FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona University Women's team will trek to Missoula, Mont. for their third conference game of the season and lone match of the weekend. The Lumberjacks are coming off a split at Sacramento State losing in overtime 1-0, and a 2-1 come-from-behind victory at Portland State. Junior forward Lindsay Doyle recorded NAU's two clutch goals, the second being in the 86th minute, to give Head Coach Andre Luciano and his team their first conference win of 2015.
"We've competed well in all our road games," Luciano said. "Now we just have to figure out how to put games away a little bit earlier. The important thing for us is to continue having an attacking mindset."
Sunday will mark the 21st meeting between the two squads as the all-time series record stands at 13-6-1 in Montana's favor. Last season on NAU's home turf, the game ended in a double overtime tie. The Grizzlies are currently 3-7-1 and 0-2 in the Big Sky despite a second place finish in the preseason polls. However, while their record can be deceiving, there is a lot to be said for Montana's non-conference schedule in beating the University of Iowa and also playing opponents like Purdue and Creighton University.
The Grizzlies secured the regular season title last season, posting an undefeated conference record at home and not losing a single conference match. This year they return eight starters, six all-conference selections and the 2014 Coach of the Year Mark Plakorus. Senior midfielder Mackenzie Akins, junior defender Tess Brenneman and junior goalkeeper Kailey Norman were each named All-Big Sky Second Team and 2014 rookie Hallie Widner tabbed first team and Newcomer of the Year honors.
"They are a dangerous opponent because they try a variety of different formations," Luciano said. "The focus for us is figuring out what we want to do offensively."
Akins leads Montana in goals and points after 11 games played in the 2015 campaign with three and seven respectively. Dani Morris, a freshman forward, also has three goals on the year and six points. Norman, the Grizzlies starting goalkeeper, has 38 saves this season, which stands at eighth in the conference. She is also 10th in goals against average at 1.77 per game.
Climbing the Ranks
Northern Arizona cracked the Top 25 rankings in scoring offense as they are ranked 20th in the country at 2.36 goals per game as of Sept. 28, which is also good for first in the Big Sky Conference. Additionally, they are tied for 21st in the country, alongside five other Division I programs, in total goals at 26. Among Big Sky opponents, there is a six-goal margin between the Lumberjacks' first place spot and second place. For total points, NAU is also first in the conference with 71 and tied for 28th nationally.
From an individual standpoint, senior forward Haley Wingender's seven goals on the year ranks third in the Big Sky. She is also third among conference players in points (1.55) and goals per game (.64). Sophomore forward Adrian Nixt is now 10th in the conference in points per game (.83) while sophomore goalkeeper Meghan Dickmann moved to fifth in goals against average at 1.32.
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. 28, 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 eight in assists with Shelby Gould (2002-05) at 12 and has moved up to fifth in career shots at 145.
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 eight of 11 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 ranks ninth place with 36, and her goals total jumped from 10th to a tie for eighth with 13.
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 year. She has taken eight shots in 11 games played, racking up two goals and one assist. Dickmann, with some big shoes to fill in Gilberston, has made her way into the starting lineup for Northern Arizona three times this season. She has recorded 19 saves in five games played and snagged her first three career wins against North Dakota State (Sept. 18), Robert Morris (Sept. 20) and Portland State (Sept. 27).
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.
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 scored 22 goals in six games from 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.