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October 13, 2011

Soccer Faces Two Road Tests in Hope of Continuing Climb Up Standings

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FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Coming off an unbeaten weekend at home last weekend, the Northern Arizona soccer team heads back out on the road with matches at Sacramento State Friday at 4 p.m. and at Portland State Sunday at 1 p.m. The Lumberjacks currently sit in a tie for sixth place in the Big Sky with a 1-1-1 Big Sky record, just outside the top four. The top four teams in the conference at the end of the season advance to the Big Sky Conference Tournament.

"The key this weekend is to get as many points as we possibly can on the road," said head coach Andre Luciano. "Once we can get ourselves into the top four, it's critical that we stay up there. It starts with the Sacramento State game. To come out of that game with seven points, which would mean that Sac State stays at six, will be huge. Every game from this point forward is critical. I always say that 13 is the magic number to get into the conference tournament, so our goal is to get 13 points."

The Lumberjacks defeated Idaho State, 3-2 last Friday night at Lumberjack Stadium to earn its first conference win. They received goals from seniors Jenna Samora, Noel Guevara and Sam Monahan in the win, while sophomore Lauren Weaver made 10 saves in goal. NAU followed up the win with a hard-fought 1-1 double overtime draw with Weber State on Sunday, to earn a total of four conference points.

Monahan, the team-leader with six goals and 14 points, was named the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week on Tuesday after netting the game-winning goal against Idaho State and the game-tying score against Weber State. She also assisted on Guevara's goal that tied the Idaho State match at 2-2.

Sacramento State sits in a tie for third place entering the weekend with six conference points and a 2-1-0 conference record. The Hornets swept road matches at Montana and Eastern Washington last weekend, both by 1-0 scores. Junior Victoria Ramirez is the team's leading goal scorer with six goals this season. Sophomore Jordyn Rolling and senior Caitlin Pulver each have three goals to complement the Sacramento State attack. Senior Savannah Abercrombie, the conference's all-time leader in shutouts including a conference-high five this season, anchors the Hornet defense with a 1.29 goals against average.

This will be the first time the two teams will play since Sacramento State upset the Lumberjacks last season in the Big Sky Championship, 1-0 here in Flagstaff. The Lumberjacks hosted the Big Sky Tournament for the first time in school history after earning the tournament's top seed as the regular season champion with an unbeaten 6-0-1 conference record.

"Anytime you play the team that knocked you out of the tournament, you have a little extra motivation in terms of what you want to accomplish," Luciano said. "But we're really more focused on doing what we need to do to put ourselves in a position to be in the top four of the conference, not just to beat Sac State."

The Lumberjacks hold the 9-7-0 series advantage against the Hornets, but have struggled in Sacramento, going just 1-6 in seven all-time meetings on the road. Their only victory in Sacramento came in 2003 by a 2-1 score.

Portland State is currently at the top of the conference, tied with Weber State with a 2-0-1 conference record and seven points. The Vikings, like the Hornets, played a pair of road matches last weekend at Eastern Washington and Montana, coming away with a 1-0 victory over Eastern Washington and a 2-2 tie with Montana. Junior Megan Martin leads the Vikings with six goals, putting her in a tie with Monahan and Sacramento State's Ramirez for second in the conference. Junior goalkeepers Melissa Ferguson and Lainey Hulsizer have split time in goal for Portland State this season with Ferguson starting seven games and Hulsizer getting the nod in six. Ferguson leads the Big Sky with a 0.71 goals against average and a .829 save percentage.

NAU shut out Portland State, 2-0 last season in Flagstaff and owns a 10-4-2 series advantage over the Vikings. However, the Lumberjacks are just 1-4-2 against the Vikings in Portland. They last faced each other in Portland in 2009 in the semifinals of the Big Sky Tournament, with the Lumberjacks advancing to the championship on penalty kicks.