Freshmen add depth for Lady Topper soccer team

WKU freshman midfielder Haley Baldridge passes the ball. during WKU’s 2-1 victory against Indiana State in Bowling Green, Ky., on Sunday.

Jonah Phillips

When WKU soccer coach Jason Neidell announced the biggest freshman class he had ever signed before this season, a new era was born — and these players have already made an immediate and direct impact.

This massive class — 11 deep — filled the plates of both the coaching staff and the veteran players, who immediately were given the task of ushering such a large portion of the team into a completely new environment both on and off the field.  

“They have come in very physically fit,” Neidell said. “They are strong enough for the college game.  They also definitely have a learning curve, and I think they know that. You will continue to see them get better and better as the season goes on.”

Along with the 11 freshman, the Lady Toppers returned eight starters, but even that couldn’t hush concerns about the team being able to mesh and communicate well enough for the season-opener against Utah.

Luckily for the team, not only was this the largest recruitment class in the program’s 12 year history, it was also one of the most talented.

Spearheading the freshman attack is midfielder Haley Baldridge, who arguably has made the biggest impact of the freshman thus far.  Not only did she score the only Lady Topper goal in their preseason game against Morehead to secure the tie, but Baldridge also gave the Lady Toppers their first goal of the season against Indiana State, helping the squad to their first win with a 2-1 victory

“It’s definitely been a challenge to mesh with so many other freshman coming in as well and so many of us playing,” she said. “But we’ve definitely gotten a lot better since training began.

Baldridge said communication between the younger and older players has helped them mesh during the first few games.

“The seniors have done awesome leading us,” she said. “Letting us know what to do and where to be — it’s made the process a lot smoother.

The sheer number of new players is not the only barrier of communication WKU must topple. The depth of the roster also proves a challenge to get used to as well.

“When so many of us (freshman) are getting to play, and our team is so big, and you have people coming in and out all the time, there are a lot of different parts that go into winning a game,” freshman striker Iris Dunn said. “Just figuring out how everybody plays, and how everyone is going to mesh together has been a challenge.

Baldridge and Dunn combine for a deadly attack for the Lady Toppers. Dunn found Baldridge with a pass that the Liberty, Mo., native would smash into the back of the net for WKU’s first goal of the regular season.

These two are not the only freshman to look out for — freshmen accounted for a staggering amount of WKU’s total offense this past weekend against Rice and ISU, firing 27 of the Lady Toppers 47 shots

“At this point, I’d say it would be near impossible to have the chemistry that we had at the tail end of last season, and it’s not just the younger players,” Neidell said. “The team is still trying to figure out who plays what kind of game and so on.

Midfielders Caitlin Hesse and Christine Gordon, as well as defender Olivia Fitzgerald are just a few that have seen significant minutes in their young Lady Toppers careers.

“Adjusting is just a process,” Neidell said. “Not only have these been (the freshman’s) first college soccer games, but it was also their first week of school and their first time in their new city.  It’s all been a process that we are still working on, and we will continue to grow as the season goes on.”