With the 2012 season officially under way and the upcoming fall semester just days away, the Northern Arizona soccer team welcomes Arizona State to the Mountain Campus tonight in front of an anticipated sellout crowd at Lumberjack Stadium. The game, set for a 7 p.m. start, will be a part of Welcome Weekend on campus as students and families arrive on campus in preparation of the new academic year.
"This first game against Arizona State is a huge event for us," said head coach Andre Luciano. "Not only are we hosting an in-state rival, a Pac-12 team in Arizona State, but we're also hoping to establish a tradition with our fans and our incoming students. The more people we can get in the stands and the more support we can get from them, it becomes even more important for our team. In essence the fans become our 12th player and we hope we can 'Pack the Jack' and create the most intimidating atmosphere we possibly can for Arizona State."
Tonight's game will be the Lumberjacks' home opener following a 2-0 loss at UNLV last week in their first game of the season. Although the Lumberjacks fell in defeat, they finished the game on a high note, controlling possession of the ball and matching the Rebels in shot attempts throughout the second half after allowing two first half goals.
"The first half was a learning lesson for us," said junior Alana D'Onofrio on the Lumberjacks Weekly Podcast. "It was our first game and we started a little slow, but we picked it up in the second half. We didn't allow any goals in the second half and we kind of dominated. Hopefully we can keep that going this weekend."
Freshman Haley Wingender tallied three of the team's five shots in their season opener and narrowly missed netting her first career goal midway through the second half as her shot went wide. Fellow freshmen Natalie Gilbertson earned the start in goal in her first collegiate game and made six saves while holding UNLV to just two goals despite the Rebels owning a 15-5 shot advantage for the game.
Following the Arizona State game, the Lumberjacks will then host Arizona on Sunday at noon. The two home games against their in-state rivals mark a program first, as this is the first time in school history that NAU will have hosted both Arizona State and Arizona in the same season. With two Pac-12, in-state rivals on deck this weekend, the Lumberjacks are hoping for a packed crowd at Lumberjack Stadium.
"We're really pumped," D'Onofrio said. "We've been working for this all week watching a lot of film. It's really cool to be playing them at home, so hopefully we'll have a lot of people out there to support us because we love the fans' support. We get really pumped up when there's a ton of fans especially for a big weekend against in-state rivals. If we can get these two big wins, it's going to be really exciting for us."
With five seasoned seniors, three superb sophomores, a star-studded freshman class and a former top-100 sophomore transfer, the NAU Volleyball team will take the floor for the first time this weekend at the UNLV Invitational in Las Vegas. The Lumberjacks will open their 2012 campaign against the Citadel at 5 p.m. today before facing CSU Bakersfield at 10 a.m. Saturday and host UNLV at 7 p.m. that night in a match to air live on NAUAthletics.com.
"I just want to see us play hard and smart," said fifth-year head coach Craig Choate. "You can't always control results, but I want us to show up and play up to our abilities."
The Lumberjacks started 12-0 last season, sweeping their three non-conference tournaments and opening conference play with a trio of wins. In finishing the year with 15 wins, the Lumberjacks equaled the most wins in a season since 2001 and continued to build the quality of the program. The squad returns four starters (plus libero) and eight letter winners from last season, hoping to combine experience with young talent to ascend the Big Sky table.
NAU will rely heavily on the skill and experience of its five seniors looking to close their careers with a Big Sky championship. Lauren Campbell, Kelli Dallmann, Anna Gott, Lexi Sullivan, and Jen Wilson have combined for three All-Big Sky selections as members of Choate's first NAU recruiting class. Sullivan, who is a fifth-year senior after utilizing a medical redshirt in 2009, and Dallmann earned consecutive Big Sky Freshman of the Year awards in 2008 and 09, respectively. Both have been named All-Big Sky as has Gott, who earned her first All-Conference honor last year and is on pace to shatter NAU's career digs record this season.
Campbell has been a three-year contributor and last year became NAU's first All-American after being named to the Capital One Academic All-America Third Team. Wilson has been among NAU's most consistent performers throughout her career, averaging more than two kills per set as a Lumberjack and starting through each of her first three seasons. The leadership and performance of the group will no doubt be paramount in NAU's quest for the 2012 Big Sky title.
NAU will open its season against The Citadel, a school located in Charleston, S.C. that is a member of the Southern Conference. The Bulldogs were 8-22 overall in 2011 and just 1-15 in the Southern Conference but return three starters and 10 letter winners in 2012. Senior Rachael Farrell returns after leading the team with 2.24 digs per set and recording 2.15 kills per set in 2011, one of only two Bulldogs to average more than two kills per set.
The host UNLV Rebels return all but one starter this season after going 14-17 overall and 4-10 in the Mountain West in 2011. UNLV returns its best hitter in junior Madeline Westman who hit .290 last season while averaging 2.33 kills and 1.09 blocks per set. The Rebels also return three other players that averaged more than 1.9 kills per set last year as well as setter Stephanie Thelen and libero Allison Davies. Northern Arizona has not faced UNLV since 2003 and is 2-6 all-time against the Rebels.