The Lady Toppers soccer team defeated University of Tennessee-Martin 7-1 on Friday, Aug. 19, but fell to the University of Memphis 2-0 on Sunday to start off its season.
WKU found itself on both highs and lows through the weekend as the results of the two matches were vastly different.
On Friday, WKU faced Ohio Valley Conference foe UT-Martin in Martin, Tennessee.
Head coach Jason Neidell and his players succeeded in their intentions of starting the season out on a high note, as four different Lady Toppers found the back of net enroute to a dominant 7-1 victory over the Skyhawks to open the regular-season.
“We’ve got a lot of things to work on, but I think our kids are itching and excited to get out on the game field,” Neidell said as he previewed the first two matches of the year.
Prior to this past weekend’s contests, the Lady Toppers participated in two exhibition tilts against Northern Kentucky University and the Xaiver Musketeers.
WKU went 1-1 in that part of the season’s schedule, as it fell 1-0 on a late goal by the Norse, but recorded a 2-0 win on the road in Cincinnati against the Musketeers.
“I really think the two exhibitions were really beneficial to us,” Neidell said. “We were really a better team on Sunday [at Xaiver] than we were on Friday [vs. NKU] and we were better each half, so I think we took a lot away from preseason exhibition games.”
Against UT-Martin, the Lady Toppers’ dominance began with a quick goal by redshirt sophomore midfielder Sarah Gorham.
Gorham, who was set up on the left side, got the ball after a pair of passes from freshman forward Chandler Backes and senior midfielder Caitlin Hesse. She then ran past a Norse defender and scored from just inside the box to give WKU an early 1-0 lead just over three minutes into the match.
The score by Gorham would be the program’s milestone 500 goal.
Just over two minutes following the goal, Hesse was found open at the center of the arc at the top of the box by senior midfielder Haley Baldridge and drove past NKU’s goalkeeper MaKenzie Crawford to get herself a goal of her own, increasing WKU’s lead to 2-0.
Making her debut for the Lady Toppers, Backes scored twice just four minutes apart for her first two collegiate goals, giving WKU a 4-0 edge after 15 minutes of play.
Backes’ first goal came in 12 minutes after the freshman beat her defender and found herself in a one-on-one situation with Crawford before doing quite the same in the 16th minute.
“We have a lot of new freshmen in here,” Hesse said in regards of younger players that could play big roles this season. “Chandler Backes was a really good forward this past weekend [in the exhibitions]. Just all of the freshmen have come in and done really well.”
Leading 4-0 at the 35:23 mark of the match, junior defender Shayna Dheel, headed in the rebound to cap the first half scoring and gave the Lady Toppers a strong 5-0 lead at halftime.
WKU would find the back of the net twice more in the second half. Gorham got the ball in good position off of Jalajel’s placement on the kick and scored from 10 yards out to make it 6-0 at 69 minutes.
Later on at the 84 minute mark, freshman defender Kaylyn Bryant scored the first goal of her collegiate career following Gorham’s attempt after sophomore midfielder Nicole Roseland’s corner to make it a 7-0 game.
NKU would keep themselves from being shutout, however, as sophomore Maggie Burkett was able to connect late in the match on a low line drive shot from 30 yards out.
After grabbing the 7-1 win, WKU would look to keep their hot streak going into Sunday’s matchup in Memphis. That wouldn’t be the case, though, as the Lady Toppers dropped a 2-0 decision to the Tigers off of two header goals in the second half by the same Memphis forward.
WKU prevented their opponent from taking control of the game early as junior goalkeeper Allison Leone stopped the Tigers from scoring on several occasions.
The Lady Toppers’ experienced net protector would go on to record six saves in a quiet first half as both clubs were scoreless although 12 shots were taken, 11 of which were by Memphis.
In the second half, the Tigers struck at the 66:08 mark to score the contest’s first goal and give the home club a 1-0 lead on a header from Valerie Sanderson.
Trailing with a little less than twenty minutes remaining in the game, WKU was outrun by Sanderson, who found the back of the net once again off another header, just about four minutes apart from her first score.
Although the Lady Toppers would be awarded two corner kicks toward the end and attempted two more shots, nothing would go in their favor as they fell short at the Mike Rose Soccer Complex to wrap up the season’s opening weekend.
WKU (1-1) will be back in action on Friday as it travels to Oxford, Ohio, for a meeting with the University of Miami at Ohio. The match is set to begin at 3 p.m.
Reporter Tyler Mansfield can be reached at 270-745-6291 [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @ByMansfield.