The WKU soccer team will look to bounce back from its first loss of the season in two matchups against pre- miere opponents this weekend.
The Lady Toppers (2-1) will play twice this weekend — on Friday against Austin Peay at 7 p.m. in Clarksville, Tenn., then again at 1 p.m. Sunday against No. 20 Memphis at the WKU Soccer Complex.
Head Coach Jason Neidell said he expects a tough challenge from the Governors.
“Austin Peay is a really strong team,” Neidell said. “We’re expecting a really tough game.”
Neidell credited much of that strength to Austin Peay’s sophomore duo, forward Tatiana Ariza and mid- fielder/forward Natalia Ariza.
Tatiana Ariza was named Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year and first-team All-OVC last season. She also suited up for the Colombian National Team in the World Cup this past summer.
“Those two girls have really trans- formed their program into a winning program pretty much overnight,” Neidell said. “The key to that game is go- ing to be shutting down Tatiana Ariza.”
While the Lady Toppers are prepar- ing for the matchup against Austin Peay, the thought of playing a top 25 team two days later is looming in the back of their minds.
Senior goalkeeper Libby Stout said she’s excited for the opportunity to play a team of Memphis’ stature.
“It’s a really cool experience to play someone that high up in the nation,” Stout said. “We’ve played them before and haven’t bode well against them. But they’re an awesome team so I’m really ex- cited to play them and it’s good to get that experience so early on in the year as well.” Despite the ranking and reputation that Memphis brings, Neidell has continued to stress that WKU has to prepare
for a matchup, not a specific opponent. “One thing we’ve stressed to our players this week is we need to prepare for every game the exact same,” Neidell said. “I think we have the tendency to prepare for the opponent rather than
prepare for a match.” Neidell said he knows there are
things that this team needs to continue to prepare for more efficiently.
“The biggest thing that we’re go- ing to be working on is our possession game and assessing risk,” Neidell said. “We took way too many risks in our first three games in our defensive third. That’s something we are going to try to fix in our possession game.”
Senior forward Mallory Outerbridge said another obstacle for this team, especial- ly against big-name opponents, is nerves.
“Right now, I mean, there are lots of little things to improve on, but I think nerves is the biggest thing,” Outerbridge said. “Coming out against Vanderbilt we didn’t play well in the first half but by the second half we had found our own kind of groove.”
Neidell said it’s a given that WKU would like to come out of the weekend with two more wins added to its resume, but that at this stage of the season, it’s improving performance that is the most important aspect of every game.
“We want to win as bad as anyone,” Neidell said. “But we’re more concerned about the way we’re performing.”
He said it’s critical that they feel good about themselves by playing well in each contest.
“It’s about getting better so that when we hit conference stride, when winning is everything, we’re ready for that,” Neidell said.