Kicking it again, Lady Topper soccer is back

WKU senior Kaylyn Bryant (14) takes the field before the game against UAB at the WKU Soccer Complex on Friday, Aug 26, 2019.

Sean Snyder

WKU women’s soccer is back and “hungry” for the sought-after Conference USA Championship trophy following the unprecedented cancelation of its spring 2020 season.

“We finally have the schedule set, and we’re excited about the season,” head coach Jason Neidell said. “These players are hungry. These are gonna be the players to go all the way and leave a legacy behind.”

The season unofficially began in Louisville Saturday with an exhibition match against Bellarmine University, where the Lady Toppers previewed their strong defense ending the game in a 0-0 draw. The Lady Toppers offense came in just as hot, outshooting 6-4 against the Knights.

Following a second exhibition against Lipscomb on Feb. 2, the season will kick off down south where the Lady Toppers take on North Alabama.

This will be their first official match following an unprecedented 463 days without playing an official game, and the first time in WKU soccer’s 20-year history the two teams will meet on the field.

WKU will head back home for a three-game stretch where they’ll have highly anticipated official rematches with both Bellarmine and Lipscomb. They will then take on Xavier for the first time since 2012, where the Lady Toppers lived up to their name edging out a 2-1 victory.

Another landmark for the Lady Toppers is their first match against Louisville in nearly 15 years, when the Cardinals last managed a victory of 2-1. Louisville is coming off an explosive 2019 season leading 5-3-2 in conference play and 13-5-2 overall. The home game is slated for March 27.

“Our kids are so excited for that instate rivalry against Louisville,” Neidell said. “Louisville went to the second round of the NCAA Atlantic Sun in 2019, making them a pretty good opponent. Other than the issue of limited capacity, the opportunity to have them as a home game is fantastic.”

The C-USA portion of the spring will begin away from the Hill against Middle Tennessee State University on Feb. 26. Fans will be excited to see the return of longtime C-USA rival Florida International on March 4.

The two teams have gone toe-to-toe in 17 matches with WKU going 9-5-3 against the Panthers since 2004.

The Panthers are coming off a less-than-successful 2019 season, only managing 2-15 overall and 0-10 in conference compared to the Lady Toppers 10-7-1 and 6-4.

The team has managed to hold onto senior and team captain Avery Jacobsen, who’s played a major role in WKU’s defense, holding opponents to 19 goals — the ninth fewest in program history. Junior Ambere Barnett also begins her third season with 14 career assists, being tied in sixth place in Lady Topper history.

Although the season has been pushed back to spring versus the usual fall start date, the Lady Toppers have wasted no time conditioning their upcoming team. Having an extra semester has not only allowed for the team’s eight freshmen to have more training, but also become better acclimated to college and their fellow Lady Toppers.

“We’ve been doing little activities where one day we did yoga, one day we did fun games, but it was just us over Zoom,” Barnett said. “It was nice to be able to see each other without physically seeing each other. We can only be together during practice, so it was nice to have that bond– ing time.”

The Lady Toppers 15-game season will conclude on April 9 in the WKU Soccer Complex against C-USA foe Charlotte, who last pulled out a victory of 2-1 back in 2019.

Soccer beat reporter Sean Snyder can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @seanwsnyder