Soccer rivalry re-ignites in Flagstaff as NAU hosts ASU

The Lumberjacks’ women’s soccer team may have its best chance in years to begin evening the score with in-state rival Arizona State.

The Sun Devils will travel to Northern Arizona University tonight to open their 2010 season on the road, as they attempt to make it two trips in a row to the NCAA Tournament.  They made it last year, the first time since 2003, but lost to Wisconsin, 4-3, in a shoot-out ending to their tournament run.

They have pretty much owned their past match-ups with the Jacks, winning six of seven meetings, including the last three times they have traveled to the high country to play in Lumberjack Stadium.  The last (and only) win for NAU was in 2001 when they beat the Sun Devils in Tempe, 2-1.

This year, the Devils return their top three scorers from 2009, including senior midfielder Alexandra Elston who finished the season with  seven goals and six assists.  Karin Volpe is the other returning senior among the top scorers; she has 19 career goals and 46 points in three years.

Elston provides the local flavor on this year’s squad.  She arrived at ASU from Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix, where she was a four-year starter and was named the Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year.

Last year, she was an All-Pac-10 honorable mention and led the team with 20 points on seven goals and six assists.

But the Devils have a large group of freshmen, a young and less experienced back line than last year when Liz Harken anchored it, and some question marks at midfield.  They also have to deal with the travel and thin air that comes with the higher altitude in Flagstaff.

They went 9-7-4 last season and the pre-season Pac-10 coaches’ poll isn’t giving them much respect.  The Devils have been picked to finish eighth in the conference.

And the Lumberjacks are going to be ready for them this year.  The memory of the 4-0 loss in Tempe last season is still fresh.

NAU returns three players that were All-Big Sky first-team selections, all upperclassmen.  Kristi Andreassen and Brenna Boies will bring senior leadership and Jenna Samora is a junior.  The trio combined for 14 goals and a dozen assists last year.

Andreassen is the local in the group, coming out of Marcos de Niza High School in Tempe, where she was a two-time first team All-State selection and named three times to the All-Region first team.

And junior Tori Rocke will be in goal again this year, looking to add to her 203 career saves, third most in school history.

NAU finished with a 10-9-2 record last season and its coach, Andre Luciano, was named Big Sky Coach of the Year for the second straight season.  And this year, the team has eight returning seniors.

“This game is a good way to get a taste of what the season will be for us,” said Luciano in assessing his opener against ASU.   “It will be a great opportunity to test our abilities against a quality opponent.”

The Lumberjacks will be the first of 11 teams ASU will meet this season that were involved in post-season play last year.  The Jacks won the Big Sky Championship in 2009 to earn an automatic bid to the tourney.

But ASU can’t be looking past this one to the other 10.

Not this year.

(Photo: NAU Athletics)