Kentucky's women's soccer program began its post-Arin Gilliland era with mixed feelings Friday night.
The nature of college athletics dictated that UK had to carry on without the most decorated player in program history.
"Every year players come and go," midfielder Courtney Raetzman said. It's a sad thing. But it's also very exciting."
No. 16 Kentucky experienced the exciting part in the season's opener by beating No. 20 Washington 1-0. Raetzman, a 4-foot-11 senior from Elk Grove, Ill., scored the goal on a corner kick, a skill she had never before performed in a game.
In the 39th minute of the first half, she left-footed a kick that curved in front of the corner of the net to the goalie's left. In the scramble, the ball went in.
"I say all the time, if you can put it in position where if anybody touches it, it goes in the goal, then we've played a great ball," UK Coach Jon Lipsitz said.
Except for a flurry in which Washington got three shots on goal in a four-minute stretch mid-way through the second half, Kentucky's 1-0 lead felt safe.
"We've got an experienced back line and great leaders back there," Lipsitz said of the stout defense. "So we feflt we could lock up the shutout."
An announced crowd of 1,222 was the fifth-largest attendance for a UK women's soccer game in program history.
"If you'd told me, without school starting, without students here yet, we'd have the fifth-largest crowd ...," Lipsitz's voice trailed off for a moment. "That's all Big Blue Nation. That's all Lexington and the surrounding area. Boy, that's crazy. Wow. Thank you, Big Blue Nation."
During a Media Day promotion on Monday, Lipsitz noted how UK women's soccer program is growing in popularity. Season-ticket sales for 2015 more than tripled last season's total, he said.
A relatively new stadium has given the program a boost, but that hasn't been the most important factor, Lipsitz said.
His team needed to "put on a good show and win," he said.
That's what happened despite the loss of Gilliland now playing for the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women's Soccer League. "We're not trying to replace her," Lipsitz said. "Every year is a new book to be written. Her imprint is on everything we do."
Raetzman saluted Gilliland as "an awesome player," but said UK could carry on.
"We're all around," she said. "We can all have the ability to be special."