Note: Having already secured its first Big Sky regular season title in school history, Northern Arizona (10-3-3, 5-0-1 BSC) brings a school-record 10 game unbeaten streak into its regular season finale against Northern Colorado (10-4-3, 3-1-2 BSC) on Friday at 2:30 PM in Lumberjack Stadium. Friday's contest is a pink game for cancer awareness, with all fans encouraged to wear pink to the match. Complete weekly game notes can be accessed through the link below.
Written by Andrew Tomsky, NAU Media Relations
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Four years ago, a group of 13 freshmen joined a college soccer program that had a combined 65-112-8 record in 10 seasons as a varsity sport and had never won a conference title. Four years later, 10 of those 13 high school recruits are part of a soccer program that has won two Big Sky Championships, made two trips to the NCAA tournament, won it's first Big Sky regular season title, had an All-American, earned a regional ranking for the first time in school history, and will host its first ever Big Sky Championship in two weeks. How did this transformation occur for the Northern Arizona women's soccer program? The Foundation.
"We call this class 'The Foundation' because there were so many players that came in 2007 and each one of them was so unique in terms of what our team needed," explains tenth-year head coach Andre Luciano about his historic senior class. "10 of the 13 players we brought in that year stayed with us for four years and so many of them became impact players over the course of their careers. They are special because they have each put their mark on each individual position and have all been part of record-setting years. Not only what they've done on the field in terms of their soccer accomplishments but also the culture that they've changed here has made an incredible impact."
When the class of '07 arrived on the NAU campus, they were immediately thrown into the fire. The eight members of the 2007 class that will be graduating this year all played in at least eight games as freshmen, with Kristi Andreassen, Brenna Boies and Tori Howe becoming immediate starters and Brandy Carr, Anna Clark, Corie McGuire, Carolyn Savage and Rebekah Schmidt playing significant minutes both as starters and reserves. The team went 7-7-5 overall and 2-4-1 in the Big Sky, falling short of the conference tournament. Andreassen, Boies and Howe were all Big Sky Honorable Mention selections.
"We didn't come into a program that had a lot of success, so being able to help build this program up is something that I will apply to my own future," reflects Howe. "I never imagined that we would be able to build the program to the levels that we have reached, but with how much work we've put in and how hard we've worked to improve we have been able to accomplish some great things."
The fruits of their labor were evident just one year later, as the 2008 Lumberjacks finished 12-7-3 overall and 4-1-2 in the Big Sky. Luciano's bunch would defeat Portland State and top Weber State on its home soil to win the Big Sky Championship and advance to the NCAA Tournament just two years removed from a 7-10-1 2006 record. Goalkeeper Tori Rocke and midfielder Sam Monahan, members of the 2007 class that redshirted as true freshman, stepped into starting roles of their own in joining "The Foundation" en route to the first NCAA College Cup appearance in school history. Andreassen and Boies were All-Big Sky First Team selections, Howe and Schmidt made the second team, and Rocke and Monahan were honorable mention selections while Luciano was named Big Sky Coach of the Year.
Their success would only continue to grow from there, winning another Big Sky Championship on the road in Portland in 2009 and battling Stanford, the No. 1 team in the country, in a tightly contested 2-0 loss in the College Cup. Andreassen and Boies were All-Big Sky first team selections again, with Howe landing on the second team, Carr, McGuire and Monahan garnering honorable mention and Luciano repeating as Big Sky Coach of the Year. Andreassen and Schmidt were All-District academic selections, with Andreassen going on to be named as a CoSIDA/ESPN The Magazine Academic All-American, becoming the first All-American in program history
This season, after being picked to win the Big Sky for the first time by the conference coaches in their preseason poll, NAU has amassed a 5-0-1 Big Sky record to clinch the regular season title, while breaking school and Big Sky records with a six-game shutout streak that lasted 569 minutes and 2 seconds and currently riding a school record 10-game unbeaten streak. Boies became the all-time NAU assist leader, Rocke stands as the program leader in shutouts and winning percentage, while Andreassen, Boies and Monahan continue to climb the career points, goals and assists leader boards. Andreassen was one of only 30 candidates nationwide for the prestigious Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, which honors the premier student-athlete upperclassmen for their work on and off the field. The team will host the Big Sky Championship for the first time on November 5 and 7, looking to give "The Foundation" a third trip to the NCAA College Cup in four seasons at Northern Arizona.
So, how did this illustrious group of players come together?
"In the winter and spring of 2006-2007, we went after these players pretty hard. We really just targeted three different club teams and we wanted to make sure that the players we brought in would buy into our family concept," says Luciano. "We knew it would be important for them to come in knowing how to play with each other. Each of the players has been special in their own ways and that was evident as early as their freshman year."
The 2007 class has combined for 15 All-Big Sky Selections, 10 Big Sky Player of the Week honors, and has played in an astounding 591 combined games with 422 starts entering the final game of the 2010 regular season.
"We knew that great things were going to come from this group," adds Luciano. "The number of awards and accolades that they have received is a direct reflection of who they are as people."
"It's been an amazing experience being a part of this team and what we've accomplished," says Andreassen, who will leave NAU as one of the most decorated athletes in school history. "I'm so proud of our class and our team and what we've accomplished as a program. I'm excited to see the program keep growing after our class has gone and to see how far the team can go. I have no doubt that the team will continue what we have started."
Schmidt and Clark have been slowed this year by injuries, but decided to forgo using medical redshirts to graduate alongside their four-year teammates.
"I felt like I really wanted to graduate with the girls I came in with," says Schmidt, who took over as a defensive starter in 2008 but played in only two games this season before suffering a season-ending injury. "We were such a big group when we came in, and we've gone through so much together that I felt like it wouldn't be the same to leave without them."
"I'm really blessed to have been a part of this," notes Clark, who battled injuries during her freshmen and senior years but has appeared in 40 career games. "I feel like I have made an impact, and maybe it wasn't as much on the soccer field, but that is alright with me. One thing I've learned from my teammates is always to work hard and always look forward to whatever is in your future."
For Monahan, who leads the Big Sky in assists this season and is closing in on Boies' career record, and Rocke, their futures include one more season in the Lumberjack Blue and Yellow. Both were redshirts during their freshman season and have decided to use their extra year of athletic eligibility to return in 2011.
"It's going to be bitter sweet for me to watch my teammates get honored on senior day," says Rocke, who could hold every career NAU goalkeeping record by the time she leaves the team next year. "I'm proud of all of them and had a great time with them over the past-four years. It's great to see how far we have all come since we started here and I'm excited to get to play another year and graduate with Sam and our junior class next year."
Assistant coach Holly Jones has been a part of the program as both a player and a coach, giving her a unique perspective on how much this class has meant to the program.
"As a former player, it's really nice to see NAU recognized as one of the top soccer programs in the country," says Jones, who still owns NAU career records in points, goals and shots. "Earning a regional ranking this year is huge for the program for really putting us on the map. When I came in, the soccer program was just starting here so it's really nice for me to see what it has become and what this class has done to build it. It's been fun to be a part of it and watch this class grow over the last-four years and really transform the program into what it is today."
Part of the legacy of this class will be the completion of the new Lumberjack Stadium and Health and Learning Center, a project which has been undertaken during the last two seasons and been influenced by the strong play of the team, which the players predict will continue into the future.
"I'm sad that I didn't get to play in the new stadium," says Howe. "But, it will be cool to come back years from now and be able to say to my children 'that wasn't here before, but we're the reason for it!' We were the foundation and I am really excited to see the underclassman continue what we started. I feel like we are leaving the program in really good hands and what we started will continue to improve."
Part of that passing of the torch to the underclassmen began with the season-ending injury to Schmidt, which pressed freshman Alana D'Onofrio into her starting role. The transition was seamless, indicating to Schmidt that the program will be in good hands.
"The fact that our younger players, like Alana, have been able to step in right away and play at the same level as the older players really shows the growth of this program," says Schmidt. "I knew that when I got hurt we had other players that were able to step in and do a great job in that role, and that has happened."
"The Foundation", a term coined and a group formed by Luciano, leave the 10th year head coach waxing poetic on the journey that the class of '07 has taken him on over the last-four years.
"They completely bought into my philosophy and my dreams for this program and they are the ones that stuck with it and believed in what we were trying to do," says Luciano. "They have been fantastic role models on and off the field in terms of their academics and what they have brought to this community and I think that they have laid out something special for this athletic department and this university."
"We've always tried to have a family environment here, but this group really embraced it. I believe that what they've accomplished both on and off the field has been past down in a positive way to our younger players," adds Luciano. "They are the foundation because they are the basis of everything we want for this program going forward. I've grown so much as a coach with them and they've allowed me to grow because they are such great people."
With all of the accomplishments of this group and the growth of the program during their time as Lumberjacks, how does a coach say goodbye? Senior day will not be the last time that "The Foundation" plays in Lumberjack stadium, but Luciano knows that his time with the class of '07 is coming to a close.
"I think it will really hit me when that last whistle blows for the year and they walk off the field for the last time," predicts the head coach. "It will probably be the most emotional that I've ever been as a coach. I care about these players; I consider them to be friends and I feel like I have a very good relationship with all of them. I respect them so much for who they are as individuals and what great characters they all have. I feel like they are my kids and I will miss them tremendously"
With all that "The Foundation" has brought to this University, he won't be alone.