FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona women's soccer team kicked off their Big Sky regular season schedule against the defending regular season champions, Portland State at home under the lights at Lumberjack Stadium. The Lumberjacks played their second straight overtime game, this time at home and after two goals in the first half, NAU and Portland State ended their Big Sky opener in a 1-1 draw. NAU is now 4-3-2 on the season.
"We knew going into this game that they were going to be hard to break down," said head coach Andre Luciano. "They have a very good goalkeeper and they play very deep. Their midfield poses problems because they love to attack and get behind you so we needed to establish a rhythm. When we possessed we were good and when we were direct, we struggled."
The Lumberjacks were the first team to score on Friday and the goal came from Portland, Ore. native Adrian Nixt. The freshman scored her third goal of the season off a free-kick from Haley Wingender. Wingender passed her free-kick into the box and Nixt was able to flick it in to put NAU up 1-0 in the 12th minute.
"I saw the open space and Haley was able to play it through," said Nixt who had played with or competed against four of the players on the Vikings' roster during her high school and club career. "It means a little more scoring against them (Portland State) because I have scored against some of their players in club during high school but to do it in college, in a conference game is pretty surreal."
With the assist, Wingender has recorded a point in five straight games. This is the second goal this season NAU has scored off a free-kick.
"We have watched a lot of video trying different set pieces," said Luciano. "We have given our players the freedom to be creative and as much as I would love to take credit for the goals, that goal was just Haley and Adrian communicating and Adrian doing her thing."
Portland State responded in the first half with a goal of their own in the 25th minute from Tamia Hasan to tie up the game at 1-1.
Portland State had a golden opportunity to take the lead with six minutes left off a corner kick and had a shot in the box but NAU's Ashlynn Curnow was sitting on the right post and blocked the shot from Katie Forsee to keep the score at 1-1.
Natalie Gilbertson was solid in goal for the Lumberjacks as the NAU goalkeeper came up with four saves. The Northern Arizona backline of Diane Buzzard, Curnow, Danny Muniz and Sarah Tarver played the entire 110 minutes without being subbed out, allowing just one goal.
"Overall our communication is what kept us able to stay organized," said Curnow. "We were able to limit Hasan and minimize her touches of combinations."
NAU was challenged with the task of finding ways to score against reigning First Team All-Big Sky goalkeeper Caitlin Plese who went into the game with a 0.92 goals against average. NAU was able to get six shots off against Portland State's defense, with two of them on goal.
It was a physical match between the Big Sky schools as 20 fouls were called in the match, 15 of them from Portland State's side.
"That is a typical, physical conference match," said Luciano. "Every game we have played this year has been physical so we knew that going in and our team didn't back down. Portland State has always been a physical team and I am proud of the way we matched up physically."
The Vikings went into the game averaging seven shots a game scoring 0.88 goals per contest; NAU's defense ended regulation allowing seven shots with one goal, right on par with Portland State's season averages.
NAU will now turn their attention towards Sunday's matchup against Sacramento State, who suffered their first Big Sky loss of the season tonight at Southern Utah by a score of 2-1. Sunday's matchup against the Hornets will be 12 p.m. at Lumberjack Stadium.