#Lexington #USL W

Head Coach Alan Kirkup and Lexington WSC ready to compete in 2nd W-League campaign

In just 3 months, top-level professional women’s soccer is coming to Lexington to kick off alongside the opening of the club’s new 7,500-capacity stadium (hopefully). However, suppose you are like the many women’s soccer fans (myself included) who cannot wait to support women’s soccer in Lexington. In that case, there is a way to cheer on the next generation of stars starting this Friday at Toyota Stadium.

Lexington SC will compete in the club’s 2nd season within the USL W-League, a pre-professional women’s summer soccer league with more than 80 clubs nationwide. Over 5 days last week, the club announced the new and returning faces for this year’s squad, and I got the chance to talk with 2nd-year head coach Alan Kirkup about the roster he has assembled and the upcoming season.

Looking back to the club’s inaugural campaign, the Girls in Green went 3-1-6, finishing 3rd in the valley division behind eventual W-League champion Indy Eleven and Racing Louisville (who missed the W-League playoffs based on head-to-head tiebreaker with Indy). Having 2 powerhouse clubs within the division (W-League teams play only within their division) led coach Kirkup to assemble a roster that has seen a few returners (notably Brooke Dawahare, Gianna Camuso, Kacey Smekrud, Lesley Kiesling, and Kailey Utley), but also to bring in a lot of experienced NCAA (and beyond) talent. 

On the new roster, coach Kirkup said: “I think this group is probably a little more athletic than they were last year. Technically better, physically better, and similar types of experience, maybe, because we had some experience with the group last year, but I think this group is probably a step ahead of where we were 12 months ago.”

As we continued our conversation, I asked coach Kirkup to speak about the position groups he has assembled, as the pre-profession nature of the league makes it hard to understand who the key players within the roster may be. Below are his thoughts on each group he has assembled to try to take down Racing Louisville and Indy Eleven in hopes of making the W-League playoffs this year.

(For a complete list of Lexington SC W-League roster, please visit our article from Monday by our women’s soccer lead writer, BayLeigh Routt)


The ladies between the pipes will have a tough act to follow up, as Marz Josephson shined for LSC last year, but Josephson’s MCL injury from the SEC tournament this fall has prevented her from joining the club for the 2024 season. 

However, Kirkup has assembled a solid core that we will likely see some rotation with due to minor injuries at the start of the season. Kickup spoke highly of the addition of the University of Cincinnati goalkeeper Anna Rexford: “Rexford is a good goalkeeper…she is local…and we are working on her fitness a little bit, she has some injury doubts…but she will be our goalkeeper…Good size, good feet, decent technically, and decent quickness.” And due to a neck injury that returner Shelby Smith has picked up, LSC fans will be seeing Lily Winkle, or possibly another not-yet-announced keeper, for at least the first match on Friday night. 

“The goalkeeping is sort of influx at the moment, and we might be looking to reinforcements down the road,” Kirkup said in closing. Let’s hope the injury bug stays away from the keeper room once the season begins.

On the note of the unannounced keeper and possible reinforcements, in my following of the W-League last year and of the amateur/semi-pro leagues, roster movement happens a lot, and a lot of it will go unannounced, so do not be surprised if there are players for LSC this year that are never formally announced.


LSC has brought in a load of colligate and W-League experience. In our conversation, Kirkup has found his back 4 for the season in Kacey Smekrud (RB), Autumn Weeks (CB), Trinity Watson (CB), and Lilia Steen (LB). Speaking about their performance in a recent scrimmage against one of LSC GA academy teams, Kirkup sang the group praises – “All four of them were terrific. For the first time out playing as a back four, some of the things they did were good. The level of competition isn’t what we are going to face in the W-League, but it was a nice start for that group.” 

Another key contributor to the backline this season is Jadyn Rupnow, with other young players having the chance to gain experience and prove themselves. Kirkup is quite pleased with his defending group, and I suspect we could see some great things out of them this season. 

Photo by Lexington SC


The midfield has the most questions in the air of precisely who is going to play where. Still, the group is home to Brooke Dawahare, the top player within the LSC academy, ranked 132 nationally, and is part of the 15th-best recruiting class in the nation as she is set to join Princeton in the fall. Many may recognize her last name as the daughter of LSC minority owner Stephen Dawahare, but the girl is a potential star in the making.

“If she continues on the path she is on, she’s got the potential to make a living playing the game,” Kirkup said, “Good athleticism, good nose for the game, good right foot, good left foot, tough…she has been in and around national team camps, there are still things she needs to learn, but she is going to play a major part in what we do this year.”

Kirkup also spoke about the praises of the two Spanish players he has added to his midfield: Anna Gomez Vila and Carola Fontan, who bring a Barcelona-esque style to the LSC midfield this season. 

Lastly, during their recent scrimmage, Kirkup was pleasantly surprised by the performances of Emma Nicholson and Tatum Borman, the latter being only a junior in high school, drew high praises from her new head coach – “She has got massive upside and is going to play big minutes for us, I think—low center of gravity, left foot, right foot, fearless…She’s got an all around game that suits what we are trying to do, and even though she’s young and still learning, I think she is going to be a good player for us.”

Rounding out the key midfield players was last year’s leading goal scorer, Kailey Utley, who Kirkup expects to feature out wide this year and was very to the point in describing her – “She makes a difference whenever she is on the ball.”


The forward group is the one that is most up in the air of precisely who will feature as the tip of the attack for Kirkup this year, but some names did come to the front of Kirkup’s mind when speaking about the group.

The multiple players came to mind for Kirkup in our conversation. JJ Aalbue was the first to come to mind, saying she has “shown a willingness to learn very quickly and understand what we are trying to do. She is a physical center forward who knows how to play with her back to goal but also has the athletic ability of getting behind people.” 

Returner Gianna Camuso has come back ready to compete this year, with Kirkup saying, “She has gotten a lot stronger than last season and has shown some terrific glimpses of what she can do.” The new additions, Mia Bookhard and Mackenzie Tucker are also getting praise from their new head coach. “Wide forward, technically very good, and very pacey,” Kirkup said about Bookhard, with Tucker surprising Kirkup a bit in their scrimmage, who can play on either side out wide.

Additionally, he spoke highly of the pairing of Lesley Kiesling and Katelyn Fishnick, who are teammates at Kentucky – “They obviously know each other really well and they play a similar style…it is fun to watch them play.” 

Returning to the overall squad, Kirkup said, “Overall, the squad, I think, probably deeper than last year, and we still have people to come in that are finishing up exams and graduation, etc…but I am pretty happy with where we are at the moment – it will be interesting to see how we do Friday.”

In our closing talks about the roster makeup and the season ahead, I asked coach Kirkup how he feels about the squad’s ability to compete against the top teams of the Valley Division in Racing Louisville and Indy Eleven.

“It will be interesting to see what we look like this year because I really think this group is a stronger group than last year…As long as we can gel as a team, I hope we’ll be more competitive with those teams, perhaps more than we were last year….I am really hoping we are more competitive, but I think you are spot-on; it is one of the toughest conferences in the W-League. That’s not bad; I think it is good for us to measure ourselves against what is considered the best.”

Relationships with the other top coaches in Lexington

Outside of the roster breakdown and season preview, I asked Kirkup about his relationship with the 2 other top-level coaches in the city – Mike Dickey, the head coach of LSC’s senior professional team, and Troy Fabiano, the head coach of the University of Kentucky Women’s Soccer team.

There is a large crossover between Kentucky’s 2023 and future 2024 roster and the W-League squad, with Kirkup speaking on the excellent relationship that not only he but the club has developed with the Wildcat’s head coach, saying “He has been very supportive of us…the players he sends me have all been terrific, to be honest. He has supported us as well, he has come out to do a training with some of our youth teams. So, that I think will continue to grow, and it is really nice to have the UK players on the team – it’s a little bit of more local interest.”

The relationship with Coach Dickey is one of working together and having many conversations to ensure that the philosophy and playing style of the senior team will be reflected down through the academy and W-League teams as well. Dickey has supported the squad and helped shape the W-League roster for this season. “He and I, the way we think about the game is very, very similar. We are trying to do the same things that he wants his (USL) Super League team to do,” Kirkup said about the connection between the 2 squads, “so we may not be as accomplished as those players that he is going to bring in, but we’re still trying to play the same way. Build the ball out of the back, play through the thirds, be creative, and use your imagination in the final third. That is what we’re trying to do, and that’s his philosophy as well.”

As noted above, Lexington SC will kick off their 10-match regular season at home in Toyota Stadium, with a kickoff set for 7 pm. The club announced via socials yesterday afternoon that this match will be free for any who wish to attend, no purchase of a ticket necessary. Be sure to come on out and cheer on the potential future women’s soccer stars, and support the Girls in Green!


  • Jon Hunt

    Jon Hunt is an avid and enthusiastic soccer podcast host. Originally from the Detroit area, he now resides in central Kentucky. Jon brings passion and his love of soccer history to the Bluegrass Soccer Cast community. His ultimate goal is to continue the growth of soccer in America with a focus of the thriving soccer scene in Kentucky. #ProRelForUSA

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