Making the first start of her collegiate career, sophomore Ashley Leonard fired her way to WKU Soccer history on Friday evening, tallying the sixth hat trick in program history as the Lady Toppers downed FIU, 4-0, at the WKU Soccer Complex.
Leonard scored goals on all three of her shot attempts and notched the hat trick in only 54 minutes of action. The three-goal outing was the first such match for the Lady Toppers since Chelsea Smith claimed a hat trick against ULM on Oct. 15, 2010, and Leonard’s six points were tied for the third-most in a single match in program history as well.
WKU (3-7-2, 1-4 C-USA) got its first goal of the night from Sarah Gorham off assists from Ambere Barnett and Megan Morris before Leonard took over for her hat trick. As a team, the Lady Toppers held a 23-6 advantage in shots on the night and earned seven corner kicks compared to only one for FIU.
Bailee Witt earned her first career solo shutout after playing the full 90 minutes while making three saves to help snap WKU’s five-match losing skid.
For FIU (0-13-1, 0-5-1 C-USA), Ashley Adams, Tamia Roberts and Rayquel Berry each had a shot on goal, while Christina Velazquez took the loss in net, making five saves but surrendering WKU’s four goals.
WKU applied offensive pressure early in the matchup, firing four shots over the first 15 minutes and earning a pair of corner kicks over that same span. The Lady Toppers created chances off both set piece opportunities, getting a hard header from Barnett and a quick chip shot from Morris off the corners, but were unable to find the early breakthrough.
In quick succession, the Lady Toppers grabbed a 2-0 lead over FIU on goals in the 19th and 20th minutes only 27 seconds apart. On the first, Morris played in a cross to the far post from the right side that found Barnett, who slid a low pass to Gorham near the penalty spot. The redshirt senior found space and buried the ball past Velazquez for the 1-0 advantage.
Leonard capitalized on WKU’s momentum just 27 seconds later. At the helm of a strong attack, the sophomore was dragged down in the box by an FIU defender, causing the referee to award WKU a penalty kick. Leonard opted to take the kick herself and slotted home the chance into the lower left corner to make the scoreline 2-0 in WKU’s favor.
Velazquez kept FIU down by two goals with a pair of saves against Chandler Backes and Barnett late in the opening half to maintain the 2-0 score through the halftime break.
Just 20 seconds into the second half, Leonard struck again for the Lady Toppers. Set up by a well-placed through-ball from Barnett, Leonard broke away for a one-on-one opportunity against the goalkeeper and hammered home her second strike of the night to push the WKU lead to 3-0 early in the second frame.
Leonard completed the hat trick at the 54:47 mark on a goal from distance, placing the well-struck ball just over the outstretched arms of Velazquez for the 4-0 lead.
Following the final goal, WKU’s defense clamped down on the Panthers, limiting FIU to only two shots over the final 35 minutes of play to seal the victory and earn the three points in the C-USA Tournament race.
WKU will return to action on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. for its second of four straight matches at the WKU Soccer Complex. The Lady Toppers are set to host UTEP on Sunday as they look to protect the team’s current seven-match unbeaten streak at the Soccer Complex dating back to last season.
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Currie P. McFayden
WKU Associate Director of Athletic Communications