WKU Soccer set to open season with exhibition against UT Martin

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Credit: WKU Athletics

The WKU Soccer team huddled up before the game against Marshall Thursday, March 18, 2021 at the WKU Soccer Complex. 

Drew Toennies, Soccer reporter

The Lady Toppers are two weeks away from their season-opening home matchip against the Austin Peay Governors, but on Aug. 7, the WKU Soccer program will challenge the UT Martin Skyhawks away for an exhibition match.

The WKU Soccer program went 8-2-2 (4-0-2, C-USA) last season, recording the second-best winning percentage in program history. The Lady Toppers managed to stay undefeated for 10 straight games and clinched the Conference USA East Division title with a 1-0 win over Charlotte for the first time in program history.

The Lady Toppers went on to grab another program record with a 1-0 shutout win against the UAB Blazers in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA Tournament, which marked the program’s first C-USA postseason victory.

WKU senior Ambere Barnett was without a doubt one of the Lady Toppers’ strongest players over the campaign, notching 14 points with six goals and two assists. The Rockport, Ind. native scored five points against FIU last season and scored game-winning goals in matches against FIU and Middle Tennessee. Barnett became the first Lady Topper in history to earn All-American honors when she was named to the United Soccer Coaches All-America Third Team. Barnett would additionally earn Conference USA Player of the Year and Midfielder of the Year honors. She was also tabbed C-USA All-Conference First Team for the third consecutive season.

WKU sophomore Annah Hopkins was another standout player last season, starting in all 12 matches and scoring 9 points total with four goals and one assist. The Evansville, Ind. native contributed the second-most goals on the team. Hopkins netted two goals in the second collegiate match of her career against Southern Illinois. Hopkins wound up scoring the game-winning goal against Louisville in the first few minutes of the match and notched the game-winning goal against UAB in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA Tournament. She earned the C-USA Commissioner’s Academic Medal in 2020-21, was named to the 2020-21 C-USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll, and earned a spot on the President’s List in the fall and spring semesters.

The UT Martin Soccer program will be coming back from a strong third-place finish in the Ohio Valley Conference in which the Skyhawks went 6-4-1 on the season. The Skyhawks advanced to the semifinals of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament but fell short by a score of 2-0 to the SIUE Cougars.

UTM Sophomore Emely Van Der Vliet was by far the most impressive player on the Skyhawks roster last season, starting in all 11 games and posting a total of 15 points with seven goals and one assist. A native of Rosmalen in the Netherlands, she earned OVC Offensive Player of the Week honors on April 5 after scoring a hat trick in a match against Eastern Kentucky. Van Der Vliet would also take home the OVC Freshman of the Year award and garner an OVC All-Newcomers nod.

Senior Jill Hildreth is another one of UT Martin’s outstanding athletic weapons, starting in every match last season and scoring 10 points with five goals scored. The Germantown, Tenn. native kicked in a game-winning goal against Austin Peay on March 30. Hildreth was named to the OVC All-Tournament team this past season.

This upcoming exhibition match between WKU and UT Martin will be the fourth meeting all-time between the two teams.

The past three meetings between the programs have been favorable to the Hilltoppers. WKU took down the Skyhawks 3-1 in the two team’s first meeting on Aug. 21, 2015 and WKU dominated UT Martin 7-1 in the second meeting on Aug. 19, 2016. The last meeting on Aug. 27, 2017, was a close match in which WKU came out on top with a 1-0 victory in overtime.

The Lady Toppers are set to take the field for the exhibition match at 7 p.m. CT at Skyhawk Field.

Soccer reporter Drew Toennies can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @drew_toennies.