FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The 2014 Northern Arizona women's soccer team finished the year with a Big Sky Conference Championship, nine all-conference selections and one of the best seasons in school history. Coming off their first NCAA appearance since 2009, head coach Andre Luciano, entering his 15th year, is preparing for yet another historical season.
A Glimpse Into 2015
"We welcome the fact that we were the 2014 champions, but the reality is that we start all over again," Luciano said. "We have always tried to keep our players on edge and hungry by focusing on what's ahead of us."
This year they return 11 letterwinners, eight starters and six redshirts. Add to the mix 12 newcomers and you have a roster infused with youth and experience. Of the 11 letterwinners, the Lumberjacks bring back five all-conference selections in senior forward Haley Wingender, senior midfielder Cierra Gamble, redshirt junior goalkeeper Natalie Gilbertson, senior defender Ashlynn Curnow and sophomore forward Adrian Nixt. Luciano credits not only their veteran leadership, but the team's resilience as factors that will help them in building off a 12-6-4 overall record.
"I think this team is different. I think there was an immediate buy in from our whole senior class in doing the work to win again," Luciano explained. "I really credit them and all the returning players for creating a championship culture."
Northern Arizona women's soccer is bringing back a lot of talent and experience in Wingender, Gamble, Gilbertson and Curnow. Wingender, the 2014 Big Sky Tournament MVP, was also named to First-Team All-Big Sky last season while Gamble made the second team. Gilbertson and Curnow were both named All-Big Sky Honorable Mention. Gamble and Wingender combined for 16 goals and 40 points last season. Gilbertson, the Lumberjacks starting goalkeeper, led the Big Sky in goals against average (0.80) and save percentage at .860. She also tied the league-best nine shutouts in 2014.
Other contributors lacing up for the 2015 season are seniors Emily Wadell and Lauren Doud. Wadell had two goals and two assists on the year, putting her fourth on the team in each statistic respectively. She played in all 22 contests, starting 17 of them as a key defender. At forward, Doud also had two assists on the year. Each were named two of the three captains this past spring and are ready to embrace their roles as senior leaders.
Making an Impact
Junior forward Lindsay Doyle also made her way into the lineup in 14 of 22 games last season. She recorded two points with two assists and attempted 15 shots on goal. Nixt too had some clutch performances for the Lumberjacks. She was named All-Big Sky Honorable Mention racking up 13 points in her rookie season. She tallied up five goals on the year, one of them being the game winner in the Big Sky Conference tournament semifinal game against Portland State.
Record Setting Performances
Based on individual season performances dating back to 1997, Wingender and Gilbertson have earned their way into the NAU record books and look to carry this momentum into the 2015 season.
- Goals: 12 (1st, 2014)
- Goals per match: 0.55 (1st, 2014)
- Individual season points: 29 (1st, 2014)
- Points per match: 1.32 (2nd, 2014)
- Game-winning goals: 7 (1st, 2014)
- Saves: 104 (6th, 2014)
- Goals against: 17 (8th, 2014)
- Win percentage: .650 (6th, 2014)
The 2015 schedule features seven away games and 11 home matches. The Lumberjacks face Grand Canyon University on Aug. 21 and a week later host in-state foe Arizona on Aug. 28. Other non-conference opponents include UNLV (Aug. 30), Alabama State (Sept. 4), Oakland (Sept. 6), Marquette (Sept. 11), Loyola (Sept. 13), North Dakota State (Sept. 18) and Robert Morris (Sept. 20). Luciano strives for a balanced schedule each year to best prepare them for the conference season.
"We never want a false sense of who we are right before conference," Luciano said. "We want to be able to compete against high level players so that we can make the appropriate adjustments as a coaching staff to prepare us for conference play."
The 'Jacks will face Sacramento State (Sept. 25) and Portland State (Sept. 27) in a two-game road swing to kick off conference play. Next they will play at Montana, the 2014 regular season champions, on Oct. 4. In the 2015 Big Sky Conference preseason poll, Northern Arizona edged Montana in first place vote's five to four. The Lumberjacks were a remarkable road team last season finishing 3-1-1 against conference opponents and 4-4-1 overall.