NAU soccer walked away from its matchup with the Idaho State Bengals with more than just the 2-0 Sunday victory. The team celebrated an unbeaten record against Big Sky Conference competition and a record-setting performance from senior goalkeeper Taryn Benham, and the Lumberjacks left the match with momentum heading into next week's showdown with Northern Colorado.
After topping the Bengals on Friday 2-1, this game had the bonus of being senior night for the Lumberjacks. They now had the added motivation of sending off their seniors with a win.
The Lumberjacks appeared to be the better team in the first ten minutes, forcing two saves from Idaho State’s freshman goalkeeper McKayla Wetsel and seeing their third shot go just over the goal. The deadlock would only last eight minutes.
After winning possession in the Bengals half, junior forward Sam Larberg unleashed a screamer into the far side of the goal that was just too quick for Wetsel, giving the Lumberjacks their first lead of the day.
From that point on, the Lumberjacks were on the front foot and gave the Bengals very few opportunities to put pressure on their net. The one significant opportunity Idaho State saw was quickly shut down by sophomore defender Abby Donathan, who managed to make a tackle just outside the 18-yard box.
It looked like it would be a long day for the Bengals, as the Lumberjack pressure never let up, forcing numerous saves from Wetsel. The goalkeeper did a heroic job of keeping the second out, but as the game approached the 30-minute mark, a familiar face would end up on the score sheet.
Junior defender Madison Montgomery — who scored twice in Friday's game — managed to net another by dribbling around the keeper and calmly slotting home a shot on the open net. The Bengals came back with fire, forcing Benham into two tough saves, but the senior was up to the challenge. Benham’s last task of the half would come on a free kick from just outside the box, but she preserved the shutout going into half 2-0.
Despite holding possession for the majority of the first 15 minutes of the second half, the Lumberjacks were unable to mount significant pressure on Idaho State’s goal. NAU’s first significant chance of the period came almost half an hour through the second half when sophomore forward Kalea Gurfield got past the defense and managed a shot from the edge of the box. However, Wetsel got down quickly and managed to make the stop.
Shortly after the chance in a scuffle for the ball near midfield, the ball hit Donathan hard off a deflection. The defender did not reenter the game with an apparent head injury. The injury seemed to motivate the Lumberjacks to make up for her absence, as the team’s attack suddenly sprang awake once again.
Larberg got another chance at the goal, but Wetzel was just long enough to make the stop. The final chance for the Bengals came on a free kick that went just above the crossbar. The Lumberjacks wrapped up the game with a 2-0 win.
This shutout was a significant one for Benham, who secured the Lumberjack record for most shutouts in a career with 22.
“I couldn’t have done it without my defensive line, especially Emma (Robson),” Benham said. “They are just the best defensive line, and it feels good because it's not just my record. It’s their record.”
Next week, the Lumberjacks travel to Greeley, Colorado to take on the 2-1 Northern Colorado Bears.
“Anything can change when you play new opponents,” NAU head coach Kylie Louw said. “We're just trying to win every game that we play, and it has added up, but we’ve gotta go back to the drawing board on Tuesday and make sure we're ready to win the next game.”
As usual, the teams will play a series of two games, which begin April 3 and conclude April 5. Both games can be watched on Pluto TV.