Defense key as Lady Toppers start Sun Belt play

Natalie Hayden

With Sun Belt Conference play starting Friday, the Lady Toppers are going into the first league game pleased with their season thus far.

The Lady Toppers’ non-conference record is 5-3, but there’s one thing unusual about the season so far.

There’s been just one game in which the Lady Toppers haven’t scored.

“It’s outstanding,” head coach Jason Neidell said. “Things turned out a little different than expected. We’re better on the attacking side than we expected to be this season, so it’s great.”

The Lady Toppers are one of only two teams that have scored against Tennessee and Vanderbilt so far this season.

“It’s really been a team effort,” Neidell said. “We’ve been working in practice on being more creative offensively, and it hasn’t been about focusing on just one player. Everyone contributes.”

While things for the Lady Toppers have been going well, senior midfielder Courtney Rymer said the team still needs to focus on conference play.

“I’m really confident in the team, but going into conference play, the stakes are higher,” she said. “So we do need to pick up our level of play.

“I’m excited about how far we’ve come so far, and I’m excited to see how we progress over the rest of the season.”

Despite the offensive success, Neidell said the team still has some work to do defensively.

Senior defender Ali Stahlke said the team’s defense has improved throughout her years on the team.

Stahlke began playing defense at the end of her freshman year. As a sophomore, she was the only returning defender in 2010.

“It was hard that year because the other three girls were new, and I had to learn my role and how to tell the others when to step up or stay back,” she said.

Last year, the defense finally came together, she said. This year, that cohesiveness remains.

“This year we know where we’re supposed to be and what we’re supposed to do,” Stahlke said. “I think sometimes we might get too comfortable because we’re the same group from last year.”

Junior defender Torrie Lange said the defense has been playing well, just not consistently.

“There are some games where we’ve played very, very, very well, and there have been one or two games where we haven’t played so well,” she said. “We just need to be playing as consistently as we should be.”

Overall, Neidell is pleased with his team’s play so far this season and is confident the girls will do well in conference play, he said.

“Our mentality is getting stronger with every game,” he said. “We just need to keep a greater level of concentration for a greater period of time.

“Overall, I’m pleased with the results. I like the progress we’ve made as a team,” he said.

The team’s goal this year is to win the Sun Belt Conference tournament, a feat that has never been done.

However, they have come close before.

Last year, they lost in the title game to Florida International.

“We lost in (penalty kicks) in the finals, so we’re excited to get out there and prove we should win,” Stahlke said.