Lady Toppers win two over weekend

Tyler Mansfield

The WKU women’s soccer team played two home matches this weekend and earned shutouts in both.

The Lady Toppers (10-4-0 overall, 5-1-0 Conference USA) defeated longtime rival Middle Tennessee State University Friday with a 1-0 win and then put a 2-0 downing on the University of Alabama at Birmingham Sunday, Oct. 9.

WKU has now won seven of its last eight contests and has collected 15 points in C-USA play. With Sunday’s shutout, it was also the Lady Tops’ eighth of the season, five of which have come in conference play.

“We’re really excited,” Head Coach Jason Neidell said following his team’s victory over MTSU. “A win tonight was a really important win. Another three points, another shutout –– our defense has just been very stingy; just excited to be in the position we’re in.”

On Friday against the Blue Raiders, junior midfielder Andrea Larsen was able to find the back of the net at the 39-minute mark to score the eventual match-winning goal to help push WKU over the club from Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Senior forward Iris Dunn led all players with three shots and a pair of shots on goal while five other Lady Tops also had shots on target.

Junior defender Nahyo Jalajel was credited with the assist on Larsen’s goal as she served in a free kick from the right side of the field and placed it into the box where the junior found it with her head.

In goal for WKU, junior goalkeeper Allison Leone recorded her sixth solo shutout on the year with two saves while playing the full 90 minutes.

The Lady Tops’ offense came out of the gates firing, as they forced Barnard into four saves over the opening 20 minutes of action.

Dunn tried a close header but was stopped in the seventh minute before Jalajel nearly netted the go-ahead goal just over a minute later on a hard strike from 25-yards out, but WKU couldn’t get anything to go through.

Larsen provided the breakthrough at the 38-minute mark of Jalajel’s free kick. Played in from the right side, Larsen met the ball with her head and sent it into the right corner to beat Barnard and give the Lady Tops the 1-0 lead heading into the locker room.

Neither team was able to get a shot on goal over the final 20 minutes of the game, as WKU held on for the win in the rivalry match.

In Sunday’s outing versus the Blazers, Dunn was able to score her fourth goal of the season at the 21-minute mark while freshman forward Chandler Backes netted her 10th score at the 41-minute mark to help give the Lady Tops another check in the win column.

WKU controlled most of the match, as it out-shot UAB, 12-9 and had a 6-3 advantage in shots on goal. The Lady Tops were also awarded four corner kicks compared to Alabama-Birmingham’s one.

“I thought we played fantastic today,” Neidell said. “I thought we were outstanding in the first half –– probably the best half we’ve played all season. I thought we managed the game well in the second half.”

Dunn led WKU with four shots, including two on goal, while Backes, junior forward Bria Mosely, senior midfielder Caitlin Hesse and sophomore midfielder Nicole Roseland also recorded shots on goal.

In goal for the Lady Tops, Leone registered her seventh solo shutout while also making three saves. She has a record of 10-3 so far on the 2016 campaign.

Both sides attempted four total shots throughout the opening 20 minutes before Dunn scored on a header at the 20 minute mark, which was assisted by Hesse and freshman forward Erin Jones, who made her first collegiate start. The goal gave the Lady Tops the 1-0 lead.

“It was pretty awesome to get another goal in,” Dunn said. “It was a great cross from Erin [Jones], so it was just really cool to be able to help the team out.”

Jones said she was nervous at first, but calmed down and was able to play her game.

“It was pretty intimidating since I hadn’t started this season, but I was glad it happened,” Jones said. “I was glad it [her assist to Dunn leading to the score] happened. I got an awesome pass and I just took it down and crossed it and Iris [Dunn] was luckily there to finish it.”

Just 20 minutes later, WKU doubled its lead on Backes’ goal. Mosley and sophomore midfielder Megan Morris, who were credited with the assist, were able to find the freshman who sent a shot to the lower corner from 23-yards out to give the Lady Tops the 2-0 advantage over UAB.

The Blazers would try a few shots throughout the remainder of the match, but they wouldn’t be able to get any to go through the net, as WKU closed out another victorious league homestand.

“I think the way we played today, if we can bottle that up and just keep that going, we’re going to just fine,” Neidell said. “We’ve been very stingy defensively and I think if we can just be consistent now, I think we’ve got the product we want on the field.”

The Lady Tops will return to action on the road in Florida this upcoming weekend. WKU will meet Florida Atlantic University to open the road swing on Friday, Oct. 14, at 6 p.m. in Boca Raton, Florida, before meeting Florida International University to close it out in Miami at Noon on Sunday, Oct, 16.

Reporter Tyler Mansfield can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @ByMansfield.