FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The 2013 Northern Arizona women's soccer season was a memorable one and provided a lot of smiles, goals and wins for Lumberjacks Nation. After two years of not reaching the Big Sky Conference Championships, head coach Andre Luciano and the women brought the program back to where it belongs: in the playoffs. Northern Arizona proved the conference coaches wrong finishing way above their preseason ranking despite having multiple players out for the season due to injury. The Lumberjacks' six seniors will leave the program in better shape and have brought a new life to Luciano's program.
The Lumberjacks began the season picked to finish sixth in the Big Sky Conference in the coaches' poll after a 5-9-5 2012 season. Northern Arizona ignored the preseason rankings and showed the conference they belong with the best in the Big Sky. Northern Arizona came out of the gates firing on all cylinders starting the season with three straight wins for the first time in NAU history. Luciano's squad did not lose a match until its eighth match of the season, which is the longest unbeaten streak in the program's history. The Lumberjacks ended their nonconference schedule with a 4-2-3 record, one of the best records in school history. After a 2-5-2 record last season, NAU improved its play with 17 goals scored during its nine nonconference matches this season compared to only six goals last year.
Northern Arizona carried that momentum into its Big Sky Conference schedule where they went 7-2-0 and finished second in the Big Sky. The team was stellar on the road this season losing only one match. In 2012, the Lumberjacks went 3-3-3 during conference and scored seven goals in nine matches. Fast forward to this season, Luciano had a lot of offensive weapons and were used effectively as NAU scored 17 goals in the Big Sky and received scoring contributions from eight different players. The team recorded the most Big Sky wins in the regular season in NAU history. Sophomore midfielder Cierra Gamble played her best soccer when it mattered most during conference play as she tied for the Big Sky's Golden Boot Award, which is given to the player with the most points during conference play. Gamble tallied four goals and five assists for a total of 15 points and had at least one point in five straight conference matches.
The defense for the Lumberjacks was stellar all season with an experienced backline led by senior captain Alana D'Onofrio. The captain led a defense that allowed 0.86 goals per game and recorded eight shutouts throughout the season. Senior goalkeeper Lauren Weaver will go down as one of the best goalkeepers to ever play at Northern Arizona as she ends her career with 19 shutouts, which ranks second all-time. This season, she posted a 1.00 goals against average, which is the third best average in NAU history.
After making an appearance in the Big Sky Championships for the first time since 2010, Northern Arizona placed nine players on the Big Sky All-Conference teams, the most since 2010. D'Onofrio and Gamble made All-Big Sky First Team to lead the Lumberjacks charge. Following their lead, sophomore Haley Wingender earned her first conference honor making the All-Big Sky Second Team after being tied on the team for the most goals scored this season with five. NAU dominated the All-Big Sky Honorable Mention team as Seniors Elinor Priest, Weaver, juniors Savannah Berry, Diane Buzzard, Sarah Tarver and freshman Danny Muniz were selected to the team.
It was a memorable season for Luciano in 2013. In his 13th season at the helm for the Lumberjacks, Luciano picked up his 100th career win at Northern Arizona. After leading the Lumberjacks back into the playoffs, Luciano was named the College Sports Madness Coach of the Year for the Big Sky Conference.
The future is bright for the Northern Arizona women's soccer program and it is because of the six seniors and the 2013 squad bringing the program back to the being one of the best teams in the Big Sky Conference.