WKU opens conference play with weekend double

M. Blake Harrison

A fresh start. That’s what soccer Head Coach Jason Neidell sees when he looks ahead to the rest of WKU’s schedule.

The Lady Toppers (2-3-2) enter Sun Belt Conference play this weekend against North Texas and Denver after completing what Neidell considers a “pretty strong” non-conference slate.

“What we did before — both good and bad — it doesn’t really matter,” Neidell said. “We’re starting fresh and taking our first step forward on Friday night.

“We’re at ground zero. It’s going to be interesting to see what kind of mentality we bring to the field this weekend.”

Neidell said his biggest concern is for the Lady Toppers to come out aggressive on Friday night against a North Texas team that’s looking for revenge.

WKU has gotten the best of the Mean Green in each of their last two meetings.

Junior goalkeeper Libby Stout said playing tough teams in high-pressure situations at the beginning of the season will help the Lady Toppers at the start of Sun Belt play.

“It’s always the most exciting time of the year,” Stout said. “The rest of the season kind of goes out of the way, and you’re starting fresh. It’s a good spot to be in, and hopefully from here we’ll do well.”

Stout said having experience against North Texas gives her an idea of what to expect on Friday night.

“Just having played them for the last two years, they’re always a really tough team, and they’re very physical,” she said.

As if physicality isn’t enough to draw an opponent’s attention, North Texas leads the Sun Belt in both shots per game (17.65) and goals (24).

But Neidell said it’s easy to pad statistics when the quality of a team’s competition is lackluster.

“I think those stats are really misleading because of the quality of opponents that North Texas has played up to this point,” he said. “They haven’t played nearly as strong a schedule as we have, so in that regard, I’d say we’re better prepared than they are.”

Misleading stats or not, Stout said North Texas will be ready to compete.

“Even if they don’t have enough firepower, they’ll make up for it with their aggressiveness,” she said.

Redshirt senior defender Jamie Silverberg said worrying about someone else’s statistics won’t help.

As long as WKU denies the Mean Green’s forwards and keeps the ball, there’s nothing to worry about, Silverberg said.

“I think we want to have more intensity than them to make them defend us,” she said.

As the Lady Toppers turn the page on the non-conference portion of their schedule, Neidell said this weekend will help him gauge where the team stands.

“I think this weekend overall … is going to be a great measuring stick for us,” he said. “Both North Texas and Denver are going to be two of the elite teams in the conference. We think we’re in that same ballpark.”