Soccer returns home for final tournament before Big Sky play
By Christopher Albas-Martin
Following a disappointing weekend away from Flagstaff, the Northern Arizona University (NAU) soccer team returns home to host teams from opposite sides of the country.
NAU hosts the Hilton Garden Inn High Altitude Tournament at Lumberjack Stadium this weekend. On Sept. 14, the Jacks welcome the Eagles of Florida Gulf Coast University (5–1–1) and two days later they square off against the San Jose State University Spartans (2–4–1). The Eagles are unbeaten in their past five games and are currently riding a three-game win streak, while the Spartans have dropped their past three games.
On Sept. 7, the Jacks (1–5–1) faced off against the University of San Francisco Dons (3–2–3) and after double overtime, ended the match 1–1. The Lumberjacks returned to the field on Sept. 9 and the ladies were shut out for the fourth time this season by the University of California-Davis Aggies (4–1–1) 3–0. Despite the outcomes, head coach Andre Luciano’s expectations for the upcoming tournament are still high.
“The expectation is to have two wins at home [and] to put both of our opponents under a tremendous amount of pressure early on and [to use] the facilities and altitude to our advantage,” Luciano said.
There are a few reasons that could be attributed to NAU’s slow start, such as the 15 freshman on this season’s roster or how Luciano likes the team to push themselves by playing teams that, on paper, they should not be playing.
“The coaching staff has put a lot of pressure on [the team],” Luciano said. “We are hoping that it prepares us for the second half of the season, which is our conference schedule.”
Big Sky Conference (BSC) games begin the week after the High Altitude tournament and are the games that matter most for the team. If any mistakes were to happen in matches, the coaching staff and players would prefer that they occur during the out-of-conference games and not BSC matches.
As one of two seniors on the team, defender Georgia Foltz is currently on the road to recovery after suffering an injury that forced her to miss all but two games of the previous season. Foltz is the only player to start every game and has tallied three shots on goal and one assist, while displaying her leadership qualities on the field.
“Georgia is a captain’s captain,” Luciano said. “She wears the band with pride and she was sorely missed last year in terms of providing us with a steadiness in the back line.”
The Lumberjacks started their season against the University of Nevada-Las Vegas Rebels, where they were beaten 2–0. They then kicked off their home campaign with back-to-back defeats by ASU and the UA. The ASU game was attended by 2,207 spectators, setting a new stadium record.
“Any time you have a lot of supporters at the game, it allows you to ride any kind of wave,” Luciano said. “I hope the fans continue to be good supporters and [be] loud and obnoxious and to have a fun-filled experience at the game.”
The Jacks then travelled to the desert for the UNLV Rebel Classic having suffered three straight defeats. The tide turned against the Florida Atlantic University Owls, when they chalked up their first win of the season 2–0, courtesy of goals from Haley Wingender and Cierra Gamble. The Jacks were brought back down to earth two days later when they were beaten 3–1 by the University of Oklahoma Sooners, despite getting on the score board first.
Heading into this tournament with a record of 1–5–1, Luciano promises the fans an exciting 90 minutes. He added the level of commitment and energy shown by the players will continue right until the final whistle.
“One thing that I will promise our fans is that the players will work extremely hard,” Luciano said. “For 90 minutes, they are going to see a team that will run through a wall for this university.”