Lady Toppers face Ark. State in first round of Sun Belt tournament

Natalie Hayden

WKU will be facing a team it’s already defeated when the Sun Belt Conference Tournament begins on Wednesday.

The Lady Toppers will play Arkansas State, a team they beat 2-0 last month in each team’s league opener, at 1 p.m. Wednesday in Mobile, Ala.

“What makes them a tough opponent is that they’re the most improved team,” coach Jason Neidell said. “We have to convince the team to take them seriously and that it’s going to be a very different game for us.

“I would almost rather go in having lost to them, just to get our players’ attention.”

Senior forward Amanda Buechel, who scored both goals for the Lady Toppers against ASU earlier this season, also said the team should be on their toes during the tournament.

“It doesn’t matter who you play — everyone is out to win a championship,” she said.

The Lady Toppers ended their regular season 6-1-3 in conference play and 11-4-3 overall and are entering the tournament as the No. 4 seed.

“From the outside looking in, I think we’re looking pretty good,” Neidell said. “We’ve proven we can play with the best.”

Both Neidell and senior defender Ali Stahlke said the Lady Toppers were a little worried coming into the season after having lost key players last year to graduation.

“At the beginning we were nervous, but we did well adjusting,” Stahlke said. “We always talk about playing our best soccer in November and that’s what we want to do.”

Stahlke said she’s especially anxious about the tournament because it is her final year.

“Every other year you know in the back of your mind that there are more games to be played,” she said. “I just hope I can convey to my teammates that this is my and the other seniors’ last chance.”

Last year, the Lady Toppers lost the championship game to Florida International in penalty kicks.

Buechel, who is entering her final tournament after being on the team for six years, said she wants to see a change this year.

Buechel sat out the 2009 and 2010 seasons after two anterior cruciate ligament tears.

“I want to help this team get to where we haven’t been yet,” she said. “We’ve gotten so close so many times, so I hope this year is different.”