NAU soccer clinches conference tournament birth after tying the Wildcats

The NAU women’s soccer team members pose with Louie the Lumberjack before their match with Weber State University at the Max Spilsbury Stadium Oct. 25.

The Lumberjacks kicked off the final weekend of conference play against the Weber State University Wildcats at Max Spilsbury Field Friday. The Wildcats changed their tempo late in the first half but could not take the lead as NAU tied Weber State 1-1.

NAU came into this game 7-7-2 coming off a 2-0 loss to Big Sky conference leaders Eastern Washington University Oct. 20.

With Big Sky Conference Championship tournament sneaking up Nov. 6 to Nov. 10, NAU built momentum heading into the tournament with hopes securing a last-minute climb up the conference standings. Weber State, 2-10-3 on the season, had nothing to lose playing hard and fast. The Wildcats looked to catch the Lumberjack defense off guard to get another win under their belt.

The first half remained scoreless for a while with NAU knocking on the Wildcats’ door before taking the lead in the 28th minute with a far-reaching header from junior midfielder Taylor Fu to make it 1-0.

Weber responded quickly by putting pressure on NAU's defense and caught the Lumberjacks off guard. Wildcat junior midfielder Jasmine Lotey took the opportunity to score the equalizing goal in the 40th minute with a penalty kick that snuck just inside the left post to make the score 1-1 heading into halftime.

The Lumberjacks could not regain momentum being forced to remain on the defensive as Weber State went on the offensive. With the tide shifting in the Wildcat’s favor, they put pressure on NAU and added two out of their three shots on the night early in the second half.

As regulation time ran out, neither team was ready to go home as an all-out effort ensued. The Lumberjacks almost took the lead in the final minute of overtime but could not get it to go as the overtime period ended.

“[Coming into this game,] we were plagued with sickness and injuries,” head coach Kylie Louw said. “[The team] knew they were under some pressure yet the attitude was still great. These kids grinded through. We [qualified for the tournament] and that’s all we needed.”

With the tie, the Lumberjacks have inched their way into the Big Sky Conference Championship tournament. At 7-7-3 overall and 3-3-2 in conference play, NAU is poised to make a run at the title this year with a nearly equal blend of younger and older players. NAU hosts Idaho State University on senior night in their last game of the regular season at home Sunday at Max Spilsbury Field.

“This past week has been really emotional,” senior defender Amanda Bennett said. “Of course there’s a sadness but I think mixed with those emotions, there’s a lot of [excitement] going around. We want to get to the tournament, we want to win, we want to make it to the [national tournament] and doing something that’s never been done before at NAU. That’s the goal, so there’s a lot of emotions going into this.”