Never Backes Down: Freshman forward finds early success at WKU

Freshman Forward Chandler Backes (5) races Morehead State’s defender Taylor Stivers (3) for possession of the ball during WKU’s 2-0 win Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016, at the WKU Soccer Complex.

Tyler Mansfield

Pride, dedication, talent and integrity are just a handful of the many words that can be used to describe freshman forward Chandler Backes’ soccer career.

Those adjectives have all translated to her time at WKU as the young player is currently leading the WKU women’s soccer team in goals and points.

It began back when she was just three years old playing recreationally and has now brought her to WKU where she is the top scoring threat on the team.

“My oldest sister always played golf, so she was never really into soccer, but my middle sister, Brooke, had started playing soccer when she was young, too,” Backes said. “She’s four years older than me, so just being the typical younger sister, I followed her around everywhere and went to all of her soccer games and so I think then that just sparked my interest of wanting to play soccer.”

Backes said Brooke suffered a significant injury back in her junior season of high school and was able to make an eye-catching return the following year. Because of that, the 18-year-old calls her middle sister her “greatest influence.”

“In high school, she got taken out by the goalkeeper and broke both of the bones in her leg, so her season was over,” Backes stated. “So she had to get rods and screws and all of that in, made a full recovery and then her senior year she got to play and they won state. So it was kind of like, ‘Wow. Cinderella story.’ Like she got hurt, she recovered, came back and scored on the goalkeeper that broke her leg. So that was like, ‘Wow. If my sister can come back and do that, I can do anything.’ Pretty motivating.”

The player was a four-year forward at Carmel High School in Carmel, Indiana. With the dominant program coached by veteran Frank Dixon, Backes was able to score 23 total goals on 202 shots for 65 points along with 19 assists.

In her final season with the Greyhounds, who went 15-1-2 overall, she found the back of the net five times for 16 points and also tallied six assists.

Her former coach calls Backes a “dominant player in high school.”

“Her sister, Brooke, played for us and was Ms. Soccer and I think Chandler, just being the younger sister, wanted to follow in her footsteps,” Dixon said. “She had a really exceptional high school career. She played varsity as a freshman and was just a great player for us.”

As for Backes, she is proud to have played at the school under Dixon with the teammates she did.

“So, I went to a pretty big high school –– we have about 5,000 kids in it,” Backes noted. “Our coach has been there for a very long time and he understands the game and he understands the level of competition we play. My teammates were all high-level players –– so, I got to be surrounded by really good athletes. Olivia Fitzgerald [senior defender at WKU] –– I got to play with her for one year because we went to the same high school.”

With her being a standout athlete, Backes was shown plenty of interest by college teams. However, she knew she wanted to be a Lady Topper from the start.

“I mean, the campus and everything is awesome, but really the communication I had with the coaches [sold me],” Backes said. “When I talked to Jason [Neidell] and everything, he would call me basically every week and just check-in on me, and to me that was like, ‘Wow. Like he really cares about me. He really wants me to be here.'”

Head Coach Jason Neidell says his forward is a very hard worker, and that’s what caught his eye when recruiting her.

“I first noticed her as a freshman,” Neidell said. “She was very athletic and had a nose for the goal. She loved chasing down balls. She loved battling defenders. Chandler isn’t afraid to do the dirty work. For us, she does more than score goals –– she gets others involved.”

Backes says she loves playing for Neidell and the rest of the coaching staff.

“You know, there’s definitely times where they get angry with you, but what I like is that they’re always hard on me and always pushing me to become a better player,” Backes said. “They’re never letting me just settle to my standards.”

In just nine games for the Lady Tops, Backes has already netted eight goals. Not only has that helped her Conference USA club outscore opponents and win matches, but it has also given her plenty of recognition.

Backes currently leads all of the league in goals scored and has already received a C-USA Offensive Player of the Week honor, which was WKU’s first since the 2014 season.

She was also named to’s National Team of the Week after a three-goal weekend back in the earlier part of the month.

“You know, I came into this season with the mindset that I wanted to do big things,” Backes said. “It’s a lot of being in the right spot at the right time, and a lot of it does come from all of my teammates. But, it’s been pretty awesome, so hopefully I can continue to score more goals.”

As for the people she plays with, Backes says she and her teammates all connect as one and their bonds off of the field contribute to their success on it.

“We have one of the best team chemistry’s that I have ever been a part of,” Backes said. “Everyone was so welcoming when I first got here and I didn’t even feel like a freshman. And our coaches always say that when we’re out on the field, our chemistry is so good that you can’t even tell who the freshmen are.”

“We all get along really well,” Backes said. “We all can make jokes about each other and be funny and just have a good time. I feel like that translates onto the field and it makes us more comfortable around each other.”

With a great player comes great goals, and Backes has several more goals in her sights as her time at WKU is just getting started.

“I for sure want to make the NCAAs –– that’s huge, as I’m sure everybody else on our team does,” Backes said. “Winning a conference championship and making it to the NCAAs would just be incredible. Personally, in my four years, I would like to be the C-USA Player of the Year at least once.

Backes will look to continue her hot start as she and the Lady Tops return to action tonight at 7 p.m. against the University of Southern Mississippi at the WKU Soccer Complex.

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