Soccer team starts season with high expecations

WKU senior midfielder Andrea Curry passes the ball during the Toppers’ season opener against Utah. The Toppers would lose the game 0-2. 

Jonah Phillips

When a team has come as painstakingly close to claiming the Sun Belt Conference title as the Lady Toppers have over the last five years, expectations are going to be high.

Since 2007, the Lady Toppers have a combined 43 conference wins and a regular-season title in 2007, yet the squad hasn’t quite been able to finish off with a bang as WKU has lost a pair Sun Belt championship matches.

For Coach Jason Neidell, the only head coach in the history of the soccer program, expectations have never been higher.

Players and coaches sense that conditions are on point for a title run and a first ever WKU appearance at the NCAA tournament.

No one is more aware of the anticipation than Neidell himself, who referenced the record-setting crowd of 654 at the home opener vs. Utah on Friday as an example.

“For 654 fans to come out and support WKU soccer, that’s huge,” Neidell said after the game. “We really appreciate the student body, McNeil Elementary, and all of our others fans for braving the heat and cheering our girls on today.”

Anchoring the squad that returned nine seniors from their 12-5-3 campaign in 2012 is senior midfielder Chrissy Tchoula, the preseason Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year, and senior defender Torrie Lange, the preseason Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year.

These two hold down a Lady Topper midfield and defense that has only allowed three of their last 31 opponents to score multiple goals, and finished with a .82 goals against average rate in 2012.  

WKU lost three starters from last season and is picked to win the Sun Belt Conference by eight out of nine league coaches in the preseason poll.

Associate head coach Chris Tinius said the squad’s biggest objective is making it to postseason play.

“We’ve won a regular season championship and we’ve been to the tournament final twice,” Tinius said. “But the one thing none of us have ever done is gone to the NCAA Tournament. It doesn’t matter where we are picked in the polls; that is our goal at the end of the day.”

The experienced athletes have more than just winning games on their plate this season. They also face the task of ushering in a talented 11-member freshman class. These new faces are what Neidell believes to be the deciding factor in achieving the goals set by his squad this season.

With all of these contributing factors, expectations are at an all-time high and all the spotlight is on the Lady Toppers.

Lange said his team can match those expectations by taking practice and games seriously.

“Nobody in the history of WKU soccer has won the title that we are seeking,” said Lange. “We know that we have a very, very good chance of winning the conference tournament and making it to the NCAA Tournament, but we have to take it game by game, week by week and practice by practice.”