FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – For the second time this season, the Northern Arizona soccer team will make a trip out to Las Vegas for this weekend's UNLV Rebel Classic beginning Friday. Despite three losses to open the 2012 campaign, the Lumberjacks are optimistic heading into the weekend which features matches against Florida Atlantic and Oklahoma at UNLV's Peter Johanna Memorial Field.
"The mentality is just picking ourselves up and supporting each other," said senior Georgia Foltz. "It sucks that we've lost, but we have to move on. Dwelling on the past two games wouldn't benefit us, so we have to pick each other up and go forward and tell ourselves, 'we have to get a win this weekend.' We're going to start with Florida Atlantic and take it one game at a time."
The Lumberjacks have struggled to open the season, but has played three quality opponents in UNLV, Arizona State and Arizona. In particular, NAU has started slow on the offensive side of the field as they have failed to score a goal in each of its first three games, while being outscored 9-0 thus far. Although the Lumberjacks have not notched a goal yet, the team has been efficient with its shots, placing 10 of its 23 total shots on goal for a 43.5% clip.
Freshman Haley Wingender has totaled a team-high five shots through the first three contests, with freshman Nicole Sherwin and sophomore Savannah Berry each right behind with four shot attempts. The trio of players, along with Foltz, have each placed two shots on goal.
"We're looking to put the ball in the back of the net and taking more opportunities in terms of our offensive production," said head coach Andre Luciano. "We've focused a ton on pattern-play and getting more into an offensive rhythm. We want to become the aggressor and not have to rely on having to come back from a goal down, so our focus to come out early and put pressure on our opponents."
Defensively, freshman Natalie Gilbertson has been solid against quality opposition to begin her career. Heading into this weekend's matches, Gilbertson leads the conference with 22 saves and is second in the Big Sky with 7.33 saves per game.
Florida Atlantic, the Lumberjacks' first opponent of the weekend, carries a 1-2 record into Friday's match after spending last weekend at the FGCU Embassy Suites Classic. After opening the FGCU Classic with a 7-0 loss to Illinois State, the Owls rebounded to claim their first victory of the season, 2-1 over Green Bay. Claire Emslie and Olivia MBala were named to the All-Tournament team for the Owls after playing big roles in the Owls' tourney split. Emslie, a freshman, in particular scored a goal and assisted on the other in FAU's win against Green Bay. Ellie Smith recorded the other goal in that game, while Ashley Lantes, the second-leading goalkeeper in terms of saves in school history, has 10 saves this season.
Oklahoma of the Big 12 is making its first road trip of the season after playing its first four games of the season at home. The Sooners, NAU's third foe this season from a power conference, is 2-1-1 thus far with wins over Nebraska and Nicholls State. Kelsey Devonshire, with her 0.91 goals against average, has been a big reason for the Sooners' strong start in 2012 as she's helped Oklahoma allow just one goal in each of their first four games. Renae Cuellar, a transfer from Arizona, leads the team with three goals and six points, including both of the team's goals in their season-opening victory over Nebraska two weeks ago. Kelly Price is second on the team with two goals and Samantha Howell has one to round out Oklahoma's scoring entering the weekend.
For the Lumberjacks, this weekend will only serve as more game experience for the young squad as they continue to improve as they get closer to the start of the conference season.
"We're a very young team and even though we still have a lot to learn, we've already come so far since the first day of preseason," Foltz said. "The scores of our games so far aren't pretty, but we've put up a battle and we've showed that we can compete with these teams. Despite the fact that we're still learning, we have a ton of potential and I'm confident that we're going to be great come time for Big Sky games."
NAU and Florida Atlantic have never met before in school history, while the Lumberjacks will be playing the Sooners for the second time. Oklahoma won the only other meeting back in 2001, shutting out NAU, 3-0, in Flagstaff.
The Lumberjacks will play the Owls at 4:30 p.m. on Friday and the Sooners at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday.
Media Guide: The 2012 NAU Soccer media guide is now available. A PDF version can be accessed via the link above and it can also be viewed digitally here.
Pack the Jack: Last Friday's record attendance for the Arizona State game not only was the largest attendance at Lumberjack Stadium in school history, but it was ranked in the top-10 nationally for that night. The announced crowd of 2,207 was the ninth-largest soccer attendance in the nation that night, ahead of games hosted at schools such as Tennessee, Oklahoma State and Alabama.