WOMEN’s SOCCER: Best game of year ends in loss

Beth Wilberding

With tears running down their cheeks, the women’s soccer players congratulated the Denver Pioneers, who beat them in the semifinals of the Sun Belt Conference tournament and advanced to the finals for the third straight year.

After the game was postponed to Friday because of poor field conditions Thursday, the Lady Toppers were defeated 1-0 in a game that players said was the best game they played all year.

Players said the postponement helped them prepare for Friday’s game.

“I know for our team, it gave us another full day of rest and (to) get mentally prepared,” freshman Jenna Silverberg said. “That was the best effort we’ve ever given in a game.”

In the first half, the Lady Toppers came out strong, but Denver’s senior forward Jenni Harris was able to put the ball past Western junior goalie Amy Uhlman in the 25th minute. For the rest of the period, the Lady Toppers were dominated by the Pioneers and were outshot 12-4.

In the 68th minute, the Lady Toppers had an opportunity to score when junior forward Crystal Chapon took a shot that went off the crossbar, but Denver goalie Danielle Wiley fell on the ball in front of the goal line.

That was the last look Western got at the net, and Harris’ first half goal proved to be all the Pioneers needed to get back into the Sun Belt finals.

“I thought we played very solid the first 25 minutes,” Western coach Jason Neidell said. “I thought we let down after they scored.”

Junior midfielder Leslie Anderson said she thought Western deserved to win.

“I think that we should’ve won the game and that Denver got really lucky … We made them work for what they earned.”

Denver coach Jeff Hooker said his team was excited about winning in what he considered to be a rebuilding year for his team because of the number of players who graduated last year.

“I thought our performance throughout the weekend was pretty good,” he said.

Western pressured Denver most of the second half which left Hooker pining for an insurance goal.

“We play how we play,” Hooker said. “We don’t worry too much about what the other team does.”

Though the Lady Toppers (11-6-2) lost, the team celebrated the All-Tournament selections of juniors Crystal Chapon and Andrea Doogs.

Doogs had an assist and three shots on goal for the tournament. Chapon scored Western’s first goal against South Alabama in the quarterfinals.

“I’m actually really excited about it,” Chapon said. “I was surprised because everyone else was playing so well.”

Despite losing to Denver (18-3), who beat North Texas Saturday 1-0 in overtime for its third straight the tournament title, Neidell was proud of his team’s effort.

“This game is part of the journey. We played a great game,” Neidell said.

Reach Beth Wilberding at [email protected]