CHENEY, Wash. – Junior Jenna Samora broke a 1-1 tie in the 94th minute to lead the Lumberjacks past Eastern Washington in overtime, 2-1, and a 0-0 tie for Northern Colorado at Montana clinched the first-ever regular season title for Northern Arizona. The Lumberjacks, who won each of the last-two Big Sky championships on the road, will host the 2010 tournament on Friday, November 5 and Sunday, November 7 at Lumberjack Stadium in Flagstaff. NAU moved to 10-3-3 overall and 5-0-1 in the Big Sky, extending its school-record unbeaten streak to 10 straight games, while Eastern Washington dropped to 2-13-1 and 2-4-0 in conference play.
By virtue of winning the regular season conference title, Northern Arizona will be the top seed and host of the Big Sky Championship in two weeks. The top-four teams in the final regular season conference standings will play in the tournament, with the No. 2 and 3 seeds meeting Friday, November 5, at 11 a.m. and Northern Arizona facing the No. 4 seed following that game at approximately 2 p.m. The winners of Friday's semifinal games will meet for the Big Sky Championship and the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA College Cup on Sunday, November 7, at noon. Ticketing information for the Big Sky Championship at Lumberjack Stadium will be released in the coming days.
"The most important thing is to win two games and get to the NCAA Tournament," said head coach Andre Luciano after learning his team had clinched the regular season title "To be the regular season championship and host is the greatest gift we can give to our outstanding senior class, that we call "the foundation", for all of the hard work that they have put into this program. It's an honor for us to get to host the Big Sky Championship, but our work is not done until we go back to the NCAA Tournament."
"It's great for us to get to host the tournament in our last year since we were able to begin the winning tradition," said Corie McGuire, who is one of eight graduating seniors on the Lumberjack roster. "For our senior year to be able to host and have all of our fans out there will be really fun. We learned a lot from winning the tournament on the road (in 2008 and 2009), but home field advantage will be huge for us this time. We still have a lot of work to do, though, to get back to the College Cup."
Sunday's game in chilly Cheney was nothing but a sure thing, as the game was scoreless at halftime after NAU was out-shot 10-5 but junior goalkeeper Tori Rocke made six first-half saves to keep the game even going into the second half.
The first Eastern Washington shot of the second half, however, would give the home team the lead. Eagle forward Whitney Brannan found space to send a cross to the middle of the NAU box to teammate Kristen Fausko, who used one touch to beat Rocke and put the Eagles ahead 1-0 in the 49th minute.
Down a goal, the Lumberjacks became the aggressors, taking five shots and five corner kicks over the ensuing 25 minutes before finding the equalizer in the 70th minute. A lead pass from Lumberjack senior Sam Monahan found junior Chelsea Bednarz in the Eagle box, and her shot to the near post beat Eastern Washington goalie Jamie Walker to even the game at 1-1. The Lumberjacks would out-shoot Eastern Washington 8-2 through the remainder of regulation, but neither team could find the net as the game moved to overtime.
With the momentum on their side, the Lumberjacks were able to score on their first shot of extra time in the 94th minute. After a corner kick from senior Brenna Boies was temporarily cleared, Monahan played a through ball back into the Eagle box. Walker came out to try to field the ball but Samora was able to get there first and finish into the Eagle goal to give NAU a 2-1 win. The Lumberjacks would later learn of the Northern Colorado result, which gave the team its first Big Sky regular season championship in program history.
Rocke finished with a season-high eight saves while Walker made four stops for the Eagles. After being out-shot 10-5 in the first half, NAU had a 15-5 shot advantage in the second half and overtime. Monahan's two assists extended her conference-leading total to nine assists for the season.
The Lumberjacks will close the regular season on Friday in a potential Big Sky Championship preview against Northern Colorado at 2:30 p.m. in Lumberjack Stadium. The eight graduating NAU players will be honored before the regular season finale.