Lady Tops show improvement in weekend split

Sophomore forward Iris Dunn battles University of Tennessee’s Carlyn Baldwin (11), Susan Ferguson (20), and Cheyenne Spade (6) for possession of the ball during the first half of WKU’s Sept. 5 match. The Lady Hilltoppers lost 2-0 to the Lady Volunteers. Brandon Carter/HERALD

John Reecer

WKU soccer split its two home matchups this weekend, dropping a close contest to UTEP 2-1 in overtime on Friday before breaking a three-game losing skid with a 3-1 win against UTSA on Sunday.

WKU (7-5, 2-3 Conference USA) now sits in ninth place in the Conference USA standings and with the win on Sunday, the Lady Toppers improved to 1-2 during their current homestand.

The Lady Toppers dropped a 2-1 overtime decision against UTEP on Friday in wet conditions despite netting the first goal of the game in the 32nd minute.

 Freshman defender Nahyo Jalajel blasted a free kick into the left corner of UTEP’s net from roughly 35 yards out to gain the early advantage for WKU. The goal marked the first of her career.

However, the remainder of the contest proved to be unsuccessful for WKU as UTEP netted a goal in the 36th minute to force overtime before notching another in the 96th minute to win the game in overtime.

“Our one-on-one defending is terrible-. It is our Achilles’ heel, and it has cost us most of the games we have lost this season,” Head Coach Jason Neidell said. “Until we get better at one-on-one defending we will continue to struggle. We created enough chances to win the game, but having to score three goals to win is hard to do in this sport.”

The loss marks the first time since 2005 that WKU has dropped two straight conference home matches.

The Lady Toppers’ luck changed significantly in a 3-1 victory against UTSA on Sunday — earning WKU its second conference win of the season. 

“Everyone is excited but it’s almost a sense of relief,” Neidell said. “We are not used to being 1-3 in conference play, and I think there is a little bit of a sense of relief now that we can fix some of the problems we’ve been having and move forward in a really positive way.”

The Lady Toppers found themselves in a battle for possession for 41 minutes before sophomore midfielder Alex Lonneman scored her first-career goal in the 42nd minute off a deflection in front of the goal.

“I think we have been itching for this win for a while,” Lonneman said. “This was just our game. We all said that today is the day for us, and we are going to get this momentum and carry it out through the rest of the season.”

Freshman forwards Bria Mosley and Shayna Dheel added goals in the 51st and 57th minutes, respectively, to put the game away. Nevertheless, Neidell said after the win that certain areas of WKU’s play need improvement moving forward.

 “Our one-on-one defending is getting better in certain spots on the field and not in others,” Neidell said. “We have been having problems out wide in the back. Our outside backs did a much better job defensively today, but it’s just not happening elsewhere on the field.”

WKU continues its five-game homestand at the WKU Soccer Complex this weekend as it plays host to rival Middle Tennessee on Friday and UAB on Sunday.