Photo Courtesy of Todd Goodrich
MISSOULA, Mont. – The Northern Arizona women's soccer team reserved a seat in the Big Sky Championship with a 2-1 win over the No. 2 seed Portland State. In a 1-1 tie with 12 minutes left in regulation, Haley Wingender crossed the ball into the box for an Adrian Nixt goal to pull off the upset and advance to Sunday's Championship game.
"This team showed a lot of guts today," said head coach Andre Luciano. "They had so much heart to go down a goal and then get a goal back then to finish the way we did was a gutsy performance. Portland State is a great team and it is always a hard game against them but I am so proud of my team."
The Lumberjacks had not won a game all year having to come from behind and in the most important game of the season, Luciano's squad was able fight their way back to tie the game in the first half and eventually take the lead late in the game. This is NAU's first win over Portland State since 2010.
"I think we have grown a lot since Aug. 28 when we played Arizona," said Luciano. "That is when they believed that they could win. This is a really good group of kids and I love them to death but now we have to focus for Sunday."
It was a defensive battle in the second half with not many scoring opportunities but the Lumberjacks had their opportunities late. In the 72nd minute, Demi Schmieder received a ball in the box from Lindsay Doyle but Portland State's Caitlin Plese came up with a save. Two minutes later Wingender had a break away on the right side of goal and tried to go near post but Plese came up with a kick save to keep the score tied. Four minutes later is when NAU delivered the game-winning goal as the Portland, Ore. native, Nixt, received a ball from Wingender how was near the right corner and was able to cross the ball passing a defensemen and Portland State's goalkeeper leaving a wide open net for Nixt to provide the game-winning goal.
"I knew I had to make a run and Haley played such a great ball," said Nixt. "It is a great feeling because we tied them in conference and now we were able to knock them out of the tournament."
The Lumberjacks had to play catch up early in the game as Portland State jumped on the scoreboard first in the 10th minute of the first half. The Vikings' Abbey Bergquist fired off a shot outside of the box that hit the left post into the back of the net as Portland State took the early 1-0 lead.
It took only seven minutes for the Lumberjacks to respond with a goal of their own from Cierra Gamble. Gamble was able to corral the ball inside the box and place the ball inside of the right post for her second goal of the tournament to tie the game at 1-1 with 28 minutes left in the first half. After the two goals, it was a very even first half with both teams getting a feel for one another's play. NAU had three shots in the first half compared to seven shots from Portland State. In the second half NAU turned on their offensive attack with seven shots in the latter 45 minutes, outshooting the Vikings.
After Portland State scored their goal in the 10th minute, the Lumberjacks' defense stood tall and was able to lock down the Vikings' offense allowing only six shots in the second half.
"As a backline we played really well today," said senior captain Diane Buzzard. "We fought really hard and we were able to get the win."
For the first time since 2010, Northern Arizona is back in the Big Sky Championship and now the Lumberjacks await the winner of the second semifinal match between the No. 1 seed Montana and the No. 5 seed Idaho State. Northern Arizona tied Montana this season at home 0-0 and the Lumberjacks defeated Idaho State on the road 2-1. Northern Arizona will get a day of rest before Sunday's title match that takes place at 12 p.m.
"This means everything to me," said Buzzard. "To come from 3-9-7 my freshmen year to now being in the championship means the world to me."
You can watch the championship game on Sunday on the Watch Big Sky page.