Denton, Texas — Offense was not a struggle for the Western Kentucky University soccer team in the opening round of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament. The Lady Toppers downed FIU 1-0 on Wednesday afternoon at the North Texas Soccer Complex to advance to the semifinals for the second year in a row.
"I give Thomas Chestnutt, his staff and players a lot of credit, they are a well organized team and they are going to be a team to contest for the Sun Belt title in the future," said head coach Jason Neidell. "We played good for a little while today. I thought we dropped off at the end of the first half and the second half, but I did think that we found a grove later in the second half and that is good for us."
Amanda Buechel took advantage of a deflection off the FIU goalkeeper to put the Lady Toppers put 1-0 in 17th minute of the opening half. The goal was Buechel’s seventh of the season — one behind team leader Kristin Cocchiarella and was credited with an assist on the play.
The first half was a half of offensive chances for WKU. In the sixth minute, Hayley Marsh attempted a 30 yard shot off a free kick. Buechel took an attempt that was stopped by the keeper just four minutes later. Marsh shot a laser into the box off a 25 yard free kick to give the Lady Toppers a 5-0 shot advantage. WKU had another chance late in the half when Kaylyn Pratt’s shot attempt deflected off the goalkeeper and Nikki Workman collected the rebound and fired a second shot that was blocked on its way to the net. The Lady Toppers ended the half out-shooting FIU 8-2.
The Lady Topper defense allowed only two shots in the first half by the Golden Panthers. This marks the first time WKU has allowed only two shots in the first half.
FIU came out in the second half with an intensity that led to three shots attempts in the first eight minutes of the half. In the 79th minute, Claudia Cardenas had a chance to even the match at 1-1 when she pushed the ball left of WKU goalkeeper Libby Stout to an open net, but the ball traveled wide left.
"It was just a matter of composure and getting ourselves organized defensively. I think that once our defenders started putting their foot on the ball and gaining composure, we were able to posses the ball and find a rhythm," stated Neidell.
WKU had chances to add to the lead but were unable to take advantage of the opportunities. Marsh connected with Buechel off a corner kick that was blocked down before Pratt knocked a shot in the box that was blocked in the 62nd minute. Katie Walker fired a laser into the box that was stopped by the keeper in the 88th minute.
Stout finished the match with seven saves and collected her 13th shutout of the season.
WKU advances to 14-1-4 overall while FIU drops to 4-12-3 on the year. The Lady Toppers will play in the semifinals tomorrow night against the winner of the North Texas/South Alabama match. Kick off is set to begin at 7 p.m. (CDT).