The NCAA Tournament provides the potential for immense rewards but, with every round, a more difficult challenge.
As the University of Kentucky women's soccer team prepared for its second-round match against UCLA on Friday night in San Diego, Calif., the Wildcats were experiencing both sides of the coin.
"Obviously, we are very excited to still be training," fourth-year UK coach Jon Lipsitz said. "There are only 32 teams in the country still training at this point. Friday (a first-round win over Tennessee-Martin) was a big moment for this program. I think we all felt the pressure to get over the hump. That moment was something special."
The 1-0 overtime win represented the program's first NCAA Tournament victory.
Immense reward, meet difficult challenge: Next up is UCLA, the No. 3 seed in the 16-team regional. UCLA is ranked No. 5 in the nation by Soccer America and No. 6 in the coaches' poll. Kentucky is not ranked.
"We are going to go have fun and play hard," Lipsitz said. "I think there are four or five teams in the country being talked about as a team that can win a national championship, and they are one of them."
UCLA (16-2-2) defeated Wisconsin 1-0 in its opening-round game. UCLA, making its 16th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, dominated possession throughout and outshot the Badgers, 18-2.
Senior forward Zakiya Bywaters, the Pacific-10 Conference Player of the Year, leads the Bruins with 13 goals and four assists this season. UCLA goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland has started 17 games, going 15-2-0 with a 0.55 goals-against average.
Kentucky (14-6-1) won its NCAA opener on Kelli Hubly's goal in the 93rd minute.
Arin Gilliland, a sophomore from West Jessamine High School, leads Kentucky with seven goals and seven assists this season. Hubly, a freshman from Elk Grove, Ill., has six goals and three assists.
Goalkeeper Kayla King, a junior from Manual High School in Louisville, has posted shutouts in five of Kentucky's last seven games. King (13-3-0) has a 0.76 goals-against average.
The winner of Friday's game plays California or San Diego State in the Sweet 16 on Sunday at 3 p.m. EST, again at San Diego.