FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona soccer team heads out for its final road trip of the regular season this weekend currently sitting two points out in a tie of the top-four qualifying teams for the Big Sky Conference tournament. With matches at North Dakota on Friday at 1 p.m. and Northern Colorado on Sunday at 11 a.m., the Lumberjacks hope to make up ground before returning home next weekend for their final two conference games.
"We're in the red zone and we've got to go in and win games at this point of the season," said head coach Andre Luciano. "We're at a critical juncture right now and we have to take care of business on Friday. That's the most urgent thing, win the game on Friday and then figure out what the other results are (around the conference) and make adjustments accordingly."
The Lumberjacks (4-6-4 overall, 2-1-2 BSC) picked up two points in the standings to get to eight points last weekend after a pair of 0-0 ties against the top two teams in the conference, Portland State and Sacramento State. Despite being outshot by a 40-23 margin, NAU was buoyed by junior Lauren Weaver, who earned Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week honors earlier this week after posting the two shutouts while making 22 combined saves. Weaver now has four shutouts in five Big Sky matches this season and has allowed just two goals in her last 490:00 minutes. Her .956 save percentage and 0.37 goals against average in conference play ranks first and third respectively, while her overall save percentage of .890 is 13th in the country.
Offensively, NAU was kept off the scoreboard last weekend for the first times since Sept. 9, but freshman Demi Schmieder continued to make her presence felt on the field. Although Schmieder, the team leader in points and assists, did not find the back of the net, she continued to attack the net totaling seven shots in the two games, placing four on frame. That continued a trend during conference play as she leads the team with 13 shots and nine shots on goal in five Big Sky matches as compared to just three shots in nine non-conference matches.
"The most important thing for us to get back to playing possession-oriented soccer and getting numbers forward around the goal," Luciano said. "We've been too direct and over the top, so the focus is to get the ball back on the ground and get into an offensive rhythm."
Prior to last weekend, the Lumberjacks had scored a goal in each of their last five games, but have only scored multiple goals in one match this season in a 2-0 win over Florida Atlantic on Aug. 31. However, their scoring woes could be cured on Friday when they make their first trip to the state of North Dakota in school history. UND has surrendered the most goals (34) in the Big Sky thus far, and have been outscored 15-2 in Big Sky action. North Dakota, in its first season in the Big Sky, is 2-9-1 overall and 0-5-0 in conference play. They are led by Taryn MacMillan who leads the team with three goals and eight points. She is one of four UND players with multiple goals this season including Rhaya Ballon, who lead the team with nine goals in 2011 while receiving All-Great West Second Team honors.
Northern Colorado will pose a bigger offensive scoring challenge for NAU on Sunday as the Bears have allowed just one goal in conference play while outscoring their opponents 6-1 in five Big Sky matches. The Bears, last season's co-Big Sky regular season champions, are 5-5-3 overall and tied for third in the conference with 10 points and a 3-1-1 record. Brittany Dunn leads Northern Colorado with three assists and seven points and is tied for the team-lead in goals (2) with Madison Yoswa and Mallory Van Hout. Natalie D'Adamio has been the key to the Bears' defensive prowess as she ranks second in the Big Sky in shutouts and fourth in saves, save percentage and goals against average. In conference play, D'Adamio is first with a 0.19 goals against average via just one goal allowed in 470:00 minutes.
While the Lumberjacks will be playing North Dakota for the first time, they are even with Northern Colorado in the all-time series. NAU and Northern Colorado have split the first eight meetings between the two schools at 4-4 and seven of the eight matches have ended in a shutout for one of the teams. The Lumberjacks will make the trip to Greeley, Colo. for the second consecutive season where they are 0-3 all-time, including at 2-0 loss last year.