FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona University women's soccer team has won five of their last six contests and is hitting their stride just in time for the conference season. The Lumberjacks will hit the ground running for their first conference game against Sacramento State in Sacramento, Calif. on Friday, Sept. 25 and second game against Portland State University in Portland, Ore. on Sunday, Sept. 27.
"There's a lot more at stake getting into conference season," Head Coach Andre Luciano said. "Everybody experiences a rebirth in knowing they have a chance to win the Big Sky. This week we just have to play as if our backs are already against the wall."
Non-Conference in a Nutshell
Northern Arizona was picked as the favorite in the Big Sky Conference preseason polls and finished the 2015 non-conference campaign 5-4-0 despite a 0-3 start to the year. The 'Jacks lost two of those three in overtime thrillers against Grand Canyon University and the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Their offense was slow to start, scoring a total of two goals in three games; however it was not long after a shaky start to the year the offense began firing on all cylinders. Head Coach Andre Luciano and his squad have scored 22 goals in six games since that point with wins over Alabama State, Oakland University, Loyola Chicago, North Dakota State and Robert Morris University.
Two of NAU's four losses came from traditionally strong programs in Marquette University and the University of Arizona. U of A sits among the top of the Pac-12 Conference and is currently ranked 29th in the country in RPI as of Sept. 21, 2015. The Lumberjacks bounced back on numerous occasions reeling in one of their most recent and impressive wins over NDSU on Sept. 20. The Bison had won four of their last five games and were on a three-game winning streak prior to facing NAU. They were also coming off an overtime victory against a Big 12 opponent in Iowa State University. The Lumberjacks found a way to stun North Dakota in a come-from-behind win, their second of the season, with a final score of 4-3.
Climbing the Ranks
Northern Arizona cracked the Top 25 polls in scoring offense as they are now ranked 13th in the country at 2.67 goals per game as of Sept. 20, which is also good for first in the Big Sky Conference. The Lumberjacks are second in the Big Sky in assists per game at 1.78. Additionally, they sit at 17th in country in total goals at 24. From an individual standpoint, senior forward Haley Wingender's seven goals on the year ties for second in the conference. She is also third among Big Sky players in points (1.78) and goals per game (.778).
For the Record Books
Coming into the 2015 season, Wingender was tied for fifth in individual career goals and points, tied for 10th in career assists and ninth in career shots. Wingender is surely on the rise in the NAU women's soccer program record books. As of Sept. 20, she is now tied for third in individual career goals at 26 with Cee Cee Odorfer (2004-08), fourth in points at 63, tied for ninth in assists with Holly Jones (1998-01) at 11 and tied for seventh in career shots with Kristi Andreassen (2007-10) at 142.
Redshirt junior Natalie Gilbertson is also making her presence known in goal. She came into the 2015-16 campaign with 140 career saves, and is now at 169 after playing in seven of nine games this year. She has officially jumped up one spot to sixth place in career saves. Senior midfielder Cierra Gamble just recently cracked the Top 10 in individual career points and career goals. Her points total stands at 35, a tie for ninth place, and her goals total jumped from 10th to a tie for eighth with 11.
Also making major marks for the Lumberjacks this year are sophomore forward Adrian Nixt, freshman forward Chantal Deroos and sophomore goalkeeper Meghan Dickmann. Nixt is second on the team behind Wingender in goals (4) and points (9) this season. She hit the game-winning shot in NAU's Sept. 6 contest against Oakland University this season and since then, the Lumberjacks went on to win three of their next four games. Deroos, after redshirting last season, has also given NAU some quality minutes so far this season. She has taken six shots in nine games played, racking up two goals and one assist. Dickmann, with some big shoes to fill in Gilberston, was given a shot in the starting lineup the last two games for Northern Arizona. She has recorded 15 saves in four games played and snagged her first two career wins against North Dakota State (Sept. 18) and Robert Morris (Sept. 20).
On the Board
So far this season, an impressive 13 players have scored a goal for the Lumberjacks. Of those 13, eight of those players recorded their first career goals in junior forward Ali Lixandru, Deroos, sophomore midfielders Brooke Evans and Gabi Gibeault, sophomore defender Missy Kettelkamp, freshman midfielder Madeline Waszak and freshman forwards Haleigh Van Allen and Mei-Te Coco.
The last time NAU played Sacramento State, they won with a final score of 1-0 in Lumberjack Stadium. The two squads post an all-time series record of 11-7-2 in Northern Arizona's favor. The Hornets are currently 2-6-0 with wins over CSU Bakersfield and Cal State East Bay, but have only played at home three times this year. In the preseason polls, Sacramento State was picked eighth out of 11 Big Sky teams despite returning eight players to the starting lineup.
"We have to recognize that every opponent is extremely dangerous," Luciano said. "We can't judge them based on their body of work outside the conference season."
They are being led by Kayla Collins who has two goals and an assist on the year for five points. Jennifer Lum and Aduarie Dayak also have two goals apiece this season. Dayak (honorable mention), along with Maggie Pleis (second team), Regan Smithers (honorable mention), Chelsea Arnold (honorable mention) and Lydia Bowman (honorable mention) were All-Big Sky Conference selections last year.
Portland State is 2-6-0 on the year playing a rather challenging schedule with Arizona State, Long Beach State, UC Davis and Oregon in the mix. The Vikings' two wins came over Hawaii and most recently over Air Force in overtime. Northern Arizona and Portland State have an all-time series record of 11-5-5 in NAU's favor. Last season, the Lumberjacks finished on top against the Vikings with a final score of 2-1.
"Everybody has a sense of urgency now," Luciano explained. "Our mentality has to be to focus on one game at a time because we're facing two very different opponents."
PSU's squad is led by All-Big Sky Conference returners in Cori Bianchini (first team), Bianca Munoz (second team) and Tamia Hasan (honorable mention). Of the two goals scored this year for the Vikings, Bianchini has one and Megan Myers has the other.
After returning home from Portland, the Lumberjacks will face the University of Montana in Missoula, Mont. on Oct. 4. NAU will be back in Lumberjack Stadium on Oct. 9 against Northern Colorado University and Oct. 11 versus the University of North Dakota.