The No. 6-seed Charlotte 49ers women’s soccer team defeated the No. 3-seed Western Kentucky Lady Toppers Wednesday night in the first round of the Conference USA tournament in penalty kicks, winning 4-1, after a 1-1 score took the game into extra time at Transamerica Field.
Charlotte’s freshman Sara Sandberg placed the ball 12 yards away from WKU’s keeper Allison Leone (9-8-2) to begin the penalty kicks, scooting the ball directly by Leone, giving the 49ers a quick lead. Abby Coffey, the backup goalkeeper for Charlotte, got her name called by coach John Cullen to defend her home net, as the first shot for WKU sailed over the goal.
Conference USA Player of the Year Martha Thomas stepped up next for Charlotte, sending the ball to the back of the net, helping give the 49ers a 2-0 advantage. WKU’s Olivia Fitzgerald provided the Lady Toppers with their only goal of the intense penalty kicks, but still trailed 1-2.
Senior defender Shelby Hicks increased the 49ers lead, now 3-1, providing a nice cushion for Coffey with the chances for both teams almost coming to an end. Coffey stepped up to the plate for Charlotte, as an attempt for the Lady Toppers banged off the post, keeping a 2-shot lead for the 49ers.
Only needing one more goal to seal the deal for Charlotte, senior Katie O’Neill, recently selected to the All-Conference USA Second Team, created a ripple in the back of the net and a loud roar over the home crowd in the Queen City, banging home the final goal needed for a Charlotte victory.
The 49ers looked like the higher seed coming out of the gate, jumping out to a 11-4 shot advantage over the Lady Toppers in the first half. In the first 45 minutes of play, Thomas slid by the Topper’s backline, using a gentle touch with her right foot to flick the ball over the charging WKU keeper, giving the 49ers a 1-0 lead at the 22:23 mark.
Fast forwading to the second half, the Lady Toppers showed why they came into the tournament as the third seed, firing off eight shots over the next 45 minutes, compared to only two for the 49ers.
One of those shots for WKU proved successful in the 82nd minute, as Sarah Gotham rolled a shot by Anna Sheldon to the far post, tying the game with just eight minutes remaining.
With the game in overtime, the 49ers and WKU fought hard to net the winner, but neither team accomplished that feat, sending it into penalty kicks.
“They came out in the second half with a lot of momentum and we got lucky … but we dug deep and finished it off,” Thomas said. “We dominated both overtime periods and practiced penalties all week – it paid off.”
The 49ers will take on No. 7-seed UTEP Friday night at 7 p.m. at Transamerica Field, reaching the program’s first semifinals since 2013.