FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – After a 1-0 shutout of Southern Utah in its conference opener, the Northern Arizona soccer team (3-5-2, 1-0-0 BSC) hits the road this weekend for its first Big Sky road games of the season at Weber State and Idaho State on Friday and Sunday respectively. With just the top-four teams in the conference qualifying for the Big Sky tournament, picking up points on the road will be critical to the Lumberjacks' chances at a postseason bid.
"This weekend, the stress is on getting points on the road," said head coach Andre Luciano. "Our ultimate goal is to win our home games but to take points away from teams on the road. Our main focus on Friday is to play at our best so we can steal some points away from Weber State."
The Lumberjacks struggled away from Flagstaff during the non-conference portion of the season as NAU was only 1-3-1 on the road with its only victory a 2-0 defeat of Florida Atlantic in a neutral match in Las Vegas. However, the Lumberjacks head into Friday's match at Weber State with the most momentum they've had all season after posting a 2-0-1 mark during their recent homestand.
In NAU's last three games, the Lumberjacks' three goal scorers – sophomore Diane Buzzard, redshirt freshman Malia Tano and freshman Demi Schmieder – all notched their first career goals. Following her game-winning score against Southern Utah, Schmieder is now tied for the team-lead in points (5) with freshman Haley Wingender, who recorded the assist on Schmieder's goal. Wingender still leads the Lumberjacks with two goals scored.
A big part of NAU's recent success has been the play of its defense, who has limited its last three opponents to just one total goal. Over this three-game span, junior Lauren Weaver has lowered her goals against average from 2.10 to 1.21 and upped her save percentage from .773 to .824 while making 11 saves. Buzzard, senior Georgia Foltz, junior Alana D'Onofrio and freshman Alexia Gonzalez have also provided continuity in the defensive backline starting the last two games together and all playing the total 180:00 minutes. The defense as a whole has allowed the offensive attack to strike, as the Lumberjacks have outshot each of their last three opponents, something they hadn't done in their first seven games.
Weber State enters the weekend with a 1-1 conference record after splitting last weekend on the road at Eastern Washington and Montana. The Wildcats shut out Eastern Washington, 1-0, in their conference opener, but then fell to Montana by the same score. Weber State is accustomed to 1-0 games as six of its 11 games have been decided by that score. Picked to finish fourth in the conference after reaching the Big Sky tournament final last year, the Wildcats (3-8 overall) are led by Mackenzie Harrison, who leads the team with three goals and seven points in her first season at WSU. Sophomore Mackenzie Day, last year's Big Sky Co-Newcomer of the Year, is right behind Harrison with two goals. Ryann Waldman, a 2011 All-Big Sky honorable mention selection, is third in the Big Sky in saves with 45.
While NAU could be locked in a low-scoring affair with Weber State on Friday, it will take on the conference's most potent team in Idaho State on Sunday. The Bengals (5-4-1, 0-1-1 BSC) enter the weekend with a Big Sky best 18 goals scored despite playing just one of their first 10 games at home. Idaho State, picked seventh in the preseason poll, has been shutout in just one game this season and is 5-1 in games in which its scored multiple goals. They sport three of the conference's top-four in points led by Rachel Strawn. Strawn leads the Big Sky with 17 points courtesy of a conference-best eight goals. Amanda Ellsworth, the other half of last year's Co-Newcomer of the Year, is third in the conference with 11 points while Anna Pingree is fourth with 10 points. Ellsworth also is the conference-leader with five assists.
"We understand that we're going to be dealing with two completely different types of opponents from Friday to Sunday," Luciano said. "It's the reason we play tough opponents and travel a lot at the beginning of the year to get acclimated to that. Everybody is excited to play conference. Conference is a completely different animal."
NAU is 5-11-2 all-time against the Wildcats with four of the five victories coming on the road. The Lumberjacks have won the last three meetings between the two teams in Ogden. Last year, the teams played to a 1-1 tie in Flagstaff. The Lumberjacks are 7-7-3 all-time against the Bengals, but are just 1-5-2 at the Bengals' home facility. Last year at home, NAU overcame two deficits to defeat the Bengals, 3-2.
The Lumberjacks will play at Weber State in Ogden, Utah at 2 p.m. on Friday. Sunday's match at Idaho State in Pocatello, Idaho will commence at 10 a.m. Live stats and a free audio stream for the Idaho State game will be available.