WKU Soccer will officially kick off its 2019 campaign on Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. as the Lady Toppers welcome Murray State to the WKU Soccer Complex for their first of three preseason exhibition matches this week.
Wednesday’s exhibition will be WKU’s first live match action since beginning preseason training on Aug. 6 and, as with all home matches this season, will feature free admission for all fans at the Soccer Complex. Including this week’s three exhibition tilts, WKU will host 12 matches this season, including a program-record seven-match homestand beginning on Sept. 5 against SEC foe Ole Miss.
WKU enters the 2019 campaign with three of its top five point-scorers from a season ago returning, including preseason All-C-USA pick Ambere Barnett. Barnett led all Lady Toppers with seven goals, eight assists and 22 points as a freshman in 2018, and Olivia Stanley (10 points in 2018) and Chandler Backes (six points) complement a strong returning attack for WKU.
Several key players will be returning from injuries that cut their 2018 campaigns short, with Wednesday evening marking their first live match action in nearly a year. Anne-Marie Ulliac, Aleksandra Kozovic, Deven Jackson and Tally Bishop are all set to return for the Lady Toppers this year after appearing in just seven combined matches in 2018.
In goal, Ulliac and sophomore Bailee Witt, who made 16 starts last season, are set to battle with freshmen Ashley Kobylinski and Afton Schraml for the starting job. The winner of the goalkeeping competition will look to continue the strong tradition of WKU goalkeepers, a long line that includes Nora Abolins and Libby Stout, both of whom reached the professional ranks following strong collegiate careers.
The incoming class of 11 freshmen (10 true freshmen, one redshirt freshman transfer) will be seeking to replace the production of program mainstays Sarah Gorham, Nicole Roseland and Megan Morris, who graduated following the 2018 season. Gorham went on to become WKU’s first-ever field player to sign a professional contract and is currently competing for Lidköpings FK of the Swedish Elitettan league.
Last season, WKU hosted a pair of exhibitions at the Soccer Complex, splitting the matches with a 2-1 setback against Saint Louis before knocking off Belmont, 3-2. In regular season matches, the Lady Toppers have gone undefeated in 11 straight matches at home and posted a 4-0-4 record at the Soccer Complex in 2018, going a full season without a home loss for just the second time in program history.
Murray State enters the 2019 season with high expectations, having been picked first in the preseason Ohio Valley Conference poll with 18 of a possible 22 first-place votes. The Racers return each of their three top scorers, with Abby Jones (26 points in 2018), Miyah Watford (25 points) and Rebecca Kubin (18 points) pairing to score 69 of Murray State’s 98 points last year. In 2018, the Racers finished with a 13-5-1 overall record and won the OVC Tournament before falling 4-0 against Vanderbilt in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
In goal, the Racers will be looking to replace Alex Steigerwald, who played all 1,734 minutes last season, allowing just 23 goals and making 82 saves for a 1.19 goals against average.
Following Wednesday’s match, WKU will be right back in action twice this weekend as the Lady Toppers welcome Wright State (Friday at 6 p.m.) and Austin Peay (Sunday at 6 p.m.) to the Soccer Complex to close out their preseason exhibition schedule. Both of this weekend’s matches will be streamed live on Facebook via WKU’s expanded partnership with the Hilltopper Sports Satellite Network and will be free to view for all fans.
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Currie P. McFayden
WKU Associate Director of Athletic Communications