FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – It is officially crunch time for Northern Arizona University women's soccer as they head into this weekend in pursuit of a Big Sky Championship berth. The Lumberjacks will play host to Idaho State University on Friday, Oct. 23 and to Weber State on Sunday, Oct. 25 in the final two of three conference games remaining. Northern Arizona is coming off back-to-back losses to Eastern Washington and University of Idaho, but is looking to finish the regular season on a high note in its final home stand of the 2015 campaign.
"We have to take this challenge and be as sharp as we possibly can," Head Coach Andre Luciano said. "It's a mentality. When you come off a successful season, you have to be equally hungry or even hungrier than the teams who are behind you. We're still in the hunt which is where we want to be."
Idaho State has yet to win a conference game this season and sits at last in the Big Sky at 0-7 despite its preseason 6th place finish. The Bengals' lone win came over University of Westminster on Aug. 30 in an overtime thriller. This year, they are led by the current Big Sky goals leader and sophomore forward Maria Sanchez. Sanchez has connected on 15 shots, which is third in the country, and assisted on four goals in 16 games played.
"Idaho State is an extremely dangerous team to play at this point in the season," Luciano noted. "They've been eliminated from the conference tournament, have nothing to lose and we were the team that knocked them out of a championship last year. We cannot overlook them; it will be a battle."
The Bengals return four 2014 all-conference selections in Vanessa Cabilan, Lauren Bermudez and Katherine Roberts in addition to Sanchez. Cabilan and Bermudez both have one goal this season, while sophomore forward Samantha Rodriguez has two.
Weber State currently sits at fourth in the Big Sky, satisfying its fourth place preseason vote predictions. The Wildcats have notched a winning record of 4-3-0 so far in conference play and an overall record of 8-7-1. They have won four of their last five contests over North Dakota, Sacramento State, Portland State and Montana.
"I feel Weber State is the best team in the conference, and I've always felt that way," Luciano said. "They have a core of seniors who have played together for a long time as youth and college players and know exactly how to play off of each other. Their team is on a roll right now so we know they'll be an extremely tough opponent to play against."
The Wildcats return two all-conference honorees in Brecken Holbrook and Mackenzie Harrison, who leads the team in goals this year with six in addition to three assists. Chansi Crompton has assisted on a team-high nine of WSU's 25 total goals scored after 16 games. Also making a mark for the Wildcats is Stacy Blair who has connected on three goals and assisted on four, racking up 10 points behind Harrison and Crompton's 15.
Climbing the Ranks
Northern Arizona currently sits at second place after 16 games played this season in goals (32) and goals per game (2.0) through Oct. 18 and is just one goal away from first place among Big Sky opponents. Additionally, they cracked the Top 50 national polls for total goals this season with 32. The Lumberjacks are ranked 37th alongside seven other Division I programs.
From an individual standpoint, senior forward Haley Wingender's nine goals on the year ranks third in the Big Sky. She is also third among conference players in points (1.38) and goals per game (.56) through Oct. 18. 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. Redshirt junior goalkeeper Natalie Gilbertson also jumped up to eight in goals against average at 1.61.
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. 18, she is now third in individual career goals at 28, fourth in points at 69, tied for seventh in assists with Raegin Eyre (1997-00) at 13 and has moved up to fifth in career shots at 158.
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 178 after playing in 11 of 16 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 (10) this season. She hit the game-winning shot in NAU's Sept. 6 contest against Oakland University this season and after that, 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 16 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 six times this season. She has recorded 30 saves in nine 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.