FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - It was a historical season for the 2014 Northern Arizona women's soccer team that saw records broken, many wins and the Lumberjacks were able to hoist the Big Sky Conference Championship at the end of the season.
Northern Arizona ended the season with a 12-6-4 record tying the most wins in a season in school history. The Lumberjacks started out their season with an eight-game non-conference schedule facing opponents all across the West Coast. NAU ended their non-conference schedule with a 4-3-1 record with wins over South Dakota, Wright State, UTEP and in-state rival Grand Canyon.
September was a month to remember as the Lumberjacks did not lose a game during the month going 5-0-1 allowing only three goals in six games. During NAU's unbeaten streak, junior forward Haley Wingender recorded a point in six straight matches proving early that she was one of the top forwards in the Big Sky Conference.
Northern Arizona was picked to finish third in the Big Sky preseason poll and the Lumberjacks ended their Big Sky Schedule with a 5-2-3 record, finishing third in the conference. In the final weekend of the regular season, the season was on the line as the Lumberjacks needed a win or a tie to reserve a spot in the Big Sky Championships against Southern Utah. In the most important game of the season, Northern Arizona played one of their best games of the season on Senior Night and sent out the Lumberjack seniors with a 1-0 win over the Thunderbirds to advance to the Big Sky tournament.
The Lumberjacks went into the Big Sky Championships on a three-game unbeaten streak with one goal in mind, to be the last team standing at the end of the tournament. Lying ahead of the Lumberjacks was the task of playing three games in four days as No. 1 Montana and No. 2 Portland State received first-round byes. Waiting for NAU in the quarterfinals was Eastern Washington, who had defeated the Lumberjacks two and half weeks earlier in Flagstaff. The Lumberjacks were able to get revenge on the Eagles and send Eastern Washington back to Cheney after a 3-2 win to advance to the semifinals. Waiting for the Lumberjacks in the semis was Portland State who was riding a six-game unbeaten streak heading into the conference tournament. The teams had to kick off their regular season conference schedule in Flagstaff, which resulted in a 1-1 draw but there would be no draw in Missoula, Mont. in the Big Sky semifinals. The Lumberjacks had not won a game all year having to come from behind and in the most important game of the season to that point, the Lumberjacks were able fight their way back to tie the game in the first half and eventually take the lead late in the game. This was NAU's first win over Portland State since 2010.
Once the Lumberjacks clinched a spot in the Big Sky Championship, they waited for the winner of the second semifinals matchup between the top seed and host Montana against the No. 5 seed Idaho State. The Bengals also pulled off the upset and defeated Montana to advance to the championship game. Northern Arizona and Idaho State were the only two teams to win a game in the Big Sky Championships. Northern Arizona defeated the Bengals in Pocatello two weeks earlier on Idaho State's Senior Day and once again the Lumberjacks had the task of having to defend against Amanda Ellsworth, the Big Sky's all-time leader in career goals and points. It took two goals in 90 minutes in 37 degree weather with rain showers on a slick playing field to come out as Big Sky Champions. The Northern Arizona women's soccer team delivered two goals coming from Emily Wadell and Wingender as the Lumberjacks defeated Idaho State 2-1 to take home the Big Sky Title for the third time in school history.
After a win in the Big Sky Championship, the Lumberjacks received an automatic berth into the NCAA Women's College Cup and they were rewarded with facing in-state opponent Arizona State, the Lumberjacks' first opponent this season. Northern Arizona scored two goals, the most in an NCAA College Cup game for Northern Arizona, but it was not enough as Arizona State defeated NAU 4-2 to advance in the College Cup.
Despite the loss, history was made against Arizona State. Wingender scored in the 12th minute against Arizona State breaking the NAU record for most points scored in a season with 29 previously held by NAU Hall of Famer Cee Cee Odorfer's record in 2008 with 28 points. Wingender also ties the school record for most goals scored in a season with 12 along Sierra Cristiano in 2002.
The accolades continued to pour in for Wingender as she earned her first Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week honor on Oct. 14. The native of Henderson, Nev. was also named First team All-Big Sky after an outstanding season finishing second in the Big Sky in points and goals scored. Wingender set a new school record with seven game-winning goals in one season, previously held by Odorfer in 2008 with five and also led the Big Sky in game-winning goals this season. She is currently tied for fifth all-time in career goals in NAU history with 19.
Joining Wingender as a member of the All-Big Sky First Team was senior Sarah Tarver. Tarver earned her first All-Big Sky First Team selection and her third All-Conference Honor overall. The native of Juneau, Alaska earned All-Big Sky conference selections as a forward (2011), an outside back (2013) and this year as a center back. On Sept. 23 this year, Tarver was named Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week and the senior has provided great leadership in the backline that allowed a 0.99 goals against average this season.
Tarver, senior defender Diane Buzzard and junior midfielder Cierra Gamble tied the NAU single season record for most starts in a season as the trio started all 22 games this season joining Kristi Andreassen in 2008. Tarver and Buzzard played in every minute this season for the Lumberjacks
Along with Tarver and Wingender, seven of their fellow Lumberjacks earned All-Big Sky Conference selections, the most since 2010 when Northern Arizona received 10 All-Conference honors. Gamble was named to the All-Big Sky Second Team while senior midfielder Savannah Berry, Buzzard, junior defender Ashlynn Curnow, redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Natalie Gilbertson, freshman forward Adrian Nixt and redshirt sophomore forward Demi Schmieder all received All-Big Sky Honorable Mention honors.
Nixt tied the school record for most assists recorded in a single game with three against UTEP. Gilbertson had one of the best seasons in NAU history between the posts ending the season with a 0.80 goals against average, which is the fourth best in school history. Gilbertson had a winning percentage of .650 putting her in fifth place all-time and had nine shutouts this season, the third most in any season at Northern Arizona. Gilbertson played 1922:09 minutes in goal for the Lumberjacks, the most minutes played by any goalkeeper in a season.
The Lumberjacks scored the latest goal ever in school history this season during regulation. Against the defending Big Sky Champions, Weber State, the Lumberjacks tied the game with four seconds left in the game off a Wingender goal. The previous record was 89:23 held by Adria Barchi but after the 2014 season, Wingender holds the record at 89:56.
The Lumberjacks will be losing six seniors in Berry, Buzzard, Mary Harrah, Emily Roth, Malia Tano and Tarver who helped elevate this program back to the top of the Big Sky. These seniors ended their freshman campaign with a 3-9-7 record; fast forward three years later, these seniors will leave the program with a 12-6-4 record and a Big Sky Championship attached to their name.
All three Big Sky Championships Northern Arizona has won have been led by head coach Andre Luciano. Completing his 14th season as head coach at Northern Arizona University, Luciano now has 112 career wins. Luciano has now coached 98 All-Big Sky selections and has taken the Lumberjacks to the NCAA Women's College Cup three times in the past seven years.
The future is bright for the Northern Arizona women's soccer program and it is because of the six seniors and the 2014 squad bringing the program back to where it belongs, as Champions of the Big Sky Conference.