Lady Toppers upset Vanderbilt in overtime, claim best start since 2009

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Brittany Fisher

Western Kentucky University Lady Toppers celebrate after Brina Micheels scores the winning goal on a penalty kick against the Vanderbilt Commodores on Thursday Aug. 26, 2021. The Lady Toppers defeated Vanderbilt 3-2.

Drew Toennies, Soccer reporter

The Lady Toppers (3-0-0) upset the Vanderbilt Commodores (1-1-1) 3-2 in an overtime thriller at the WKU Soccer Complex on a muggy Thursday night in front of a black-out home crowd.

Not only did the Lady Toppers take down the Commodores for the first time in program history, but they extended their home win streak to nine games and cemented the program’s best start to a season since 2009.

“Well, it’s part of the building blocks,” head coach Jason Neidell said. “I told the team after the game, one game doesn’t make a season, but I’m super proud of both our grit and our determination tonight. And I think we really learned a lot about ourselves and really grew as a team over the course of the 95 minutes that we played.”

WKU sophomore defender Avery Jacobsen and sophomore midfielder Brina Micheels showcased their offensive power against the Commodores, notching three goals altogether.

“I mean, it was huge. I couldn’t do it without my team,” Micheels said after the game. “We played amazing tonight, we came out, we knew we’re playing Vanderbilt who’s a strong team, but we played the way we play and defensively, we were awesome, we closed down space really well, just working as a team, picking each other up.”

Former Arkansas Razorback and graduate Alexis Bach started as goalkeeper and grabbed five saves, allowing only two goals from the Commodores despite seven shots on goal.

“Alexis was absolutely fantastic,” Neidell said. “I think she showed a really commanding presence, she was communicating with our backs all night and she was clean and made some really good decisions with the ball.”

While the Commodores outshot the Lady Toppers 17-7 and 8-4 in shots on goal, the Lady Toppers made every shot count. The Lady Toppers concluded the night with eight fouls whereas the Commodores had 11 fouls.

“Again, we play our own game, we as well as Vanderbilt are very physical and one of our goals is to be the more physical team,” Micheels said. “This was a very challenging opponent that was physical and I think that just raised our bar even higher going into our next game.”

The two programs split possession fairly evenly during the early stages of the match, and graduate keeper Alexis Bach prevented a Vanderbilt goal near the five minute mark. Bach deflected a potential shot just past the twelfth minute and was slow to get back up but stayed in the match.

The Commodores took five shots in the first 25 minutes of the match with two of them on goal. Bach completed another save at 21:03 to keep the match scoreless. Micheels took the Lady Toppers’ first shot of the night, but it sailed out right.

Four minutes before halftime, graduate defender Avery Jacobsen dished the ball out to junior forward and Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week Katie Erwin who almost found the back of the net but Vanderbilt keeper Kate Devine laid out for the save.

After a physical first half, the Lady Toppers had two shots with one of those shots almost finding the back of the net. The Commodores had six shots total in the first half with two shots being on target.

“We just needed more composure in the second half,” Neidell said. “I think we were pretty frantic to get rid of the ball. They put us under a lot more pressure than what we’ve been used to in previous games. And I think we were a little frantic with the ball and I think we just needed a little bit more composure. I thought Brina Micheels and Briana Sayoc really brought some composure to the game and really helped us settle in.”

After a physical foul by Vanderbilt sophomore midfielder Abi Brighton, Jacobsen found the back of the net off a penalty kick to give the Lady Toppers the 1-0 lead.

The Commodores responded almost four minutes later, earning a penalty kick, but Bach dove to block a potential goal. The Commodores landed a follow up shot to tie up the game 1-1.

Micheels notched the third goal of the night in the 76th minute of play to give WKU a 2-1 lead, but Brighton found the back of the net to tie up the match once again at 2-2 with less than three minutes left to play.

“I remember going into overtime, we were just as pumped as when the game started,” Micheels said. “We don’t back down at all, we keep going no matter what the score is, no matter where we are in the game. It’s just an amazing team.”

Three minutes into the first overtime period, Micheels found the back of the net off of a penalty kick to upset the reigning SEC champions and hand the Commodores their first loss against WKU in program history.

“Like I said, they just grew before our eyes and we need games like this that are going to stretch you, show you some things you need to work on and we saw some youngsters really growing up tonight,” Neidell said.

The Lady Toppers will finish up their homestand on Friday, Sept. 3 when Neidell’s squad welcomes the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles to the Soccer Complex with first kick coming at 4 p.m. CT.

“Well, like I said, I think we grew a lot tonight and we got a new challenge next week against Tennessee Tech, a really good Ohio Valley Conference team so we need to look at some film and have a full week of practice and just continue to get better every day,” Neidell said.

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