WOMEN’S SOCCER: Neidell upgrades schedule, makes run at SBC title in Year Three

Beth Wilberding

As its third season approaches, the women’s soccer team is prepared to face some of the best teams in the country.

In its home opener Aug. 29, the Lady Toppers hope to get revenge on Oklahoma State, who beat them 4-1 last year. The team travels to play Notre Dame in September – a team who reached the third round of the NCAA tournament last season. They also play Kentucky, who made the NCAA tournament as well.

Coach Jason Neidell brought in perhaps his best recruiting class yet, with players from five states. Of the five players, Neidell expects Jenna Silverberg to have an immediate impact. Kim Wilkowski and Tara Tidwell are also expected to compete. He won’t finalize his starting lineup or playing time for specific players until after exhibition games. He’ll get his first glimpse against Memphis in a preseason game Aug. 22.

“The freshmen look really strong. We have some really talented kids in the freshmen class and we expect them to contribute to the team,” Neidell said.

While he believes that some players will have a bigger impact on the team than others, Neidell doesn’t want to point out the star players this early in the season.

“It is hard for me as a coach to single out players,” Neidell said. “We need total team effort to be successful, and it’s all about working hard and working together.”

In the Lady Toppers’ two year history, the team has never had a losing record. Last year they went 10-9, and finished 14-5 in their inaugural season. This season, the team hopes to improve on those marks while upgrading the schedule at the same time.

“Every year we’ve increased the schedule and we have a very challenging year ahead of us,” Neidell said. “It always makes you better when you play better teams.”

Junior forward Allison Nellis – the all-time leading scorer in program history – agreed.

“I think we should do well,” Nellis said. “We added more challenging games. It gives us more credibility as a team.”

However, the team faces more than a tough non-conference slate. In Sun Belt Conference play, the Lady Toppers expect to be tested. They plan to fight for the title with Denver the reigning conference champion.

“Conference play is getting better and better every year,” Neidell said. “Conference play is one of the hardest parts of the season. Denver is a legitimate top 15 team (in the country).”

Despite Denver’s past success, the Lady Toppers believe they can pose a real threat to the conference.

“Denver just graduated good seniors. We expect to be top three this season,” junior midfielder Andrea Doogs said.

The Lady Toppers believe their demanding schedule will be good for the team. Silverberg said, “I think it gives us lots of respect. It will get our name out there.”

Neidell believes the team’s attitude will have more of an impact on its success than the abilities of individuals on the team.

“The whole team has a positive attitude,” he said. “Attitude and hard work can take us places.”

The Lady Toppers hope their attitude takes them to the Sun Belt Conference finals. Western hosts the tournament in November, and the team wants to win at home.

And with the toughest schedule in the Lady Toppers’ history ahead of them, Neidell said his team is ready for the challenge.

“It’s a long season and a long road to get there,” he said.

Reach Beth Wilberding at [email protected]