Soccer team falls short of NCAA Tournament berth

Jonah Phillips

The Lady Topper soccer team fell one game short of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history over the weekend.

WKU won its first two Sun Belt Conference Tournament games but couldn’t recover from a 20th minute goal Sunday afternoon in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament Championship as the Lady Toppers fell 1-0 to South Alabama.

It was the final game for a WKU senior class that picked up 58 total wins and went to two Sun Belt Conference Tournament title games.

South Alabama was able to secure the league’s only NCAA Tournament bid from WKU (10-6-5) thanks in part to the fact that the Lady Jaguars had more momentum coming into the title game, according to associate coach Chris Tinius.

“When you have two teams that have played three games in five days, I think momentum comes into play a lot and I think (USA) grabbed some early momentum,” Tinius said.

South Alabama’s Morgan Moats, the 2013 Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Year, scored the deciding goal in early in the first half, her 16th score of the season.

Tinius said despite the outcome, he was pleased with the way his team performed.

“When you look at the score of the game, it’s hard not to get caught up in it,” Tinius said. “But I think if you look at the big picture, we put together some of the best soccer we’ve played all season this tournament.”

Freshman forward Iris Dunn was in top form for the entire tournament. The freshman was good for two game winners over the weekend, one against Arkansas-Little Rock and the other against Texas State. It was the first time any WKU player has accomplished this feat.

The Lady Topper’s closest chance of equalizing came in the 84th minute, when senior forward Andrea Curry sent a ball deep into the middle of the box. Dunn rose above the crowd and put a clean header on the ball but it rolled just right of the goal post.

Coach Jason Neidell said the close wins were par for the course for his low-scoring, defensive-minded squad.

“We don’t score very much, so we’re destined to win by one or two goals,” Neidell said. “But the mentality has gotten stronger each and every game and it showed in the tournament.”

The Lady Toppers outshot South Alabama 16-14 on the day, including an 11-5 advantage in the second half. Senior goalkeeper Nora Abolins and the backline were solid after the early goal, only surrendering four more shots on goal in the first half and two in the second.

Dunn, Abolins, senior midfielder Chrissy Tchoula and sophomore defender Alanna Clancey gained All-Sun Belt Conference Tournament honors at the conclusion of the game, tying a program record for the most selections in a single season.

Despite the late loss, the Lady Toppers ended their season clenching a Sun Belt Conference regular season title, and a program record seven players on the All-Sun Belt team. Tinius said he was pleased with WKU’s efforts.

“Overall it was a good showing,” Tinius said. “You want to be playing your best soccer at the end of the season.”