Photo Courtesy: Daniel Ward
TUCSON, Ariz. - The Northern Arizona women's soccer team was back on the pitch Thursday night in Tucson as they faced the University of Arizona. The Lumberjacks had their best defensive performance of the season but it was not enough against the Wildcats as UofA scored in the 86th minute for the 1-0 win. The Lumberjacks drop to 0-3 this season.
"Tonight was a complete 180 from the first three games we have played this year," said head coach Andre Luciano. "I felt like we finally showed some grit and resolve going after fifty-fifty balls and challenging our opponent."
After firing off 28 shots against Northern Arizona's defense, Arizona broke through in the 86th minute with a goal from Leeandra Smith to give the Wildcats the late victory.
Natalie Gilbertson was back in goal for the Lumberjacks against the Wildcats after Meghan Dickmann started NAU's last match against UC Riverside and Gilbertson was stellar in goal with nine saves. Gilbertson's biggest save of them all was in the 42nd minute when Hannah Wong had the chance to give UofA the lead off a penalty kick but Gilbertson came up with the big save to keep the score at 0-0.
Despite the loss, Luciano was encouraged by the team's performance.
"I told the team that they are back," said Luciano. "The Jacks that we know fight and they challenged for everything and never quit. The shots were favored heavily in UofA's favor but we did what we needed to do and I am really proud of them."
The Lumberjacks' defense stood tall in the first half as pressure was applied by the Wildcats' offense with 12 shots in the first half, six on goal. NAU had just one shot in the entire game but a dangerous one coming from Torey Braly but her shot went wide of the left post.
"Our backline did an incredible job containing their key players," said Luciano. "They were dangerous in terms of coming forward but we wanted them to take shots outside the box and that is what they did."
There were some new faces on the pitch for the Lumberjacks as freshman Riley Porter saw her first action as a Lumberjack coming in late in the first half and would start in the second half. Junior Ashlynn Curnow saw the field for the first time this season playing 72 minutes and sophomore Mattie Wojcik received playing time in the second half for NAU.
The Lumberjacks will now head back to Flagstaff and prepare for Sunday's home opener against Valparaiso at 1 pm at Lumberjack Stadium.
"It is always great playing home," said Luciano. "I am not taking anything away from where we have played this season but there is something special playing at 7,000 feet in the cool mountain air. We really enjoy our home field and I look forward to our opener on Sunday."