TEMPE, Ariz. – After a long nine months since its disappointing end to its 2010 season, the Northern Arizona soccer team opens its 2011 season against in-state rival Arizona State Friday night in Tempe at 7 p.m. The Lumberjacks return five starters and 12 letterwinners from last year's squad that went 12-4-3 and claimed the regular season Big Sky title before suffering defeat in the conference championship final.
"It's been a long preseason and we've been training really hard," said head coach Andre Luciano. "The key will be to get into rhythm and give the players the rest that they need and focus on the little details."
The Lumberjacks return an impressive duo on the offensive attack with seniors Chelsea Bednarz and Jenna Samora, who tallied five goals apiece last season. Senior Sam Monahan returns in the midfield after posting a conference high nine assists last year, putting her just six assists shy of tying the school mark in career assists. On the defensive backline, senior Georgia Foltz and sophomore Alana D'Onofrio are back after helping the Lumberjacks post a school and conference record six game shutout streak a year ago.
"In terms of their work rate as a group, it's been very good," Luciano said. "The test will be how we will do against an opponent outside of our own team."
Arizona State is coming off a 9-8-3 season that ended with their second straight NCAA Women's College Cup appearance. They finished seventh in the Pac-10 last season with a 3-5 conference record and were recently voted seventh in the new Pac-12 preseason poll.
"Arizona State is going to be good," Luciano said. "They're good at home and they'll probably play in their traditional 4-3-3 formation and try to stretch us. They're going to be very athletic and they're a solid Pac-12 team."
The Sun Devils return two all-conference players in second team All-Pac-10 selection junior midfielder Taylor McCarter and sophomore forward Devin Marshall, a member of the Pac-10's All-Freshman Team and was all-conference Honorable Mention. McCarter's defense in the midfield was critical to the team's success last season, while Marshall tied for the team lead with four assists and scored ASU's only goal in their 2-1 loss to UC Irvine in the first round of the College Cup. But gone are Karin Volpe and Alexandra Elston, the team's top two goal scorers in 2010.
"They lost a lot of their attacking players from last year and we lost a lot of our defensive players, so it's going to be a good early test for everyone," Luciano added. "But they've had their first exhibition game against Boise State last week and this is our first game, so we'll see who has the jitters. Hopefully it turns out good for us."
Last year, NAU and ASU met up for the season opener as well, and the Sun Devils pulled out a narrow 4-3 victory. The Lumberjacks are 1-7 all-time versus Arizona State, with their only win coming in 2001. NAU last played the Sun Devils in Tempe in 2009, losing 4-0 to ASU, and is 1-3 all-time against the Sun Devils at their home.
Tickets for the game can be purchased through the ASU Ticket Office at 480-727-0000.
After the Lumberjacks take on the Sun Devils, they will travel to Cedar City, Utah to face future Big Sky opponent Southern Utah on Sunday at 12 p.m. The Thunderbirds are coming off a 5-11-1 season in 2010 in which they finished eight in the Summit League.
This will be the Thunderbirds' final season in the Summit League before becoming a full member of the Big Sky Conference in 2012-13. NAU hosted Southern Utah last season in Flagstaff, defeating the Thunderbirds 3-0.
Meet and Greet: For all NAU soccer fans, alumni and parents, Luciano will be at the Buffalo Wild Wings near the ASU soccer stadium in Tempe before the game from 5:15 – 5:45. Come to mingle with Luciano and fellow Lumberjack soccer supporters. The address and phone number for BWW is provided below, and food and drinks are at the expense of the attendees.
705 S Rural Rd # 101
Tempe, AZ 85281-2045
For more info, please contact Jason Roundy at 928-523-1256 or by email at Jason.Roundy@nau.edu.