Heading into its final weekend of Big Sky action, Eastern looking to capitalize on momentum from first conference win
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All the pieces finally fell into place for the Eastern Washington University women's soccer team. After four narrow one-goal losses, the Eagles broke through for their first Big Sky Conference win of the season last Saturday at Weber State. Now, EWU will try to carry that energy and excitement into its final weekend of league play, starting with a home game against current Big Sky leader, Northern Colorado.
Eastern hosts UNC on Friday (Oct. 21) at 3 p.m. at the EWU Sports and Recreation Center Soccer Field in Cheney, Wash. The very next day, the Eagles will hit the road, as they travel to Flagstaff, Ariz., for the final Big Sky game of the year on Sunday (Oct. 23) against NAU. That game will be televised in Arizona on NAU-TV/FCS/Big Sky-TV/CH. 4/FSAZ.
"It was great to see us put the ball in the back of the net," said EWU head coach George Hageage on his team's offensive production against Idaho State and Weber State. "We've been getting opportunities the whole year, and it just felt like it was finally our time. The players have been working extremely hard all season and that hard work is starting to pay off. We are really excited about the possibilities this weekend."
Northern Colorado comes in with a 6-7-3 overall record and a share of the top spot in the conference standings at 3-1-1. In the most recent outing, the Bears tied Sacramento State on the road, 0-0. In the two games before that, UNC came out on top with a 3-1 win over Idaho State and 1-0 decision against Portland State. Northern Colorado's only loss in conference came in double overtime to the team Eastern just shut-out, the Weber State Wildcats.
"Northern Colorado presents a few different matchup problems for us," observed Hageage. "They knock the ball around well, so they are definitely a possession-oriented team, unlike a lot of the other squads in the Big Sky. They also have some size and athleticism, which is something that has given us a few problems this year. In some of our earlier losses, we were pushed around a lot."
"But, with that said, I am really excited about the momentum we have heading into this game," added Hageage. "Obviously, getting that first win at Weber State was big, and the fact that it was a shutout was great. But what excites me more was the way the game was professionally managed by our players. When we were up 1-0 at the half, everybody agreed that we would go into the second half and defend tough and not let Weber State get any shots from inside. We wanted to make it hard for them. The way everything matched up after that left us wide open for counter attacks. So, once we scored that third goal, we didn't care about going forward. We just wanted to knock it around and waste time off the clock. The players executed all of that perfectly. I think what we learned in that game will help us a lot against Northern Colorado. We know we can compete against good teams."
Northern Colorado, who was a Big Sky tournament team a year ago, defeated the Eagles 3-0 in the 2010 meeting in Greeley. The Bears lead the all-time series with EWU, 4-3-0. But when playing in Cheney, Eastern has a slight edge at 2-1.
The Bears have had 10 different players score at least one goal this year. Leading that large group of offensive threats is junior midfielder JJ Wykstra, who has five tallies on the season.
After the home game on Friday, Eastern will head to NAU to wrap up the Big Sky regular season. After a nearly flawless run in conference last year, which saw NAU capture the regular-season title with a 6-0-1 record, the Lumberjacks have faltered a bit in the 2011 campaign. Northern Arizona enters the weekend with a 2-8-7 overall record and 1-1-3 mark in Big Sky Conference action.
In its last three-consecutive outings, the Lumberjacks have battled their opponent to a 1-1 double-overtime draw. NAU earned its first and only conference win of the season at home against Idaho State.
The Lumberjacks are led this season by Sam Monahan, an All-Big Sky First-Team selection last year. The senior midfielder has a total of 16 points with six goals and four assists.
The all-time series between EWU and NAU stands at 9-4-0, in favor of the Lumberjacks. Northern Arizona holds a 5-1 edge in games in Flagstaff, with Eastern's only win on the road coming in the 2002 season.
In last year's meeting in Cheney, the two teams battled for 90 minutes with no score. But then, four minutes into the first overtime period, NAU managed to find the back of the net for disheartening golden goal.
Eagle Soccer News & Notes
Brannan Storms the Record Book - Already the all-time career leader in assists, senior Whitney Brannan (Kennewick, Wash.) set three more school records last weekend in Eastern's road games at Idaho State and Weber State. She tied former Eagle Brittany Sparks for all-time scoring record at EWU with 17 career tallies. She took sole ownership of the career record for points with 45, as well as the all-time shots record with 140. Brannan has recorded 11 assists in her tenure, which is also a school record. Four of those helpers have come this season. Brannan also owns two single-game records at Eastern. In the 2010 season, she set the record for goals in a single game with netted three against South Dakota State for her first-career hat trick. This year, Brannan has twice tied the record for shots in a single game. She had eight shots against Evergreen and registered another eight last weekend at Idaho State.
Eastern Sweeps Big Sky POW Honors - After earning its first win of the Big Sky Conference season against top-seeded Weber State, the Eagles were honored with a sweep of the Big Sky Player of the Week awards, announced Monday (Oct. 17) by the league office. Senior forward Whitney Brannan was selected as the Offensive POW, while junior goalkeeper Jamie Walker earned Co-Defensive Player of the Week accolades. Brannan tallied two goals on 11 total shots, and contributed two assists for a total of six points in Eastern's road games at Idaho State and Weber State. Against the Bengals, Brannan fired a game-high eight shots, which actually tied her own school record for shots in a single game. She converted on one of those in the seventh minute of the contest, when she recovered a rebound off her own shot and then slipped it in past the goalie. In its next match, EWU topped Weber State in Ogden for just the second time in program history. Brannan had a hand in all three of the goals scored in that game. She assisted on the first two and then scored the third and final EWU tally. The first two goals came after Brannan delivered perfect crosses in from the corner, which her teammates were able to convert from inside the six-yard box. Her goal came in the second half when she earned a breakaway down the center of the pitch and then slotted one home to the bottom left corner. Walker also played an invaluable part in helping Eastern capture the big win at Weber State. The Graham, Wash., native tallied 19 total saves over the weekend, but had a career-high 12 against the Wildcats to earn her second-career shutout. Weber State fired 25 shots in the game, but was not able to convert a single one thanks to the sharp defense of Walker. She had four saves in the first half and eight in the second. Against the Bengals, Walker picked up seven total saves on 14 shots. She finished the weekend with an impressive .905 save percentage. Walker is the top-ranked keeper in the conference in that statistic, with a season save percentage of .818, which also ranks in the top 70 in the nation. Walker ranks sixth in the Big Sky in saves, averaging 4.50 per game, and fifth in goals against average at 1.26.
Jacobsen and Black Garner TopDrawerSoccer Shout-Out - Eastern's junior midfielder Lauren Jacobsen and freshman forward Cassie Black have been recognized as two of the "Top 20 Players" in the Big Sky Conference, according to TopDrawerSoccer.com. Black is one of only two freshmen appearing on the list. Jacobsen is a two-time All-Big Sky Honorable Mention selection. Although she has had to battle several small injuries this season, Jacobsen has a major impact when on the field as the anchor and organizer of EWU's midfield. Black, in her rookie season, has proved extremely valuable in her ability to finish around the net. She is currently Eastern's leading scorer with six goals on 16 total shots this season. Eleven of Black's 15 shots have been on frame.
Walker Selected as Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week - After a notable performance between the pipes in Eastern's narrow 1-0 loss to Idaho on Sept. 25, junior goalkeeper Jamie Walker was selected as the Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week. It was the second POW award of Walker's career, as she was also honored once during the 2010 season. Walker, a native of Graham, Wash., collected a season-high nine saves in the game at Idaho. The Vandals took 24 total shots in the contest, but only managed one goal thanks to the relentless defense of Walker.
Underclassmen Impact - Although as a team, the Eagles have had to battle a few of the obvious challenges that come in a "rebuilding" year, Eastern has had many positive contributions this season from its young members. Currently, Eastern's leading goal scorer is freshman Cassie Black (Battle Ground, Wash.). Black has notched six goals on the year to rank second in the Big Sky Conference. Freshman Jessica Wallace (Bellingham, Wash.), has tallied three of Eastern's 10 assists this season, while sophomore Siara Byers (Bremerton, Wash.) has earned six points with two goals and two assists. Six of the underclassmen have started at least five games, while a total of 12 have played at least 90 minutes.
Black Delivers in Boise - Freshman Cassie Black (Battle Ground, Wash.), scored all three Eagle goals at the 2011 Bronco Invite. She had a textbook header goal against Boise State (Aug. 25), and notched two more against Air Force (Aug. 27). In Eastern's game versus The Evergreen State College, Black had her second two-goal game of the year, as she had two tallies in the first half to lead Eastern in its 4-0 shutout of the Geoducks.
Fausko Honored on All-Tournament Team - Senior Kirsten Fausko (Auburn, Wash.) was recognized for her strong performance at the 5th Annual Embassy Suites Kick-Off Classic in Fort Myers, Fla. Fausko, a native of Auburn, Wash., was one of two forwards named to the All-Tournament team, which is selected by a panel of coaches, SID's and media members at the event. Fausko scored her first goal of the season and third of her career in Eastern's narrow 3-1 loss to tournament-champion Robert Morris on Sunday (Aug. 21). She led the Eagles with five shots total on the weekend, three of which were on frame.
Eagles are Green in 2011 - Eastern returned only four starters from its 2010 squad, and of the seven other returning letterwinners, only five averaged more than 30 minutes per game last season. Only six Eagles who are on the 2011 roster had five or more starts under their belts at the start of the season. Eastern added 13 newcomers to its roster this year, including two junior college transfers and 11 freshmen. EWU has four seniors and six juniors on the team for a total of just 10 upperclassmen. The sophomore and freshmen class accounts for 17 of the 27 total members.