The women’s soccer team had one goal this season, and they were one game away from accomplishing it.
But destiny kept the ball out of Denver’s net, and for the third year in a row, the Lady Toppers fell two goals short of making it to the Sun Belt Conference finals and for a chance to play for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Though the team failed to accomplish its goal, players said it was the best season they had played together.
“We’ve been together awhile,” junior goalie Amy Uhlman said. “But just this season you can tell that we’ve matured a whole lot and (we’re) taking care of the people we’re supposed to beat.”
This season, the Lady Toppers played the toughest schedule in their three-year history. Four teams on Western’s schedule were ranked in the top 25 at some point during the season.
“We played those teams to get a chance to compete with higher level teams,” Uhlman said. “We proved a lot to ourselves this year.”
Four of the teams they faced – Notre Dame, Denver, Oklahoma State and High Point – made it to the NCAA tournament.
The Lady Toppers began the season with losses to Oklahoma State and Kentucky. They went on to win their next two games, including beating Murray State, who they had struggled with in the past.
The team then travelled to Notre Dame, where it played its first game ever against a top five team.
And though they lost 5-0, coach Jason Neidell described the game as an “unbelievable experience.”
Neidell said the team had its turning point when it played – and lost to – Vanderbilt.
“It was the point when players rolled up their sleeves and stepped it up,” he said.
Players agreed with Neidell.
“I think a few times we played some teams we perceived to be better than us,” junior defender Melissa Robinson said. “We gave them more respect than they deserved and didn’t play with confidence.”
After the loss to Vanderbilt, the Lady Toppers went on a five game shutout streak that propelled them into conference play and their best conference record, 5-1-2.
Neidell said the team had stressed that they wanted to peak during conference play.
“This is the first season that I can say I felt like we were playing our best soccer at the end of the season,” he said. “I’ve never been on a team as a player or coach that has the kind of bond these kids have.”
Players said that bond keyed their success.
“All the time we spend together on and off the field, we go through a lot of things together,” Robinson said. “The more time we spend together, we really grow closer, and that helps in building a team that will perform well together on and off the field.”
Reach Beth Wilberding at [email protected]