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The WKU soccer team celebrates scoring a goal against Belmont during the season opener at the WKU Soccer Complex on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019.

The WKU soccer team (3-2-1) squared off against Southern Illinois (3-4-1) for the first time in program history on Friday evening, and the Lady Toppers defeated the Salukis in a convincing 3-0 victory at the WKU Soccer Complex.

WKU finished with a season-best 29 shots on Friday night, as 10 different Lady Toppers had at least one shot during their shutout win against SIU.

Sophomore midfielder Ambere Barnett guided WKU on the offensive side of play, as she scored a goal, dished off an assist and led WKU with a season-high nine shots.

Junior forward Ashley Leonard, sophomore midfielder Isidora Pekez and senior forward Chandler Backes came off the bench and combined to tally 12 shots for the Lady Toppers.

Head coach Jason Neidell said his team made an adjustment in the offense before Friday’s match to bring in more scoring chances.

“We made a little tactical adjustment to start Ambere [Barnett] at centre-forward instead of centre-mid,” Neidell said postgame. “We thought that would pose problems for their young team. I think that got us on our front foot.”

Although WKU had 29 shots against SIU, Neidell said he thought his team could’ve played better offensively especially since Saluki goalkeeper Dariana Mihalache still recorded seven saves on Lady Topper shots.

“We had 29 shots and I thought their goalkeeper made a few really good saves,” Neidell said. “But overall I thought our shot selection was pretty poor.”

Redshirt senior goalkeeper Anne-Marie Ulliac and the Lady Toppers collectively recorded their fourth shutout of the season. Ulliac played the full 90 minutes for WKU.

WKU controlled the play in the midfield for much of the game, as the Lady Toppers wore out the Saluki defense and kept the ball on SIU’s side of the field throughout most of the game.

The Lady Toppers got into the box at will in the first half, as WKU had 17 shots nine of which came on goal.

WKU tallied eight shots before SIU attempted its first shot of the night, as the Lady Toppers limited the Salukis to just one shot during the entire first half of play.

WKU scored its first goal of the match at the 7:49 mark after freshman forward Ansley Cate found Barnett running just right above the top of the box. 

Barnett finished the play off in style, notching her second goal of the season to put WKU up 1-0 in the opening minutes.

Redshirt sophomore midfielder Deven Jackson was sidelined for all of the 2018 season after sustaining a hip injury during the preseason.

On Friday night, Jackson scored her first two goals as a Lady Topper.

“Unreal,” Jackson said of scoring two goals against SIU. “It was so exciting because it’s been so long since I’ve been on the pitch in general, and to finally get goals just took away my nerves going into conference play. I feel confident and it’s really exciting.”

Jackson’s first goal came at the 10:11 mark when Barnett dribbled the goal line and found Jackson for a one-touch finish that put WKU up 2-0 at the time.

Jackson found the back of the net for the second time of the match just six minutes into the second half.

The buildup started when junior forward Victoria Mayo played a ball from midfield up to the right corner of the field, where Mihalache came out of the box to clear the ball. 

Barnett met Mihalache just outside the box and the goalkeeper’s miss-clearance found Jackson 30 yards from the empty goal, where she finished at the 50:29 mark.

WKU held the Salukis to only four shots on the night, but the closest SIU came to scoring against the Lady Topper defense came during the 63rd minute when freshman forward Liz Brechtel’s shot just went wide of the goal.

The Lady Toppers will be back in action at the WKU Soccer Complex on Sunday at 1 p.m. against Alabama A&M. The Bulldogs (2-3) are coming off a win on Friday night, as Alabama A&M picked up a 2-1 win over in-state foe Alabama-Huntsville.

Reporter Elliott Wells can be reached at 270-745-6291 and douglas.wells357@topper.wku.edu. Follow Elliott on Twitter at @ewells5.

Elliott Wells is a sports reporter for the College Heights Herald. He currently covers the women's soccer team.