WKU advances to C-USA Semifinal, Hopkins lifts Lady Toppers over UAB

WKU soccer head coach Jason Neidell holding the first C-USA East Division title trophy in program history. Neidell has been the program’s only coach in the team’s existence. 

Drew Toennies

The Lady Toppers (8-1-2), (5-0-2, C-USA) shut out the Alabama-Birmingham Blazers (8-6-1), (3-4-0, C-USA) 1-0 in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA tournament to advance to the semifinals.

This is WKU’s first C-USA win in postseason play since joining the conference in 2013. 

“Every game now is a special moment,” head coach Jason Neidell said. “We said before the game that we’re going to need to be stingy and proud defensively and then there was going to be moments of brilliance for someone, and they were going to have to come through for us and that’s exactly the way the game lands.” 

WKU freshman Annah Hopkins scored the lone goal of the game at the 32nd minute of the match to give WKU the lead and ultimately propel the Lady Toppers over the Blazers.

“It’s especially meaningful because it’s our 20th season anniversary,” Neidell said. “At practice last week I took a few moments to thank our student-athletes, they’re the ones on the field playing and competing.”

{{tncms-inline account=”WKU Soccer” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Lady Toppers win!!WKU advances to the C-USA Championship semifinals!<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/GoTops?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#GoTops</a> <a href="https://t.co/6G4Xko2mtL">pic.twitter.com/6G4Xko2mtL</a></p>— WKU Soccer (@WKU_Soccer) <a href="https://twitter.com/WKU_Soccer/status/1382031197472059395?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 13, 2021</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/WKU_Soccer/status/1382031197472059395″ type=”twitter”}}

Neidell said the gift this team has given to the program and the alumni is beyond words or measure because they’ve now been the first group to be a winner of the Conference USA East Division and went to a conference tournament. 

“There’s so many of the players from the inaugural team and other alumni that have reached out to me and are just extremely proud of what this group has been able to do,” Neidell said. 

The 1-0 victory over UAB is the Lady Toppers third shutout victory over the past four games.

WKU was without junior Ambere Barnett after she went down in the regular season finale against Charlotte last Friday. Neidell said in regard to Thursday’s game Barnett will not be available for the semifinal match.

“Our goal is to win, we’re all sticking together, we all have the mindset that this is our story,” WKU sophomore goalkeeper Ashley Kobylinski said. “Everybody is working so well together and we just want to write our story and what we’re all about.”  

The Lady Toppers had eight shots on goal with four being on goal, whereas the Blazers had nine shots with five being on target. 

WKU managed to save all five of the shots on goal while the Blazers had three saves. The Blazers had a total of eight fouls during the match while WKU fouled six times. The Lady Toppers had two corner kicks while their opponents had six corner kicks. The Lady Toppers were penalized twice during the match for being offside.

“We have great chemistry,” Kobylinski said. “Not only do we work well on the field together, but off the field as well, we’re all such great friends and we all have such a strong trust in each other and we’re truly a unit.”

UAB showed off their team’s aggression early in the match as the Balzers were called for a foul shortly after the first touch of the match.

At the fifth minute of play, WKU sophomore Katie Erwin fired a shot on net, but UAB freshman goalkeeper Anika Toth stopped the Lady Topper’s first scoring attempt.

At the 20th minute of the first half, WKU freshman Brina Micheels took a corner kick, which would be the Lady Toppers first corner kick of the match.

Three minutes later UAB sophomore Lizzie Hill took a shot on goal, but it was saved by Kobylinski. 

The Blazers would receive their first corner kick of the game at the 27th minute as UAB freshman Laura Zemberyova took the kick, but would not find the net.

At the 32nd minute of the match, Annah Hopkins fired a shot into UAB’s net to score her fourth goal of the season and give WKU the one goal advantage over UAB.

At 41:30, UAB freshman Jessica Wheeler took a corner kick for UAB, but the Blazers would continue to be held scoreless by the Lady Toppers and their stellar defense.

By the end of the first half of the match, WKU held the one goal advantage over the Blazers from a goal by Hopkins at 32:47.

The Lady Toppers had four shots total and three shots on goal by halftime, whereas the Blazers had three shots with all shots being on goal. WKU had one save during the first period, while the Blazers had two saves.

WKU managed to receive one foul during the first half as their opponents had totaled four fouls. The Lady Toppers were called for being offside once during the first half and received one corner kick, while UAB had five corner kicks.

At the start of the second half of the match, Micheels was granted a corner kick at 45:40, which would be the Lady Toppers second corner kick of the match.

At the 53rd minute, WKU sophomore Ansley Cate had a scoring opportunity, but it would go wide. 

Then at 56:20, UAB senior Audrey Wood would get a shot opportunity on WKU’s net, but it would be saved by Kobylinski to keep WKU in the lead.

Hopkins would get another scoring opportunity at 63:40 as she launched another shot on UAB’s net, but Toth would get another save.

In an attempt to tie up the game, Hill would take a shot on the Lady Topper’s net at 69:58, but the shot missed high.

The Blazers had a penalty kick at 71:09, but UAB senior Kamilah Mustafah would fire the ball right into Kobylinski, who would get another save.

“I believe that player was seven for seven this year in penalties,” Neidell said. “I was just thinking maybe this is our time, maybe she’s due for a miss.” 

Erwin would take a scoring opportunity at the 72nd minute of the match, threatening UAB with a shot hitting the crossbar.

The Blazers had 10 minutes left in regulation to score a goal and tie up the game 1-1, but WKU would continue to stop the Blazers as Zemberyova would take a shot at 83:29, UAB freshman Erika Manfre would take a shot at 85:27, and UAB sophomore Morgan Halliwill would take a shot off of a corner kick. None of UAB’s shot attempts would be on target.

At 89:43, UAB sophomore Asha Zuniga would receive a yellow card and WKU would get the ball back and drag out the clock to take down the UAB Blazers 1-0 and advance to the semifinals to play either North Texas or Charlotte.

“Both opponents are great opponents, both very competitive opponents,” Kobylinski said. “We recently played Charlotte in the East Division Championship so that’s going to be a lot of competition. With North Texas, we’ve played them last season and both teams put on a battle, so I feel like both teams would be great competitors.”

WKU will play the Charlotte 49ers on April 15 at 4:30 p.m. in the semifinal. The 49ers took down the reigning 2019 champion North Texas 1-0 scoring in the 40th minute. 

“Holding the rope is about taking care of your teammates,” Neidell said of what’s essential to keep in mind during the postseason. “Right now this team is taking care of each other, and they’re holding the rope for each other and that’s kind of what it’s about. We’re gonna have to continue to hold the rope because it doesn’t get it doesn’t get any easier from here.” 

Sports reporter Drew Toennies at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @drew_toennies.