The soccer season for Northern Arizona University started on the road and ended on the road, and in between those games the Lumberjacks rolled up an 11-win season and secured a spot in the conference playoffs, the first since the 2010 season.
NAU’s women’s soccer team won the regular-season conference title that year and made NCAA Tournament appearances in 2008 and 2009. But graduation has depleted much of the talent from those years and the Jacks have been in somewhat of a rebuilding mode the past three years, as the 2011 underclassmen have worked their way up the ladder and into the starting line-up.
The 2013 squad returned 18 letterwinners, 10 of whom were starters, so this season was the first in a few years that head coach Andre Luciano, who is in his 13th year directing the program, has not had to rely on freshmen to play significant minutes. This team has had a nice balance of youth and experience, which they will carry into the Big Sky Conference in a couple of weeks.
A 2-0 win in Sunday’s season finale against Eastern Washington was the fourth victory in a row to close out the regular season, giving the Jacks some momentum going into the playoffs.
NAU wasn’t able to score for the first 84 minutes of the game, but then scored a pair within two minutes of each other. It was fitting that a senior recorded the final out of the regular season. Jordan Stenger, a senior midfielder from Baltimore, notched the last goal of the game when her stroke found the left side of the net to wrap up the 2-0 win.
Senior goalkeeper Lauren Weaver posted her eighth shut-out of the season and the 19th of her career, despite an 18-shot barrage by the Eagles. She’s now second on the school’s all-time list for saves with 302.
The victory against EWU was also Luciano’s 100th career win. He took over in Flagstaff after a couple years as an assistant on the University of Arizona coaching staff.
Sunday’s win over the Eagles was somewhat anti-climatic because it was the previous game that clinched the playoff appearance. The Jacks came back from a 1-0 deficit to beat Montana, 2-1. Nicole Sherwin tied the game in the 56th minute with a shot into the net from 12 yards out and Cierra Gamble added the winning goal less than 10 minutes later.
Luciano had four goals for his team this season. First, they wanted to have a winning non-conference record to set the tone for the Big Sky challenge. They went 4-2-3 during that portion of the schedule that included one overtime and three double-overtime games.
The second goal was to double the wins of last season, when they went 5-9-5. Their final regular-season record is 11-14-3.
They wanted to qualify for the Big Sky Tournament, which they accomplished with the Montana win. They also finished in second place in the conference standings.
That’s three out of four accomplished. The fourth, making it into the NCAA Tournament, is on the horizon.
But first, the Big Sky Tournament awaits in Portland, Ore.
(Photo: NAU Athletics)