Lady Topper soccer team now controls own Sun Belt destiny

Jonah Phillips

WKU endured another week of conference play over the weekend as the team walked away with a pair of wins after topping Troy at the WKU Soccer Complex on Friday and South Alabama in Mobile on Sunday.

The team’s fourth and fifth conference outings were good for two more shutouts and goals for WKU (7-3-4, 5-0-0 Sun Belt Conference) from freshman forward Iris Dunn and sophomore forward Lauren Moats.

The Lady Toppers’ 5-0 start to Sun Belt play is their best since they began the 2007 season with a 7-0 record in conference action.  This is the first year they have shut out their first five conference opponents in program history.

“A lot of shutouts have to do with mentality,” senior midfielder and team leader Chrissy Tchoula said. “We’ve been working on mentality a lot this season, and that just has to do with heart.”

Action began Friday when Troy (6-9-0, 2-3-0 SBC) came to Bowling Green to take on a Lady Topper squad perched in first place of the conference.

It wasn’t till the dying minutes of the game when Dunn finished off what had been a defensive standoff in the 86th minute. She netted the fourth goal of her young career, including the second game-winner.

“In the second half, we played with a lot of energy, and we played hard,” coach Jason Neidell said. “We battled. Sometimes you just grind out a win and today we found a way to grind out that win.”

Dunn’s goal was set up by fellow freshman defender Olivia Fitzgerald, who headed the ball to Dunn off senior goalkeeper Nora Abolins’ punt. Dunn darted down the right sideline to fire a shot from just inside the box, which Troy goalkeeper Madison Winter was able to deflect but not stop from rolling into the left corner.

“Obviously Iris has been a huge impact player,” Neidell said. “She kind of took over the game for that 15 to 20 seconds it took to score that goal.”

Dunn’s game-winner propelled her to top scorer in the Sun Belt Conference this season, tied for the position with Clarissa Hernandez of South Alabama and Yazmin Montoya of Louisiana-Lafayette. She leads WKU with nine points on the year.

Sunday’s game proved to be similar in ways. Moats scored in the second half of an otherwise goalless match, this time in the foreign territory of Mobile against South Alabama.

Moats scored off freshman forward Kelly Phipps’ pass in the 68th minute to push WKU past South Alabama 1-0 and keep the Lady Toppers perfect in Sun Belt play.

With the win against South Alabama, WKU is now in the driver’s seat of the Sun Belt Conference.

Phipps set up was good for her first career assist, saving the ball before it rolled out of bounds with a sliding cross. Moats fired off a shot good for her third goal of the season and 10th of her career.

“In practice, we’ve been working a lot on attacking in transition,” Dunn said. “But (against Troy) we got the job done and we’re rewarded with the win for our hard work and mentality.”

Abolins and the Lady Topper back line recorded their fifth consecutive shutout and seventh of the season. WKU fended off an aggressive Lady Jaguar attack that fired 15 shots, including five on goal.

“Across the back we are athletic,” Neidell said. “More athletic than the forwards we’re playing, but across the board our organization has been solid.”

Abolins and the back line have now not allowed a goal in 575:03 minutes of play dating back to Sept. 20.

“We have a really strong back line,” Tchoula said of WKU’s defensive success. “Their spacing has been really good, and they stay very disciplined.  Discipline is what has helped us keep goals out of the back of our net.”

WKU stays on the road next weekend for a pair of league matches against Arkansas State and Arkansas-Little Rock, with both kickoffs set for 1 p.m. on Friday and Sunday.