FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona University women's soccer team knew they had secured a spot in the Big Sky Conference Tournament before tonight's (Oct. 28) match even kicked off. However, Head Coach Andre Luciano and the Lumberjacks did not let that deter them from sending NAU's six seniors out in style and capping off the regular season with a win. The 'Jacks took down Southern Utah by a final score of 3-0 to finish the regular season 8-7-4 including a 5-2-3 clip in conference action.
With tonight's win, the Lumberjacks will be the No. 3 seed in the Big Sky Tournament and face the No. 6 seed Northern Colorado – one of NAU's two conference losses – in the quarterfinals on Nov. 2. The University of Idaho won the regular season, but Eastern Washington will be the host school.
"I will miss the character of this senior class and their willingness to put the team ahead of themselves at all times," Luciano said. "They've worked really hard to get to this point and I've been really fortunate to coach them. But with that said – we aren't done yet."
"Coming in, we knew we were already in the tournament," Ali Lixandru said, who finished the game with one goal and one assist. "We knew we wanted to come out on top on senior night, now we just hope to carry this high with us into the postseason."
The urgency and excitement was high for the Lumberjacks right from the start and it didn't take them long to get on the board against the Thunderbirds. In the fifth minute, senior forward Lindsay Doyle knocked in her fourth goal of the season and 12th of her career off an assist from her fellow classmate Lixandru. Lixandru's hot foot continued into the latter half of period one as she gave the Lumberjacks a 2-0 boost in the 26th minute. Her third goal of the year came off a free kick – and it was a pretty one at that.
Freshman Kambree Meskill and junior Anna Goebel both had stellar looks at goal in the 33rd and 36th minutes, respectively. Meskill headed one on frame from Heather Donais' pass, but Southern Utah came up with the save and did the same when Goebel broke free not long after.
"We have continuously gotten better every week," Luciano said. "The team's mentality has been rock solid. To finish third when we were picked fifth – and after not making the postseason last year – that's a big testament to what this group and this team has been about all year long."
Northern Arizona started off the second half similarly to how they started the first. Junior forward Adrian Nixt found junior defender Riley Porter along the left side before she rattled her third goal of the season home. Porter's left-footed shot soared into the upper-right 90 leaving SUU's goalkeeper with no room to even get a hand on it. With a 3-0 lead heading into the final 40 minutes, the Lumberjacks' defensive efforts were the difference.
With veterans Missy Kettelkamp, Dani Muni and Mattie Wojcik in NAU's backline – in tandem with junior goalkeeper Meghan Dickmann who recorded her fourth shutout this season – the Thunderbirds stood no chance at stealing this game away. Northern Arizona outshot Southern Utah 14-9 while Dickmann pulled down five saves on the night.
It was a happy senior night, indeed, as the six graduating Lumberjacks not only ended their regular season careers with a win at home, but with a postseason berth after not qualifying in 2015.
Coach Luciano on the Senior Class
"Lindsay has been a player that stepped in and had to make an impact her freshman year," Luciano said. "She's a player that has a heart of gold and is the ultimate teammate. She has represented the program so well in so many different ways. Lindsay isn't a player that has received a lot of stats per say, but is one who has made a lot of things happen for the players around her. We'll miss her work ethic and her desire on the field."
"Missy's had a great amount of growth in the last three years," Luciano said. "She went from a player who received very little minutes her freshman year, to having to redshirt her sophomore year, and then had to redefine her role last year as a center back. This year I think has been her most productive year when we shifted her into the center-mid position. She's a warrior, a fighter and a player who leaves it all on the field. Her work ethic will serve her well down the road."
"Wow, Ali," Luciano said. "She has probably produced the most amount of growth of any player I've coached here. What I told her is that I wish I had another year to coach her because I think her best soccer is still to come. She went from being a young girl to a young woman – and her play this year has been a reflection of that. She's an extremely gifted player who is very passionate about soccer. I really hope the Romanian National team continues calling her up."
"Dani has been a crowd favorite for four years," Luciano said. "Dani brings a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and passion behind her play. She's a player that will play for 90 minutes or more every single game and give it her all. She's a fierce competitor; her attitude and her demeanor on the field is an example for every other player on this team. We're really going to miss Dani both on and off the field."
"Meg is probably one of the most intelligent soccer players we have ever recruited," Luciano said. "It's unfortunate she's had a series of injuries that have limited her in some capacity or another. Meg is a captain's captain who leads by example with her positivity. She has put a lot into re-establishing the culture of our program again and wish her nothing but success. We know that when she becomes a doctor, she will be very successful at that as well."
"Mattie is another prime example of a player coming in and making the most of her opportunities," Luciano said. "She had to battle and fight for playing time her first couple years and has developed extremely well tactically and technically. She's been a mainstay on our team this season and Mattie has earned everything that she's received. We're proud of the way she's finishing up her career."