MEN’S SOCCER: Tops need win to stay alive in conference

Danny Schoenbaechler

All soccer teams want good young talent.

Western (7-8-1, 1-5) has it, and all the baggage that comes along with a young group.

Throughout this year’s campaign, the Hilltoppers have been blessed with youthful exuberance but cursed with inexperience and inconsistency.

“I think that our young team is really coming along,” Western coach David Holmes. “They are getting better every game.”

In three games this season against ranked opponents, Western has lost 1-0, 1-0 and 2-1.

They have excelled in big games, but repeatedly fallen just shy of the big win. And they’ve faltered against lesser opponents. It’s a trend Holmes and his young team are hoping to squash as they continue to mature.

After dropping their first five conference games, the Toppers beat Tulsa 2-1 last Sunday.

The Golden Hurricanes were nationally ranked earlier this season and are the only team this year to beat No. 1 Stanford.

“We are coming off of a really tough road trip,” Holmes said. “The Missouri Valley Conference is one of the toughest, if not the toughest, conference in the country.”

And if the Toppers have any hopes of making the conference tournament, they’ll need to win two of their final three games.

Eight of the 10 teams qualify for the Missouri Valley tournament, and Western is tied for eighth with Evansville.

The Purple Aces will visit Bowling Green Friday night in a pivotal game for both teams.

“The boys will be ready to play,” Holmes said. “And I have to keep them from being too ready.”

Western lost to the Purple Aces 4-1 last year.

Holmes said that junior goalkeeper Daryl Sattler has recently played stellar goal. And that will be key to the Toppers’ postseason hopes.

“I think that Daryl has been sparkling in goal,” Holmes said. “I think he played two All-American caliber games last weekend.”

Sattler leads the conference in saves and has started for three years. He has set the tone for the young defense.

“Our defense has been getting better all season,” freshman defender Clay McMillan said.

The defense has solidified in these late games, but the offense has slowed from their early season scoring pace.

They already have more goals than a year ago, but the offensive output has been less than satisfying in conference play.

The Toppers have managed only five goals in their six conference games.

The lack of scoring and youthful mistakes are two things the Toppers will need to overcome this weekend as they try to qualify for the postseason. Western isn’t worried.

“We feel like we have been playing well, even though we have lost some close games,” McMillan said. “We’ll be ready for Evansville.”