On a rain-soaked field, the Louisville women’s soccer team ended a six-year drought with the help of a homegrown talent, topping Kentucky 3-1 Friday night at UK’s Bell Soccer Complex.
Louisville freshman Emina Ekic, a Manual product and regular national team player at the U19 and under levels, had two goals and an assist as Louisville dominated a matchup it hadn’t won since 2010.
“We were working hard for our seniors,” Ekic said. “They haven’t seen a win in (this) big rivalry game. The emotion was there. I didn’t know what to expect coming in. I knew it was going to be intense. ... We just came out as the aggressor.”
The Cardinals generated more scoring opportunities (eight shots) and corners (four) on a bogged surface in the first half with dangerous through balls breaking the Cats’ back line, creating chances for forwards Brooklynn Rivers and Kennadi Carbin. A foul at the top of the box by the Cats set up an Ekic free kick at 22:22 of the first half. Ekic curled it clean into the left corner to give the Cards a 1-0 lead.
“Emina Ekic is a special player,” UK head coach Ian Carry said. “You can’t let her play. Once she starts moving it, to be honest with you, she doesn’t play like a freshman. She plays with a lot of experience and that’s probably from her national team days.”
Ekic’s corner kick at 41:40 dropped into the 6-yard box and was put home by Alison Price underneath the sprawling save attempt by Kentucky keeper Evangeline Soucie.
Louisville continued to press the action in the second half as Kentucky found it difficult to play out of its own end when play resumed. Ekic netted her second goal at 55:39 when she put back a Rivers shot off the crossbar.
The win came at the expense of UK freshman Eva Mitchell, Ekic’s former teammate on their club team, Javanon.
“The buildup to the week was funny, because I know they’ve been texting each other,” Carry said.
Mitchell, who won the state title and player of the year honors last year for West Jessamine, has started every game for the Cats and has a goal and two assists.
“Eva and I are best friends, so it was good to see her be successful,” Ekic said. Ekic had to sit out her senior year at Manual after an ACL injury. “We played against each other in the middle. I wish her the best. She did well.”
Kentucky began to find itself with about 15 minutes to go in the game, generating shots and forcing corner kicks. It was a corner kick by Tanya Samarzich that found Miranda Jimenez in the box that ended the shutout. Jimenez scored the first goal of her career to cut it to 3-1 at the 77:29 mark of the second half.
“I’m so proud of the way they performed, especially the last 20 minutes,” Carry said. “To be honest with you, it was two goals on two set pieces that killed the game for us tonight. We showed that we’ve got the resilience ... to get back into it.”
Louisville outshot the Cats 17-10 with a shots-on-goal difference of 7-2. The Cards committed 15 fouls to Kentucky’s five.
Kentucky travels to No. 8 Florida State on Sunday, while Louisville will play at Southeast Missouri on Monday.
Rain, what rain?
Despite what’s left of what was Hurricane Harvey squatting over Central Kentucky on Friday, the UK grounds crew worked tirelessly to siphon and press the Bermuda grass field at the Bell in order to get the game off as scheduled.
“I don’t think the game was ever going to be in question, due to the quality of the field that we have here,” Carry said. “The ground crew are fantastic. They had been working on it eight hours prior to kickoff.”
As the rain fell, a Whale Super Sopper, a contraption with two large rollers that soak up rainwater from the surface, crisscrossed the field for a couple of hours dumping gallons and gallons of water out into the drains at the field’s edge at regular intervals. It was sent back on the field at halftime.
Warmups showed the field would get chopped up by cleats, and the ball would skid and bog, but both coaches agreed to get the game under way. As the game progressed, the ball would occasionally bog down and splashes were evident, but players held their footing well.
The storm diminished what was expected to be a near sellout for the rivalry game, but despite the constant blowing storm, a decent and enthusiastic crowd turned out. A third-filled UK student section continued to sing well after the game was decided.
Kentucky at Florida State
When: 3 p.m. Sunday