FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Only a few games remain in the Big Sky Conference season, and the Northern Arizona University women's soccer team is back on the road again this weekend against Eastern Washington on Friday, Oct. 16 and then returns home to face the University of Idaho on Sunday, Oct. 18. Idaho currently sits atop the Big Sky Standings at number one with a perfect 5-0 record and Eastern Washington follows behind in second place with a record of 4-1 in conference play. The Lumberjacks are coming off a solid 2-0 victory over the University of North Dakota on Sunday, Oct. 11 and hope to carry this momentum over into the big weekend that lies ahead.
"We did a much better job of dictating what the tempo of the game was going to be on Sunday," Head Coach Andre Luciano said. "We were a lot more composed and in control; we'll need that this weekend against two hungry opponents."
Despite a seventh place finish in the preseason polls, the Eastern Washington Eagles are making a splash in the Big Sky so far this year. Their only loss is to Montana in the conference season, contributing to a still impressive overall record of 10-2-1 this season.
"We have to match Eastern Washington's intensity while still keeping our composure," Luciano said. "They're obviously doing really well this year and are 3-0-1 at home. We have to play with a certain sense of urgency knowing where all the points stand."
The Eagles are led by sophomore forward Chloe Williams, who was an honorable mention selection last year, with a conference-best nine goals and five assists in 13 games played. Eastern Washington returns five starters in M'Kenna Hayes, Paige Gallaway, Tasha Luu, Savannah Hoekstra and Williams. Hoekstra was also an honorable mention selection in the 2014 campaign and has two goals and four assist on the year. Also adding to Eastern Washington's 24 goals this season are freshmen midfielders Jenny Chavez and Allison Raniere.
"I know they'll be hungry to redeem their loss against us in the Big Sky quarterfinals last year, and we'll be hungry to redeem our loss at home," Luciano said. "Both teams will be super motivated to win."
The Lumberjacks will have their hands full on Sunday, too against No. 1 University of Idaho. They were tabbed ninth in the preseason polls, but have continually found ways to win this season given their perfect 5-0 record in the Big Sky and 2-4-0 record on the road. The Vandals are currently 9-4-1 overall and lead the conference in four statistical categories: shots, points, assists and goals allowed.
"Idaho is a team that has figured out ways to score and have been pretty prolific in their five conference games," Luciano said. "We know they have some dangerous players across the board in both their midfield and forwards. We have to be 100 percent sharp this weekend."
It is hard to nail down just one or two players on Idaho's squad that serve as offensive threats. While Kavita Battan leads the way with seven goals in 14 games played, sophomore forward Olivia Baggerly also has three goals and seven assists and Clara Gomez has two goals and a team-best eight assists. Kayla Watanabe and Alyssa Lloyed have also cashed in four goals each for the Vandals.
Idaho returns a core of their roster including nine starters and three 2014 All-Big Sky Conference selections in junior defender Elexis Schlossarek (honorable mention), sophomore midfielder Chloe Bell (honorable mention) and Baggerly (honorable mention).
Climbing the Ranks
Northern Arizona has secured the first place spot among Big Sky opponents in goals per game at 2.07 through Oct. 11. Additionally, they cracked the Top 50 national polls for total goals this season with 29. The Lumberjacks are ranked 36th alongside nine other Division I programs. In the Big Sky, there is a four-goal margin between the Lumberjacks' first place spot and second place for total goals scored. NAU is also second in the conference in total points with 78.
From an individual standpoint, senior forward Haley Wingender's eight goals on the year ranks third in the Big Sky. She is also third among conference players in points (1.43) and goals per game (.57). 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 .29. Sophomore goalkeeper Meghan Dickmann also jumped up to fourth in goals against average at 1.16 while redshirt junior Natalie Gilberston sits at seventh (1.44).
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. 11, she is now third in individual career goals at 27, fourth in points at 67, tied for seventh in assists with Raegin Eyre (1997-00) at 13 and has moved up to fifth in career shots at 154.
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 174 after playing in nine of 14 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 10 shots in 14 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 five times this season. She has recorded 23 saves in seven 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.