Following a two-week road trip to open C-USA play, WKU will be back inside the friendly confines of the WKU Soccer Complex on Thursday evening at 7 p.m. as the Lady Toppers welcome Rice for a conference clash.
Thursday’s match will serve as the team’s annual “Red Out” match, and all fans are encouraged to wear red to support the Lady Toppers; the first 50 fans in attendance will receive a free red t-shirt. The match will also be Military, Veterans and First Responders Night with each group receiving recognition. As with all home matches this season, admission is free for all fans.
The Lady Toppers (3-5-1, 0-1-1 C-USA) will be seeking their first win of C-USA play on Thursday, having dropped their opener at Old Dominion before battling to a scoreless draw last Thursday afternoon at Southern Miss. WKU held the hot-shooting offense of the Golden Eagles in check and generated chances of its own throughout the match, but could not find the back of the net in the 110-minute battle.
Rice (5-2-1, 2-0 C-USA) enters Thursday’s clash having won its last three matches, including a 2-0 shutout victory over Louisiana Tech in its last time out on Sept. 21. Goals early in each half from Rebecca Keane and Samantha Chaiken were the difference for the Owls, who have tallied 23 goals across just eight matches thus far in 2017.
Heading into Thursday’s tilt, WKU sports both the reigning C-USA Defensive Player and Goalkeeper of the Week in Christina Bragado and Allison Leone. Both Lady Toppers played pivotal roles in the draw at Southern Miss, with Bragado anchoring the defensive from her center back position and Leone stonewalling the Golden Eagles’ offense with seven saves on the evening. Leone’s award, the third of her career, also tied her with Amanda Buechel for the most individual weekly awards in program history.
Offensively, the trio of Chandler Backes, Hannah Chua and Sarah Gorham have led the attack for the Lady Toppers, combining for 52 of the team’s 104 shots thus far on the season; of those 52 attempts, 24 shots have been on goal, with nine coming from Backes, eight from Gorham and seven from Chua. Backes continues to lead the squad with four goals and 10 total points while also dishing out a team-best pair of assists.
Freshman Deven Jackson has provided an offensive spark for the Lady Toppers over the last three weeks. Although she has not scored, the Auckland, New Zealand, native has been very close, striking the crossbar with just over 15 minutes remaining at Old Dominion; the first-year player also notched her first collegiate point on Sept. 3 against Evansville, playing a through-ball to set up one of Backes’ two goals.
On defense, Bragado has started all nine matches at her center back position and played every minute this season for the Lady Toppers, with Nicole Roseland also in the starting lineup in every match thus far as a holding midfielder; Aleksandra Kozovic, Megan Morris and Kaylyn Bryant have also seen extensive playing time along the back line, appearing in all nine matches with eight starts apiece. The Lady Toppers have allowed just eight goals this season and have not surrendered any more than two in a single contest; in addition, WKU’s opponents have scored just three goals in the last 410 minutes of play.
Between the posts, Leone has played all but nine minutes for the Lady Toppers this season and owns a 0.86 goals against average with 44 total saves. The senior has made 269 career saves and enters Thursday’s match with 25 solo shutouts, marks that rank third and second in program history, respectively.
For the Owls, Keane leads with five goals this season and both Chaiken and Nia Stallings trail just behind with four goals apiece. Each of the trio has also tallied double-digit points this season, led by 12 from Stallings. Annie Walker has also played a key role in setting up Rice’s offense, standing alongside Stallings for the team lead with four assists.
In goal, Maya Hoyer has played all 740 minutes for Rice, making 29 saves and surrendering 10 goals for a 1.22 goals against average. Hoyer has also notched three solo shutouts on the year against Louisiana Tech, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Baylor.
WKU claimed its first-ever victory over Rice in the most recent meeting between the two sides, defeating the Owls, 1-0, on the road in Houston last season. Overall, Rice holds a 3-1-1 lead in the series; the Lady Toppers will also be seeking their first win over the Owls in Bowling Green after battling to a 0-0 draw in 2013 and a 3-1 setback during the 2015 season.
Following Thursday’s match, the Lady Toppers will remain at home for Sunday afternoon’s clash against North Texas at 1 p.m. The former Sun Belt rivals have met 22 times in program history, more than any other foe that WKU has faced, with the Mean Green holding a 13-7-2 advantage in the series. The Lady Toppers will be seeking their first win in the series since a 2-0 victory on Oct. 21, 2012.
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Currie P. McFayden
WKU Associate Director of Athletic Communications