FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – For the first time in school history, the Northern Arizona soccer team will host their fellow in-state rivals Arizona State and Arizona in the same season, highlighting a 19-game slate for head coach Andre Luciano's squad in 2012. Both the Sun Devils and the Wildcats will visit Lumberjack Stadium on Aug. 24 and 26, providing NAU fans with the opportunity to see the Lumberjacks host the Pac-12 foes as part of Welcome Weekend to open the Fall 2012 semester.
"This is a program first to have ASU and UA at home in the same season," Luciano said. "For us, we look forward to the opportunity to host two Pac-12 teams on the opening weekend of school and any time we have an in-state rivalry game, it's special. Overall though, it's a fantastic schedule for this team. We continue to try to provide the best teams possible for us to compete against outside of our conference."
The Lumberjacks last hosted Arizona State in their 2010 season opener, a game that the Sun Devils narrowly defeated NAU, 4-3. In that game, the Lumberjacks came back from a 2-0 halftime deficit and tied the game at 2-2 and 3-3 in the second half before the visiting Sun Devils tallied the game-winning goal with just 1:06 left in regulation. The last time the Wildcats were in Flagstaff also provided its share of drama, as NAU and Arizona battled to a 2-2 tie in front of a school-record crowd of 2,187. That mark still stands as the largest home crowd at Lumberjack Stadium in school history.
This will be the fourth consecutive year that NAU will play Arizona State and the third time in four years that the Wildcats will tussle with the Lumberjacks after a one-year hiatus a year ago.
Prior to the home opening weekend, the Lumberjacks will kick off the 2012 season in Las Vegas, Nev. to take on UNLV for the first time since 2004. The season opener will be extremely special for six of the incoming freshmen – Natalie Gilbertson, Alexia Gonzalez, Cassidy McLean, Syrina Lopez, Sarah Pate and Haley Wingender – as they'll make their NAU debuts in their hometown after coming to the Lumberjacks from the Las Vegas/Henderson area.
"The UNLV game will be an extremely important game for our team in the sense that we're opening the season on the road against a quality opponent," Luciano said. "But it also gives our incoming freshmen the opportunity to showcase themselves in front of their home crowd as well."
The rest of the non-conference schedule includes a second trip back to Las Vegas for the UNLV Rebel Classic with games against Florida Atlantic and Oklahoma and a trip to northern California for a pair of road matches against San Francisco and UC Davis. The Lumberjacks will once again host the Hilton Garden Inn High Altitude Tournament as they'll face San Jose State and 2011 Women's College Cup participant and defending Atlantic Sun Conference champion Florida Gulf Coast on Sept. 14 and 16 in their final tune-ups before the conference season.
Led by sophomore Sarah Tarver and junior Lauren Weaver, both of whom were 2011 All-Big Sky Honorable Mention selections, as well as senior Georgia Foltz, who will return in 2012 following a season-ending injury early last season, the Lumberjacks will aim to get back to the Big Sky tournament following a one year absence. With the expansion of the Big Sky Conference, the Lumberjacks has nine conference games on the schedule for the first time in school history, five of which will be played at home. NAU welcomes Southern Utah, one of two new full-time Big Sky members, to Flagstaff for its conference opener on Sept. 21, and then will head on the road for games at Weber State and Idaho State the following weekend.
The Lumberjacks will have the luxury of playing five of their final seven games of the season at home beginning with home games against Portland State and Sacramento State on Oct. 5 and 7, followed by their final road trip of the season which includes their first trip out to Grand Forks, N.D. to face North Dakota, the conference's second new school, and then a road game at Northern Colorado. The 2012 schedule closes out with home games against Eastern Washington and Montana, the defending Big Sky tournament champion, and a non-conference game against CSU Bakersfield in the season finale.
"The Big Sky will be extremely competitive this season," Luciano said. "There's a lot of parity between the traditional teams in the conference and now with the addition of Southern Utah and North Dakota, it allows teams to pick up valuable points for the four-team conference tournament."
All together, the Lumberjacks have 10 home dates this season, up from eight in 2011, that will be beneficial for a young team that loses 12 graduating seniors and will feature 21 freshmen and sophomores.
"For a young team, not having to experience the road much early in the year will be a huge factor not only physically, but mentally as well," Luciano said. "We were very fortunate to schedule the 10-game homestand that we have. The most important thing though is to create a dynamic and loud home base with our fans. We can't stress it enough how important it is to have people in the stands at Lumberjack Stadium."
Soccer season tickets in both the Reserved & General Admission seating areas are on-sale now. Reserved season tickets are $60 for adults and $40 for youth 12 and under. Also on sale is the new NAU Sports Pass for the 2012-13 athletic season. For $50, the Sports Pass will give fans general admission season ticket to all soccer, volleyball, women's basketball and track and field home events. To check out season ticket prices and seating options click here for the 2012 NAU Soccer Brochure.