WKU closing out its non-conference schedule

Austin Lanter

Soccer Head Coach Jason Neidell has said multiple times that the Lady Toppers’ non-conference schedule this year is the toughest in his 11 years at WKU. 

Even so, WKU boasts a 5-2 non-conference record with one more game on Saturday against Rice before its Sun Belt Conference schedule begins.

Neidell said his main focus was that his players get better during those matches.

“I don’t really know if I had any expectations for wins and losses,” Neidell said. “One of the things we’ve been stressing to our kids is all non-conference is about is performance and taking care of the process and not worrying about wins and losses. Those will come.”

Senior midfielder Lindsay Williams said the Lady Toppers did just that.

“I think we did really well,” Williams said. “Our record shows us at 5-2, but I think the most important thing is that we’re doing better now than we did at the beginning. I would really like to have another chance at the teams we lost to in the beginning.”

The two losses on the season were both 2-0 shutouts. The first one came at Vanderbilt, and the second at home against Memphis, who was ranked No. 20 in the country at the time.

Something that Neidell has been pleased with all season is defense and how the whole team is starting to defend, not just the defenders.

WKU has allowed just six goals all season, which ties them at second in the Sun Belt with North Texas for the least goals allowed.  

Neidell also said that the midfield and forwards are both starting to defend as a group better, but there is still room for improvement.

Senior forward Kaylyn Pratt agreed.

“We need to be defensively minded as a team and being a unit,” she said. “We need to make sure that we’re taking care of our danger areas, attacking or defending them with purpose and making sure we’re all on the same page.”

Pratt added that players are talking a lot more on the field.

“We’ve done really well at just trying to communicate and work some things out even through the rough parts we’ve had,” she  said. “We’re all just on the same page, and if we’ve had problems, we’re just trying to work them out — just all giving our hearts and just everything we can.”

Team chemistry is how Neidell described it, saying that there’s more on this year’s team than last year’s. 

However, Williams said she’d still like to see more consistency, especially with the conference schedule just around the corner.

“It’s all about a consistent effort,” Williams said. “We’ve been playing hard, but we need to pair that with extra concentration and focus on what we’re supposed to be doing tactically in the game.”

The Lady Toppers will be tested right from the start once conference play rolls around, playing at North Texas and Denver in the same weekend. Neidell said both teams, along with WKU, are among the top five in the conference. 

“The intensity goes up quite a bit (in conference play),” Neidell said. “It’s just a little bit different in the intensity. Every match matters and every minute in every match matters.” 

Williams echoed Neidell and said he has been stressing the need for good results.

“It’s a whole different attitude that you take with it,” she said. “You’ve got this rivalry with these teams that you play every year, and it’s just like coach said after the game speech the other day — it becomes about winning a little more and it’s important to get those results. 

“It’s a different mindset. You need to go in there and win every weekend.”