FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Facing a must-win situation this weekend, the Northern Arizona soccer team will host Eastern Washington on Friday at 7 p.m. at Lumberjack Stadium in the first of its two final conference matches. The Lumberjacks (5-7-4 overall, 3-2-2 BSC) are in need of wins in order to move into the top-four qualifying spots for the Big Sky Championship tournament after a one-year absence a year ago.
"The most important thing for us is not to worry about who's doing what (in the conference)," said head coach Andre Luciano. "At this point of the season, having the ability to control your own destiny in the games that you play is a good thing. For us, we can't worry about Thursday and Saturday's games, we just have to worry about what we do on Friday."
NAU is in a similar position as most of the teams in the conference. With no berths to the conference tournament clinched yet, eight of the 10 teams enter the final weekend of conference play jostling for position in the standings with only Southern Utah and North Dakota being eliminated from postseason contention. The Lumberjacks, currently sitting in a tie for sixth with 11 points, can pick up six points with wins over Eastern Washington on Friday and Montana on Sunday.
As bunched up as the standings are with eight points separating the top eight teams and just five points between the current third-place to eighth-place teams, six teams are still in contention to host the Big Sky tournament to be held in two weeks. NAU can wind up in the top spot of the standings at the end of Sunday's play with two wins this weekend, plus losses or ties by Northern Colorado in both of its matches and at least one or loss from both Idaho State and Weber State.
The Lumberjacks return home in position to qualify for the postseason after a 1-1 weekend a week ago. NAU got the weekend started with a 4-0 shutout of North Dakota, receiving two goals from freshman Demi Schmieder and one goal each from sophomore Emily Roth and junior Elinor Priest. They then traveled to Northern Colorado, but fell 5-0 to the Bears.
The shutout at North Dakota was the team's fifth in seven Big Sky matches, which equals the most shutouts in Big Sky play in school history set in 2010. The five conference shutouts are also tied for the most in the Big Sky this season. Even with the five goals allowed to Northern Colorado, junior Lauren Weaver's goals against average in conference play is still below one at 0.94. Her overall season marks lie at a 1.14 goals against average, a .852 save percentage and 75 saves.
Schmieder now leads the team with three goals, four assists and 10 points, all of which rank in the top-10 in the conference. Over her last five games, she has taken a team-high 15 shots and placed 11 of those on frame. In conference play alone, Schimeder has placed 13 of her 17 shots on goal for a .765 clip.
Eastern Washington comes into Friday's match also in a must-win situation as the Eagles are currently in eighth place with eight points. The Eagles are 5-7-3 overall and 2-3-2 in the Big Sky after dropping their only match last weekend at home to Montana, 4-0. They are led by Cassie Black, who is not only the team's top striker but also one of the conference's most potent offensive players. Black leads the team with eight goals and 18 points, both of which rank second in the Big Sky. In conference play only, Black leads the Big Sky in points with nine and is tied for the lead in goals with four. She has netted the game-winning goal in four of the Eagles' five wins this season. Nathalie Schwery and Jamie Walker has essentially split time in goal for Eastern Washington, but Schwery has been more productive, posting a 1.19 goals against average and a .850 save percentage to go with two shutouts.
"Eastern Washington is always tough to play because they get numbers behind the ball defensively," Luciano said. "Cassie Black is a very dynamic and dangerous goal-scorer and they're a team that is still fighting to get into the playoffs. I expect it to be a hard fought game and for us to face a very formidable opponent."
The Lumberjacks own a 10-4-0 advantage in the all-time series versus the Eagles. NAU has won the last seven matches overall and is 6-1 against Eastern Washington at home, including a 3-0 shutout last season on Senior Day.
Friday's match will also be Women's Soccer Alumni Night at Lumberjack Stadium.