WKU earns shutout victory over Southern Miss

Tyler Mansfield

After opening its Conference USA slate with a road win at Marshall University back on Sept. 15, the WKU women’s soccer team posted another league victory last Thursday night as it defeated the University of Southern Mississippi 1-0.

The win marked the Lady Toppers’ (7-3-0 overall, 2-0-0 C-USA) fourth-straight consecutive shutout and extended their shutout streak to 443 minutes, as the club hasn’t allowed a goal since the sixth minute against Louisiana State University Sept. 8.

WKU has opened C-USA play with 180 minutes of scoreless defense in the two matches it has played.

“A hard-fought win, nonetheless, and another three points, so I think we feel really, really good,” Head Coach Jason Neidell said following the win. “I told the girls to celebrate and we’re going to come back tomorrow [Friday] and get to work.”

Freshman forward Chandler Backes found the back of the net in the 25 minute mark to score her league-leading ninth goal of the season and to help her squad stay in the win column.

On the defensive side of the ball, junior goalkeeper Allison Leone tallied her fourth consecutive solo shutout as she made a pair of saves while playing the full 90 minutes.

“The defense has been awesome,” Leone stated. “Like Olivia [Fitzgerald], Makenzie [Costner], Cailtin [Hesse] –– whoever has come in there has a done great job. Just sticking with our system of play, getting the job done and just making my job a little easier back there.”

Redshirt sophomore midfielder Sarah Gorham led all players with four shots –– two of which were on goal. Senior forward Iris Dunn also fired three shots for the Lady Tops.

As for the Golden Eagles, senior defender Breann Hedin attempted a pair of shots, but WKU’s dominant defense held USM to just a pair of shots on goal –– the sixth time in the last seven outings in which its opponents have been held to three or fewer.

Both sides struggled to get their respected offenses going in the early part of the opening half until Backes netted the eventual game-winner at the 25:33 mark.

Backes received a cross from Dunn on the right side and sent a header low and past USM’s senior goalkeeper Brittany Taylor for the go-ahead score.

WKU almost doubled its lead on a try from Dunn in the 33rd minute, but the shot went just left of the post. Three minutes later, Gorham attempted a header, but it was saved by Taylor as the two sides headed into the locker rooms with the Lady Tops holding a 1-0 advantage.

Senior defender Dee Dee Green nearly added to WKU’s lead just a little under 10 minutes into the second half as she made a long run with possession down the left side, but Taylor was there for the stop.

Southern Miss’ best opportunity to tie things came at the 84-minute mark on a scramble inside the Lady Tops’ box.

Hedin sent a strike that was saved, but not controlled by Leone and senior midfielder Somer Jones’ shot on the rebound was kicked to the left side of the goal to bring the contest to a close.

“It was really important to get off on the right foot in the Conference USA race,” Neidell noted. “The win tonight gives us six points and we will be joining some other teams in first place, but we really needed to get those two wins under our belts because we have a really tough away weekend coming up.”

WKU will hit the road for Texas for a 7 p.m., CDT, meeting in Houston against Rice University on Sept. 30 before kicking off with the University of North Texas Oct. 2 at 1 p.m. CDT in Denton.

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