Three years ago this fall, Allison Nellis sat down and wrote a letter to Jason Neidell, Western’s newly hired women’s soccer coach.
She didn’t know him. She never had a conversation with him. She didn’t even know if he could coach. She just knew he was a head soccer coach and she wanted to play.
When Nellis wrote Neidell, she never expected to lead the Lady Toppers in scoring her first two years of college – she simply hoped to get some playing time.
“I wasn’t recruited as an impact player,” Nellis said. “I came in here hoping to see the field some.”
Not only has she seen the field some, her shots have bruised the back of the net more than any other Western player in the program’s two-year history. Nellis has scored 22 goals in two-plus seasons, which leads the next closest scorer by 13 goals.
“I’m surprised that she’s scored this many goals,” Neidell said. “But not that she’s this good.”
And that production came after she had hoped to make the team as a midfielder. Neidell originally tabbed Nellis to be a playmaker, not a scorer. Neidell jokingly said the coaches had to break her of a scoring flaw.
“She had this bad habit of trying to dribble the ball into the goal instead of shooting at the goal,” Neidell said.
In their inaugural season, the Lady Toppers were the only team in the country to start 11 freshmen, and they finished 14-5. Nellis recorded 12 goals in those 19 games.
Coaches were pleasantly surprised when the former midfielder became the team’s leading scorer. And she did it working with at least three different forward combinations.
Last year, Nellis was a second team All-Sun Belt conference selection and was named co-offensive player of the year.
Nellis began her soccer career in third grade when she joined a youth league with friend and current teammate Amy Uhlman. They later played together at Louisville’s Manual High School. Nellis also played for the Louisville Alliance soccer club.
Nellis said she wasn’t heavily recruited during high school. During her sophomore season she tore her anterior cruciate ligament, so when college coaches came to watch during her junior year, she “wasn’t at the top of her game.”
But Nellis kept playing, and while she was with Alliance, she met future teammates Christi Banas and Andrea Doogs.
They decided they wanted to play college soccer together. Somewhere. And they knew about Western’s new program, so she wrote a letter to Neidell asking him to visit Louisville.
But a letter from a high school player wasn’t a shock to Neidell.
Before its inaugural season, Western’s soccer team received many letters from players hoping to join the squad.
“I’m not from this area,” Neidell said. “So I didn’t know anything about recruiting in this area.”
Assistant coach David Neidell added, “A lot of kids helped by recruiting themselves. We were so busy scrambling together to get the best talent around, it helped that people sought us out.”
Along with Banas, Doogs and Uhlman, Nellis was one of 21 freshmen to play for Western in its inaugural season.
Nellis attributes some of her soccer success to playing semi-professional soccer in the off-season. After her freshman year, Nellis played in Florida
for the Jacksonville Jade.
“I was one of the youngest players on the team,” Nellis said. “That was a good experience because players come from other countries and colleges to play. You play at a higher and faster level than college.”
Last summer, Nellis and teammate Melissa Robinson played together in Pensacola, Fla.
While soccer is Nellis’ current love, she doesn’t plan on playing after college, though she is considering coaching youth soccer.
“I want to do triathlons,” she said. “I love to bike ride and run … (it’s) a good change from soccer.”
For now, Nellis is focusing on the Lady Toppers’ goal of winning the Sun Belt Conference and making it to the NCAA tournament.
If they do, Nellis will probably be there to write some more history.
Lady Tops take 1 of 3 in first games of season
The Lady Toppers began their season 1-2 after losses against Oklahoma State and Kentucky. Freshman Jenna Silverberg scored the only goal of the first two games.
“We played pretty well all weekend,” coach Jason Neidell said. “But we made a lot of mistakes defensively. We played good teams who were able to capitalize on them.”
Tuesday night, the team got its first win of the season when it beat Lipscomb 3-0 at home. Nellis scored her first goal of the season, while Silverberg added two more of her own.
The Lady Toppers’ next game is 7 p.m. Sunday at home against Murray State.
Reach Beth Wilberding at [email protected]