NAU soccer rebuilding after a disappointing season

The Northern Arizona University soccer team just added a transfer from Florida – who evidently hasn’t been paying much attention to what’s going on back here.

Did she not notice that the Lumberjacks had to cancel one of their spring games because of a snow storm that was moving into Flagstaff?  One of its spring games… cancelled because of snow.

Now that had to give her cause to pause, after playing last year in the ‘sunshine state.’

The April 14 contest against Grand Canyon University was part of a five-game spring schedule that was designed to give the younger players a chance to work into the program.

And the Jacks have plenty of those youngsters.

Florida transfer Savannah Berry, a sophomore who played for the Gators, who were ranked as high as No. 6 nationally last season, appeared in just one game last year as a freshman.  She was the 13th recruit in this year’s class – all the rest are freshmen.

Actually, it’s going to be somewhat of a complete make-over after last year, since there are 14 players that will join the 16 returning from the 2011-12 season.  And the top returners are also young’uns.  Sarah Tarver will be a sophomore this coming season and Lauren Weaver will be a junior; both were All-Big Sky Conference honorable mention selections.

There’s good reason to believe that a make-over is what is needed.  The Jacks were picked in the pre-season as the favorites to win the Big Sky, narrowly nosing out Sacramento State for the honor, but managed to fall from that lofty projection to a fifth-place finish, compiling a disappointing 2-2-3 conference record and missing out on the conference tournament for the first time in four years.

They had just 20 goals in 19 games as they wrapped the regular season with a 3-9-7 overall record.

But it was a strange season overall, as the Jacks not only played to seven ties – a Big Sky record – but nine of the games went into overtime.

Berry is one of four recruits that were just added to the roster, and all but one will be a help on the defensive end of the field.  The three defenders include Berry, Syrina Lopez from Las Vegas and Maya Huffman, who played at nearby Flagstaff High School and helped that school to the 2011 state title.

Cierra Gamble is coming in from California at the midfielder position.  Head coach Andre Luciano has already compared her game to that of the graduated Sam Monahan, the four-time All-Big Sky midfielder that was a team scoring leader last season.

The class of 10 high school recruits that were signed in February was built for offense.  That group included eight who are attackers in the forward and midfield positions.

It included three local athletes, two from the north country and a third from down in the Valley.

Torey Braly is a forward from Cottonwood’s Mingus High School, which won a 4A-II state title during her junior year and then reached the state semifinals last year.  She was selected the Grand Canyon Region Player of the Year and named to the 4A-II First Team All-State.

Also a state champion in track (300 hurdles), Braly set a school record with 17 goals as a freshman, and also holds the record for goals in a single season (39) and goals scored in a game (6).

Demi Schmieder is a forward/midfielder who also set school records at Coconino High School in Flagstaff, racking up the most goals in a season with 22 and most hat tricks in a season with three.  As a senior, she was named an All-State Arizona 4A honorable mention and a member of the Grand Canyon Region First Team.

Another midfielder, Lauren Doud, played for Pinnacle High School in north Phoenix, where she helped that school to the 2010-11 5A-II state championship.  She was a Desert Valley First Team All-Region selection.

“As a group, they’ve scored a lot of goals,” said Luciano in evaluating the February signees.  “These attacking players that we picked up will bring a lot of pace to our team.

“We’re going to be a really fast team next year.”

That speed will have to translate to more goals if the Jacks want to return to the Big Sky Tournament next year.

(Photo: NAU Athletics)