FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – In the final game of the regular season, the Northern Arizona women's soccer team faced Southern Utah looking to clinch a spot in the Big Sky Championships. On the night of Halloween, the Lumberjacks showed no fear against the Thunderbirds taking a 1-0 lead in the first half and that is all the Lumberjacks needed as NAU defeated Southern Utah 1-0 to clinch third in the Big Sky and reserve a seat in the Big Sky Championships. NAU finishes the regular season with a 9-5-4 record and a 5-2-3 record in the Big Sky.
"Give credit to coach Hogan and Southern Utah because it is never an easy game against them anymore," said head coach Andre Luciano. "She has turned that program around and it is a rivalry between the two schools but a rivalry of respect."
The Lumberjacks jumped on the scoreboard first in the 40th minute of the first half off a goal from Demi Schmieder as the forward was able to dribble into the box for a goal in the lower 90 as NAU went up 1-0 going into halftime. NAU put up eight shots in the first half and the Lumberjacks' defense allowed just five shots with three on goal.
"Torey (Braly) was able to get a flick off the free kick which started it all," said Schmieder. "I was able to time it and get a touch on my left foot to make the keeper commit and tuck the ball into the left post."
The Lumberjacks came out firing in the start of the second half firing off seven shots in the first 15 minutes of play. NAU came close to a second goal in the 55th minute off a header from Haley Wingender but the junior's attempt hit the post.
"Tonight we created a lot of one-on-one isolations on top of the box," said Luciano. "We scored when we needed to and we kept the ball out of goal when we needed to; it is a really simple game."
NAU's goalkeeper Natalie Gilbertson came up with a huge diving save with 20 minutes left in the game off a strike from Southern Utah's Madison Wood in the lower 90 as the Lumberjacks' held on to a 1-0 lead.
"Southern Utah's offense is so good but I think our center backs are so underrated in the conference," said Luciano. "I cannot tell you of a more solid pair of center backs than Diane Buzzard and Sarah Tarver. Ashlynn Curnow and Danny Muniz have dug their way back into the starting lineup and they stepped up huge for us this year."
This was the ninth shutout for the Lumberjacks this season as Gilbertson's goals against average sits at an all-time best 0.52 in NAU history.
"I think our defensive performance could not have been better," said Gilbertson. "We knew it was do or die and we knew we had to fight with everything we had to get into the postseason."
Before the final match at home this season, the Lumberjacks honored their six seniors in Savannah Berry, Diane Buzzard, Mary Harrah, Emily Roth, Malia Tano and Sarah Tarver. Every senior on the roster played in the game tonight and contributed key minutes as Tarver and Buzzard played in minute this game as well as the season.
"It was sad knowing that this was the last time we were going to be playing at home with these seniors," said an emotional Schmieder. "At the same time there was a lack of emotion because we knew we had to get it done and there was no time to be emotional."
Now the Lumberjacks turn their attention towards the Big Sky Championships which will take place in Missoula, Mont. as Montana earned the No. 1 seed in the Big Sky and will host the tournament. On Thursday, Nov. 6, Northern Arizona will face the sixth seed Eastern Washington. The two schools squared off in Flagstaff this season with a 1-0 win for the Eagles.
"We have three major goals," said Luciano. "Above .500 in conference, to be top three in conference and to go into postseason with a winning record and we did that but we have some unfinished business from last year. Our focus is to go into the tournament and do a really good job of scouting Eastern Washington and know everything about them."