WKU opens athletic year with soccer exhibition


Here we are, everybody. The maiden voyage for WKU in Conference USA is here; in just mere hours, the Lady Toppers soccer club will kick off their season, and the WKU athletic year as a whole, in an exhibition on the road at UT-Martin, for a rematch of last year’s season opening exhibition.

In that game last year, the Tops came away victorious in what would turn out to be traditional fashion, scoring in the waning moments (in this instance, it was a goal in the 82nd minute from Lauren Moats) to win 1-0. What the two teams didn’t know then, was that it was a matchup of future champions, as the Skyhawks won their second consecutive Ohio Valley Conference Tournament championship last year, and of course, the Lady Tops won the Sun Belt regular season title.

The Skyhawks were selected to finish as runners up in the OVC last week, receiving eight first place votes, trailing only Morehead State, and are projected to finish above other Bluegrass schools such as Murray State and Eastern Kentucky. Returning for UTM is the reigning OVC Player of the Year, forward Jade Flory, who was second in the OVC last year in both goals (14) and total points (33), as well as had five game winning goals. Also returning this year is senior goalkeeper, something the Tops’ had the luxury of a season ago, with Mariah Klenke coming back, who started all 20 games last year, and played all but 267 minutes (which, trust me, may seem like a lot…it isn’t) for the Skyhawks last year. She finished 2013 with a 0.96 goals against average and an 83.3 save percentage.

The Lady Toppers have a lot of turnover to overcome this year. They lost nine seniors – Nora Abolins, Andrea Curry, Kiersten Ottaway, Sydney Sisler, Stephanie Lindsey, Chrissy Tchoula, Taryn O’Shea, Torrie Lange and Kayla Steber – and the losses that will hurt most on the field are probably that of Tchoula and Abolins, while Sisler, Ottaway, Lindsey and Lange were key role players who’s leadership the team will no doubt miss. For Abolins, she started 19 of WKU’s 20 games and played all but 170 minutes of the season. With Abolins no longer in service, the goalkeeper is the biggest question surrounding WKU heading into the year.

Last year’s backup, Nikki Hall, left the program after last season due to personal issues, which leaves two true freshman keepers – Alex Hoefler and Allison Leone – left on the roster. Tonight and Sunday’s matches (Sunday is at home vs. Murray State) are going to be crucial in their development to give them their first taste of college soccer.

While WKU is missing some leadership and bench presence from their nine departed seniors, there is still plenty of firepower on the 2014 squad. Returning is leading scorer (seven goals, 15 total points) is Iris Dunn, who also netted five game winning goals last year. The aforementioned Lauren Moats also is returnning, who finished last year with six points and three goals. Haley Baldridge and Cailtin Hesse are also returning, and while their stats aren’t that impressive, they can control the field and make opportunities happen.

Kickoff is set for 7:00 from UT-Martin,