WKU is set to open its 2017 season with a pair of exhibition matches on the road at Saint Louis and Murray State this weekend, facing the Billikens on Friday evening at 7 p.m. before squaring off against the Racers in a Sunday matinee battle at 1 p.m.
The Lady Toppers split their exhibition tilts last year, falling in a 2-1 battle against Northern Kentucky at the WKU Soccer Complex before rebounding with a 2-0 win at Xavier. WKU has never faced Saint Louis in a regular season matchup and leads Murray State 4-1 in the all-time series between the two sides. The Lady Toppers and Racers most recently met on Sept. 12, 2008, in a 4-0 victory for WKU in Nashville, Tenn.
The Lady Toppers ended the 2016 slate with an 12-6-1 record and finished third in the final C-USA standings, the program’s best finish since joining the conference prior to the 2014 season. WKU pushed eventual C-USA Tournament champion Charlotte to the brink in the C-USA Quarterfinals, but the 49ers prevailed in penalty kicks. WKU’s 12 victories in 2016 were its most in a single season since 2012 and marked the program’s 13th season with double-digit wins in 16 years of existence.
Leading scorer and preseason All-C-USA selection Chandler Backes returns for her sophomore season on The Hill after enjoying one of the finest freshman seasons in school history. The Carmel, Ind., native became just the fifth player in WKU history to record double-digit goals in a single season and finished with 21 total points, tied for the eighth-most in one season and the most by any player since Amanda Buechel notched 24 points in 2012.
Also back for the Lady Toppers are Sarah Gorham and Bria Mosley, who each tallied four goals during the 2016 season, as well as holding midfielder Nicole Roseland, who was tabbed a preseason all-conference selection after earning First Team honors last year.
In goal, Allison Leone is back for her senior season after serving as WKU’s primary goalkeeper over the last three years. Leone owns a career 0.99 goals against average with 22 solo shutouts, both of which rank second all-time among WKU goalkeepers. In Leone’s 5,165 minutes between the posts, she has collected 30 victories and come up with 225 saves to rank third in each category in the record book.
WKU will also see the debut of its seven-member freshman class in this weekend’s exhibitions. The Lady Toppers lost five players to graduation who started 12 or more contests last season and will be looking for immediate impacts from their newcomers this season. Transfer goalkeeper Anne-Marie Ulliac, who starred for two seasons at Adelphi University, rounds out WKU’s group of newcomers.
Saint Louis closed out its 2016 campaign with a 14-4-2 record and a perfect 9-0-0 mark on its home field. First Team All-Atlantic 10 goalkeeper Mary Niehaus returns for the Billikens after playing every minute last season with a 0.82 goals against average and 63 saves with nine solo shutouts. Leading scorer Danielle Tolmais (10 goals, three assists) is no longer with the team, and Saint Louis returns just two of its top five point-scorers from a year ago in Lindsay Sands (12 points) and Alyssa Seitzer (11). Friday’s match is the lone exhibition of the season for the Billikens.
Murray State enters 2017 as the preseason favorite to win the Ohio Valley Conference and has not suffered a loss in conference play (15-0-3) over the last two seasons. Harriet Withers, a two-time Offensive Player of the Year in the OVC, is back after scoring eight goals and 20 points for the Racers last season, while Murray State returns four of its top five scorers overall. In goal, Alex Steigerwald served as the Racers’ primary starter in 2016, allowing 20 goals across 1,435 minutes of action.
Following this weekend’s exhibitions, WKU will open the regular season with road trips to Lipscomb (Friday, Aug. 18) and Texas (Sunday, Aug. 20) during its opening weekend of play. The Lady Toppers’ first home match is set for 1 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 27, against UT Martin, and WKU will offer free admission to all fans for each of the team’s nine home matches this season.
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Currie P. McFayden
WKU Associate Director of Media Relations