirt sophomores Maggy Henschler and Lesley Kiesling.

With the exception of Kiesling, who has entered both of UK’s games as a sub, all of Fabiano’s former players have started both fixtures the Wildcats have played this season.

Hattori even averages 78 minutes on the pitch, having played 86 out of a possible 90 minutes against Tennessee Martin in the road opener, with Henschler not far behind with an average of 77.5 minutes per match.

While UK is still over three weeks away from its SEC opener, the formula has worked out for Fabiano, with the Cats out-scoring its opponents by a combined 7-1 after two matches, winning by an average of three goals per match.

While Carry’s team one year ago also conquered its first two non power five opponents with ease, winning by a combined 8-0 over Marshall and Louisiana-Lafayette, the real test for Fabiano’s squad will come on Thursday when the Wildcats take on Purdue at home.

A reigning tournament team, fresh off a penalty kick loss to Notre Dame in the round of 32, the Boilermakers reached a draw with Carry’s squad to start the 2021 season, but a definitive win for Kentucky would do numbers for the team’s reputation.

After the drop off the team suffered entering SEC play last season, Kentucky soccer fans will be wary of getting their hopes too high before the Cats enter conference play, they’ll find difficulty missing the urgency and excitement that comes with the 2022 womens soccer team.

Fabiano doesn’t just carry the weight of giving his transfer grad students a proper sendoff, he also bears the weight of coaching the dynamic duo of Hannah Richardson and Jordyn Rhodes, both of whom were featured in the SEC preseason watch list, for their senior years.

Rhodes and Richardson were the motor of the team in Carry’s final season, combining for 19 goals during the season, the fourth most of any duo in the country.

Rhodes by herself also boasts being a two-time All-SEC honoree, ranking third in scoring in Kentucky womens soccer history with a career 31 goals, having netted one more in UK’s season opener 3-0 win over Ball State.

Ensuring a successful senior year for the duo, as well as other key names such as Caroline Trout and Peyton Rimko, is a must for Fabiano during his first year in Lexington.

While it is still far too early to predict the trajectory of the season, it’s hard to ask for a better first two games than Fabiano’s squad have had with his biggest test of the season upcoming.

The level of success is yet to be determined, but a new era has arrived in the Bluegrass State, and for Tennessee Martin and Ball State the only question left is whether or not their defeats were part of a successful non-conference run predating another collapse or the first wins of a tournament-clinching season, the likes of which Kentucky hasn’t seen since 2014.