WKU returns to home turf, led by Barnett & Erwin’s multi-goal performance

WKU women’s soccer player Katie Erwin (13) celebrates with her teammate Ambere Barnett (15) after a big goal to put Western up two goals against their opponent FIU after their game on March 4, 2021.

Ian Fleischman

The Lady Toppers (3-1), (2-0, C-USA) returned to the WKU Soccer Complex to play a match for the first time in 496 days Thursday evening. WKU continued their spring against Conference USA opponent Florida International (2-4), (0-1, C-USA). 

Head coach Jason Neidell said postgame he couldn’t believe it had been as long as it had been since his team’s last home game which was back on Oct. 25, 2019. 

“I think it was 490 days, and I was like, wow that’s a really long time since we’ve had a home game and played the game they love,” Neidell said.

WKU won its third consecutive game 4-3 over the Lady Panthers, led by multi-goal nights from junior Ambere Barnett and sophomore Katie Erwin. 

“Honestly, we were trying to come out and just win,” Barnett said. “So, it was good that we pulled through, gave up a couple of goals, but we came back and did what we needed to do today.”

Nidell said postgame he was amazed by Erwin and Barnett’s performance.

“Katie Erwin was spectacular tonight. Both attacking and defending. Her fitness level took her through, and she rode this wave of momentum through the game,” Neidell said. “She was just really creating chances right and left for us, and Ambere’s a special player. She did what she does best. The second goal where she brought the ball out of the air was just a great touch.”

The Lady Panthers officially started C-USA play against the Lady Toppers. Senior defender Avery Jacobsen and Barnett continued to play a huge role in the Lady Toppers’ stellar performance. 

The Lady Toppers and Lady Panthers went back and forth in the first minutes of the game. FIU junior goalkeeper Kiera Gibson came up with three saves early in the match. 

The key for the first 15 minutes of the game was excellent defense by both teams.

Barnett struck first blood at 15 minutes after being issued a penalty kick. She now has three goals on the season as WKU took the lead 1-0 over the Lady Panthers.

The Lady Toppers followed their goal with relentless shots on the goal. WKU’s sophomore forward Katie Erwin had a shot and a miss at the 15 minute mark. Freshman midfielder Brina Micheels followed up with three shots at the 15, 17 and 19 minute mark. 

Barnett attempted to boot her second goal of the game at the 24 minute, but Gibson came up with another steal. That put her at five saves on the night.

The first yellow card of the game came at 29 minutes on FIU’s junior midfielder Laia Munoz Danon. 

Lady Topper sophomore forward Taylor Stanley shot a dagger at the Lady Panthers’ goal, but Gibson snagged it to come up with her sixth save on the night.

The first half came to a close, and it was safe to say it would be a very defensive matchup. Both teams had standouts from the first half. 

Barnett’s goal helped the Lady Toppers keep the ball in the Lady Panthers’ territory for most of the first half. That in return helped Gibson come up with an outstanding six saves in the first half of play. 

“The defense did so well tonight,” Barnett said. “I feel so comfortable with them back there, any defender that comes back I know that they’re gonna have my back no matter what.”

WKU sophomore goalkeeper Ashley Kobylinski saw a quiet first half with one attempted shot from FIU junior Laia Danon Munoz

At the 45 minute mark of the second half, Gibson came up with her seventh save off an attempt by sophomore forward Ansley Cate. At the 49 minutes, Gibson came up with her eighth save of the game off a shot from WKU junior forward Chelsea Moore.

The Lady Toppers started the second half strong with Erwin scoring her first goal of the spring at the 55th minute off an assist from Barnett. The Lady Toppers rose their lead 2-0.

“She worked her butt off,” Barnett said of Erwin. “I am so proud of her. I’m so happy that she got the goals because she really did it today.” 

Florida International responded quickly, and junior Alyssa Storey scored her first goal of the season. The Lady Panthers cut the Lady Toppers’ lead 2-1.

The second yellow card of the game was called on Erwin 64 minutes in.

WKU poured on the goals in the next 10 minutes of play as Erwin and Barnett scored their second goals of the match to extend the lead to 4-1.

The Lady Panthers refused to go out quietly with Storey’s second goal off an assist from sophomore midfielder Carmen Marin. The Lady Panthers cut the Lady Toppers’ lead 4-2.

Florida International wouldn’t stop there as they continued to fight back. FIU’s junior forward Idelys Vazquez scored off junior Munoz Danon’s assist. The Lady Panthers cut the Lady Toppers’ lead 4-3.

The third yellow card of the game was called on Lady Topper Ellie Belcher.

WKU would go on to hold the lead and win their third consecutive game 4-3 over FIU. 

Up next WKU will continue their homestand against Centre College on March 6 at 2 p.m.

“Although they’re a division three opponent they are a national power in the division three,” Neidell said. “I think their record over the last two years is 42-1-1. They’ve lost one game in the last few years. We’re expecting a battle. We’ve been able to scout them a little bit, but really kind of rest and recover.” 

Neidell emphasized utilizing the depth of the team to adjust to the turnaround game on Saturday against Centre College.

Soccer beat reporter Ian Fleischman can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ian_fleischman.