FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – After two weeks on the road, the Northern Arizona University women's soccer team will return to Lumberjack Stadium this weekend to face the University of Northern Colorado on Friday, Oct. 9 and the University of North Dakota on Sunday, Oct 11. Friday's game, which also kicks off NAU women's soccer alumni weekend, will start at 6 p.m. with post-game fireworks. Sunday's match is set for noon.
"It's going to be two teams fighting for valuable wins at this point in the season this weekend," Head Coach Andre Luciano said. "We're excited to be at home for the first time in two weeks; that plays a big factor in conference."
After a 0-0 double overtime tie against Montana on Sunday, Oct. 4, the Lumberjacks are anxious to roll up their sleeves and get back to work on their home turf. Northern Arizona is now 1-1-1 in the Big Sky after three straight games on the road. The stakes remain high as the conference season progresses, but Luciano likes what he sees so far.
"We're not scoring as many goals as we had in non-conference, but we've tightened up defensively, and that's a really important thing to do once conference starts. We're limiting opponents to dangerous opportunities in front of goal and understanding how to play together defensively. That is something we have to continue to do in order to compete for a top four finish."
Northern Colorado currently stands at 8-5-0 this year and have yet to drop a game in the Big Sky posting a perfect 3-0 start to conference play. In the preseason polls, the Bears were picked to finish fourth. Leading the way so far this season for UNC is junior midfielder Kassy Castillo with a team-best three goals and six points after 13 games. Senior midfielder Rebecca Lancia lead the team in assists with four.
"I feel like Northern Colorado knows us pretty well and we know them pretty well," Luciano said. "They have great one-on-one attacking players and freshman Mariel Gutierrez will be one of the better players we've seen all season."
Although just a freshman, Gutierrez has appeared in all 13 games and has posted two goals on 29 shot attempts, which is the highest on the team. The Bears return 10 starters from the 2014-15 campaign and two all-conference selections in Castillo (honorable mention) and senior defender Adrienne Jordan, who was tabbed Co-Defensive MVP and All-Big Sky First-Team honors.
North Dakota, despite being picked last in the preseason polls, is 4-6-1 so far this season and 2-1 in the Big Sky with wins over Idaho State and Montana. UND returns six starters in forwards Zoe Foster and Andrea Kyduke, defenders Asia Laudal, Kirsten Olson and Abbey Welle and goalkeeper Kristi Hestdalen.
Freshman midfielder Kaylee Kebba leads the team thus far in points with seven, two goals and three assists, in her rookie season. Following behind Kebba is Foster and Katie Moller with three goals each after 11 games played. Veronica Kessler and Kennedy Kidd, also freshmen, have two goals apiece.
"North Dakota is a much different team than we have seen the past two years," Luciano said. They have a lot of belief. It's important for us to remain focused and understand we're playing a completely different opponent than we did last year."
Climbing the Ranks
Northern Arizona has secured the first place spot among Big Sky opponents in goals per game at 2.17 through Oct. 4. Additionally, they cracked the Top 50 national polls for total goals this season with 26. The Lumberjacks are ranked 40th alongside seven other Division I programs. In the Big Sky, there is a three-goal margin between the Lumberjacks' first place spot and second place for total goals scored. NAU is also tied for first in the conference in total points (71) and tied for 50th 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 (1.42) and goals per game (.58). Sophomore forward Adrian Nixt is tied for fifth in the conference in goals this season (4) and tied for eighth in goals per game at .33. Sophomore goalkeeper Meghan Dickmann also jumped up to fourth in goals against average at 1.00.
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 Oct. 4, 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 148.
Redshirt junior Natalie Gilbertson is also making her presence known in goal. She came into the 2015 campaign with 140 career saves, and is now at 169 after playing in eight of 12 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 12 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 four times this season. She has recorded 20 saves in six 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.