LAS VEGAS, Nev. – In its return to Las Vegas, the Northern Arizona soccer team got the result it was looking for the second time around as it claimed its first win of the season Friday night at Peter Johann Memorial Field, shutting out Florida Atlantic, 2-0. The Lumberjacks improved their record to 1-3 with their opening victory of the UNLV Rebel Classic.
"We played much better than we did our first three games," said head coach Andre Luciano. "We still have little things we need to clean up, but you're never going to complain when you score two goals, get a shutout and get a win. Although it wasn't fantastic for the full 90 minutes, I'm still really proud of their effort as a group and their learning curve since last week."
The Lumberjacks, who before Friday's game had been shutout in each of their first three games to open the season, pushed the action from the onset. However, despite constant pressure on the Florida Atlantic backline, the Lumberjacks could only muster up two shot attempts, one each by sophomore Savannah Berry and freshman Ashlynn Curnow. Still, despite being outshot by the Owls by a 9-2 margin, NAU battled throughout the first half and the two teams were knotted up at 0-0 entering halftime.
Florida Atlantic returned the favor early in the second half and had several opportunities in the first 12 minutes of the second period. The Owls put together five corner kicks in that span to open the half, but could not capitalize. That opened the door for the Lumberjacks, who in the 62nd minute, finally put their first goal on the scoreboard of the 2012 season courtesy of freshman Haley Wingender. On the play, Berry took possession of the ball in the midfield and sent a long ball through the backline to Wingender, who finished the 1v1 opportunity.
The goal was not only the first of the season for NAU, but also the first of Wingender's career and it came in front of her friends and family as a native of Henderson, Nev.
"In practice we worked on making our runs and the midfielders passing them through to us," Wingender said. "So when Sav got the ball, I decided to make a run and she was able to get it to me. After I scored, I actually teared up because I was so excited to get my first college goal. Everyone was excited for me and my parents and my friends saw it, so it was awesome."
With their first lead of the season at 1-0, NAU would not let up and eventually scored its second goal of the game right before the end of regulation. In the 88th minute, freshman Cierra Gamble connected on a one-timer from just outside the 6-yard box after freshman Demi Schmieder drove the baseline and crossed it to Gamble. The goal was also the first of Gamble's career.
The Lumberjacks were outshot 14-10 for the game, but held an 8-5 advantage in the decisive second half. Berry totaled a team-high three shots, placing them all on goal, while Wingender and junior Elinor Priest each had two shots. Freshman Natalie Gilbertson, also a Las Vegas native, registered her first career win and shutout, making three saves in the process.
"We knew this was the game to come out and get a win," Gilbertson said. "Honestly, I was nervous coming into this game and that made me play so much better. I felt today I was really on my game."
Friday's win was NAU's first win away from Lumberjack Stadium since a 2-1 overtime victory at Eastern Washington on Oct. 24, 2010.
The Lumberjacks conclude the Rebel Classic on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. against Oklahoma. The Sooners were 2-1-1 entering their tilt on Friday night against the host UNLV.