OGDEN, Utah – By the narrowest of margins, the Northern Arizona soccer team has been picked first by the conference coaches in the 2011 preseason poll. NAU collected 43 points, one point more than Sacramento State's 42 points, to slightly top the Hornets as the pre-season favorite to claim the conference title. Both the Lumberjacks and the Hornets received three first place votes in the poll. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams.
Last season, the Lumberjacks finished the regular season with at 6-0-1 conference record. As the regular season conference champion, they hosted the Big Sky Championship for the first time. However, they fell short of their third consecutive conference championship at the hands of Sacramento State, which defeated NAU 1-0 in the title game.
"I think everybody goes off of what happened last year in preseason polls," said head coach Andre Luciano. "I don't think this poll is any indication of who we are this year. We're still a completely different team that we have to create our own identity with in the games we have in front of us. I don't put too much creed into what goes on in the preseason poll."
Northern Colorado and Portland State, the other two conference tournament participants in 2010, finished third and fourth in the preseason poll respectively. The Bears received two first place votes and 39 points while the Vikings tallied 34 points. Nine total points separated the top four teams, a signal of the conference parity according to Luciano.
"It validates that there is so much parity in the conference right now," Luciano said. "There's no clear first-place team and everybody has the ability to go in and win the conference. The conference is getting better every year and all of these teams can be so dangerous. It comes down to who is on at home and who can sneak a win on the road."
The top four teams in the conference at the regular season will once again gain berths to the conference tournament set for Nov. 3-6, with the winner advancing to the NCAA Women's College Cup.
Preseason Poll (As Picked by the Conference Head Coaches)
1. Northern Arizona – 43 (3)
2. Sacramento State – 42 (3)
3. Northern Colorado – 39 (2)
4. Portland State – 34
5. Weber State – 26
6. Montana – 19
7. Idaho State – 14
8. Eastern Washington – 7