FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The 2011 regular season comes to a close this weekend for the Northern Arizona soccer team, but the Lumberjacks are aiming to extend their season by clinching a spot in the Big Sky Conference Tournament. The Lumberjacks enter the final weekend of the regular season beginning Friday with a road match against Montana in Missoula, Mont. at 2 p.m. in the sixth spot of the conference standings.
"For all eight Big Sky Conference teams, this is a huge weekend in terms of getting into postseason play," said head coach Andre Luciano. "For us, it's an opportunity to rectify our non-scoring ways and get a valuable six points. Our main focus is to go out on Friday and put ourselves at least in the fifth place position after the game."
Last weekend, the Lumberjacks claimed two points on the road courtesy of a pair of 1-1 double overtime draws with Sacramento State and Portland State. The team has now played nine overtime games and 17 total overtime periods to go along with seven ties this season. The seven ties are school and Big Sky records, while the 17 overtime periods is the most in a single season for any Big Sky school since 2001. Sacramento State played nine overtime games in 2006.
Seniors Jenna Samora and Sam Monahan continued their exceptional play during the conference season last weekend. Monahan assisted on both of Samora's goals last weekend to account for both Lumberjack scores. Samora has now scored three of her four goals this season in five conference games, while Monahan has two goals and three assists in Big Sky play.
Sophomore Lauren Weaver, the conference's co-Defensive Player of the Week, was strong in goal against Sacramento State and Portland State, making 20 saves and allowing just the two goals in 220 minutes of play. She matched her career-high of 11 saves set earlier this season against Ball State in the match against Portland State on Sunday. She leads the conference with 98 saves and a 6.53 saves per game average.
Montana, the conference's top scoring team this season with 23 goals, boasts the Big Sky's top goal scorer and assist leader. Freshman Erin Craig is the only player in the conference in double-digit goals with 10 and sophomore India Watne has a conference-high eight assists. The Grizzlies are fifth in the standings, just one point ahead of the Lumberjacks, after losing to Weber State 1-0 and defeating Idaho State 2-1 last weekend.
"I think Montana is playing with a lot of emotion right now," Luciano said. "They have a new coach and they have a lot of energy. Obviously they have the leading goal scorer in Erin Craig and the leading assist player in India Watne. They're hungry to get back into postseason play and I expect it to be a battle."
Following Friday's game at Montana, the Lumberjacks will return home for Senior Day on Sunday, when they host Eastern Washington at 12 p.m. The Eagles are coming off their first conference win last weekend, 3-0 over Weber State. Despite currently sitting in a tie for last in the conference, all four of the Eagles' conference losses have been by one loss. Freshman Cassie Black has a team-high six goals this season, with senior Whitney Brannan, the conference's current Offensive Player of the Week, third in the conference with four assists.
The Lumberjacks defeated both the Grizzlies and the Eagles last season. Although the Lumberjacks defeated Montana 5-0 in Flagstaff last season, they are still behind 5-11-1 in the all-time series. NAU holds the series advantage over Eastern Washington at 9-4-0 and have won the last six meetings, including an overtime 2-1 victory last season in Cheney, Wash.
No Big Sky team has clinched a conference tournament berth entering the final conference weekend, and the Lumberjacks could finish anywhere from first to eighth in the wide-open Big Sky standings depending on outcomes this weekend.