MEN’s SOCCER: Tops beat Wesleyan, fall to UK

Joanie Baker

Western came out ready to paint the state red this weekend as the Toppers hosted two local rivals, Kentucky Wesleyan and the University of Kentucky. But the paint cans were just one goal short of a masterpiece.

Showing unprecedented growth since the beginning of the season, the young team smothered the Panthers 6-0, with all underclassmen netting goals in the win. But in a brutal battle against the Wildcats, Western could not find the back of the net and fell 1-0.

Fifty seconds into play Friday night, sophomore midfielder Richard Mupfudze headed a goal to give Western the lead over the Panthers (1-3). Through the rest of the half, Western outshot Wesleyan 15-0 but couldn’t score.

After the half, with a full orange moon shining over the field, the young players scored three goals in the first eight minutes. Freshman midfielder Alex Sheikh got the rally started, putting one past the goalie in the 49th minute. Two minutes later, sophomore midfielder Daniel Payne scored his first of two goals that sandwiched freshman forward Steven Medlock’s first goal as a Hilltopper.

“I just wanted to finish and make sure we got the advantage so that we could secure the win,” Payne said.

Adding to the night of career-firsts was junior forward Edis KavazovicCQ, who capped the game off with his first goal of the season in the 79th minute.

Coach David Holmes said that even though the team managed just one goal in the first half, they played well.

“I think we’ve showed a little more maturity than the first game,” Holmes said. “We just kept doing what was working, and then the goals came.”

But even after that landslide against Wesleyan, Holmes could not rest easy, knowing undefeated Kentucky (3-0) was up next.

Both teams came out strong defensively Sunday, and in a constant ping-pong-like match, were able to keep the game scoreless into the half.

But in the 59th minute, the Wildcats put one past freshman goalkeeper Wade Roepke, and from that point on, seemingly kept Western from having another touch on the ball, outshooting the Toppers 16-10.

Defensively, the teams looked even until the game’s end, when the field looked more blue than red. Mupfudze, Western’s best player that day, was triple-teamed for most of the second half.

Western became the fifth opponent to get blanked by the Wildcats.

Holmes said the team played well, but lost the opportunity to take the game in the first half.

“We had good opportunities but just weren’t able to finish them,” Holmes said. “But overall I thought it was a terrific performance, and I thought it was the best game our midfield has played this year. I’m pretty upbeat because we keep getting better every single game. I think we really outplayed this team.”

Junior defender Brad Benz said Western had many deep throws and corner kicks in its half, but they just couldn’t get on top of them. He said Kentucky played more directly, but Western had a better offensive game.

“We worked hard and pressured everything and made it hard for their defense, all 90 minutes, to defend us,” Benz said. “We just weren’t lucky enough to get a goal.”

Senior defender Ron Plute said Western won their share of 50-50 battles, but just couldn’t get one in the net. He said this game has built the team’s confidence for next game.

“I think we realize that we can play with anybody, it’s just we have to go out there with the mentality that we can,” Plute said.

Reach Joanie Baker at [email protected]