With postseason looming, injury riddled Eastern squad must notch two victories this weekend
As the Big Sky regular season winds down, the Eastern Washington University women’s soccer team finds itself in a must-win situation to keep postseason dreams alive. But with how close the Big Sky standings currently rest, securing two wins still might not be enough to guarantee a trip to the conference tournament.
The Eagles conclude their regular season schedule this weekend in a two-game road trip. The team plays Northern Arizona on Friday (Oct. 19) at 7 p.m. under the lights at Lumberjack Stadium in Flagstaff, Ariz. The final contest finds Eastern matched up with Big Sky newcomer Southern Utah on Sunday (Oct. 21). The match is set to kickoff at 11 a.m. at Thunderbird Soccer Field in Cedar City, Utah.
Only eight points separate the top eight teams in the Big Sky, which means no teams are secure in the rankings quite yet. Depending on this weekend’s results across the conference, the top four teams headed to the conference tournament could be dramatically altered.
Eastern is currently in eighth place in the Big Sky race. At this point, the highest the Eagles can finish is third place – if everything goes perfectly. That is, if Eastern wins both matches on the road, and other teams ahead of them lose to certain opponents, so that a number of tiebreakers go in favor of EWU. Alternatively, if things do not pan out in favor of the red and white, they could drop as low as ninth place in the league.
Interestingly, Idaho State is currently third in the league – a team Eastern defeated 2-1 earlier this season. The Bengals secured a surprising 2-1 win against top ranked Portland State on Friday (Oct. 12). Two days later, they turned around and edged out Sacramento State in another 2-1 victory.
Coming off a tough loss against defending Big Sky tournament champion Montana, Eastern holds a 5-7-3 overall record, and 2-3-2 conference tally. The weekend prior, the Eagles dealt North Dakota a 4-1 loss and held defending regular-season champion Northern Colorado to a 0-0 tie.
In the match against Montana, junior Brianna Brannan, a staple on Eastern’s defense, went down with an injury and did not return. It was later reported that Brannan broke her leg, prematurely ending her junior campaign with the Eagles.
Brannan’s absence will be felt by the Eags, who are already missing experienced midfielders Lauren Jacobsen and Marianne Johnson – both out this season due to knee injuries. The focus of Eastern’s squad will now be to fill the void.
“We are just going to work on switching some things in the middle of the park,” said head coach George Hageage. “And trying to find someone who can step up fast enough to fill Brianna’s role. It is going to be hard.”
“The good thing is, this team has been through a lot of adversity with all the injuries we have seen this season,” added Hageage. “We have a lot of character, so if any team is going to step up and win two on the road in a must-win, I like our chances with the team that we have.”
In the Big Sky, Northern Arizona is tied for sixth place with Sacramento State. With 11 points awarded to NAU, Eastern is just one victory shy of matching points with the Lumberjacks. Teams are awarded three points for a win, one for a tie, and none for a loss.
In the series history, NAU holds a 10-4 all-time record against the Eagles. In fact, the Lumberjacks are on a seven year winning streak against EWU. The last matchup between the two teams was held in Flagstaff in 2011, when NAU defeated Eastern, 3-0.
This season, the Lumberjacks are 5-7-4 overall, with a 3-2-2 Big Sky record. The team saw success against North Dakota, Weber State, and Southern Utah. However, they most recently endured a 5-0 rout at the hands of Northern Colorado – a team Eastern held to a 0-0 tie. NAU also suffered a 2-1 loss against Idaho State, while Eastern handled the Bengals, 2-1.
Northern Arizona has only played three home matches, but has yet to face defeat on its own field. It edged out Southern Utah 1-0, and tied both Portland State and Sacramento State 0-0 in Flagstaff.
The team is led by freshman forward Demi Schmieder. The Flagstaff native recorded three goals and four assists this season for a total of 10 points. Schmieder has taken 20 shots and put 15 of them on goal, for an impressive .750 on goal percentage.
In Big Sky statistics, Eastern trails Northern Arizona by mere points. The Eagles are only one mark behind the Lumberjacks in shots (80-79) and assists (6-5). Similarly, Eastern’s 51 saves puts them in second place only to Northern Arizona, who leads the conference by two with 53 saves. However, the two teams are tied in goals with seven apiece.
Southern Utah is behind Eastern, in ninth place with a 2-9-2 overall record and 1-5-1 tally in the Big Sky. After going 0-5 in the league, the Thunderbirds saw their first bit of success this past weekend. On Friday (Oct. 12), Southern Utah held second-place Northern Colorado to a 1-1 draw after overcoming a one goal deficit in the last few seconds of the game. The Thunderbirds finally earned their first win on Sunday (Oct. 14) against last-place North Dakota in a 3-0 shutout.
Although Southern Utah is in its first season as a member of the Big Sky Conference, this will not be Eastern’s first trip to Thunderbird Soccer Field. The two teams have played each other once before, back in 2002. The match resulted in a 3-2, double-overtime win for the Eagles. But that was quite some time ago and no indication of how the teams will fare this time around.
Eagle News & Notes
Black Collects Third Big Sky POTW Recognition in
2012: For the third time this season, the Big Sky named
Cassie Black its Offensive Player of the Week, announced Tuesday
(Oct. 9) by the league office. Black is the only player in the Big
Sky this season to repeat as a POTW. This honor came on the heels
of Black’s first collegiate career hat trick, which she
earned in Eastern’s 4-1 win against Big Sky newcomer North
Dakota on Friday (Oct. 5).With eight goals and two assists, Black
currently ranks second in the Big Sky in points with 18 on the
season. She leads the Eagles with a .641 on-goal percentage after
putting 25 of her 39 season shots on frame. Black has contributed
four game-winning goals this year, which puts her one behind the
Big Sky leader, Rachel Strawn from Idaho State, while ranking 19th
nationally. Just a sophomore, Black already ranks third all-time at
Eastern for career goals (14) and is fourth in points in the EWU
Quite the Turnaround: With a 5-7-2 record heading into the final week of the Big Sky season, Eastern Washington has doubled its wins from a year ago. With 17 goals on the season, and two games still remaining, the Eagles have already notched five more goals than the total it had throughout the entire 2011 campaign. Eight different players have scored at least one goal for EWU, while five different players have had at least one assist.
Black Hauls in the Honors: Eastern Washington has won four of its last five outings, and put up eight goals in the process. Sophomore Cassie Black has had a hand, or rather foot, in six of those eight goals. In the last three weeks, the Battle Ground, Wash., native has scored five goals and assisted on two others. Her strong play has certainly turned a few heads. Black was a back-to-back Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week on Sept. 11 and Sept. 18. She earned College Sports Madness Offensive Player of the Week honors on Sept. 18, and was recognized with the same honor by Inland Northwest Soccer News.com. After leading Eastern to a 1-1 split at the Viking Classic (Sept. 7-9), which included Eastern’s first-ever win against Boise State, Black was named the Offensive MVP of the tournament. She scored two goals against the Broncos.
Black, Schwery and Byers Garner All-Tournament Honors: Three players from the Eastern soccer team were recognized for their strong performances at the Viking Classic (Sept. 7-9) at Hillsboro Stadium in Hillsboro, Ore. Among the All-Tournament team honorees was sophomore forward Cassie Black, sophomore goalkeeper Nathalie Schwery, and junior forward Siara Byers. Black was also given the prestigious honor of Offensive MVP of the Viking Classic. She had an impressive showing against Boise State (Sept. 9), contributing two goals in 75 minutes of play, which helped Eastern secure a 3-1 win – its first ever against the Broncos. She also totaled 57 minutes of play against Utah State on (Sept. 7), tallying three shots with two on goal. Schwery stepped up for her team against Utah State, contributing a career-high 10 saves in 90 minutes of play. The Schuepfheim, Switzerland native had a strong showing between the pipes, only allowing one goal on 17 shot attempts by the Aggies. Hailing from Bremerton, Wash., Byers notched her first goal of the season against Boise State, as she put the Eagles up 2-0 with a strike in the 34th minute.
Black & Schwery Show Up in National Statistics: Sophomores Cassie Black and Nathalie Schwery are not only among the top players in the Big Sky in their respective positions, but both Eagles have also made contributions that have them appearing in the national rankings as well. With five goals on the season, Black is among the top 150 nationally. She ranks second in the Big Sky for goals, averaging 0.42 per game and is also third in total points with 12. Black has notched three game-winning goals this season, which ranks 37th in the NCAA. Schwery currently holds the top spot in the Big Sky for save percentage, while ranking 37th in the nation. She has collected 51 total saves this season, allowing just nine goals for a .850 save percentage. Those 51 total saves ranks sixth in the Big Sky and 105th among all keepers in the country. Thanks to the combined efforts of Schwery and senior goalkeeper Jamie Walker, Eastern ranks second in the league in saves with 72 on the season and an average of 6.00 per game.