CHENEY – The Eastern Washington women's soccer team honored seven seniors and closed out the 2013 season in a home match against Northern Arizona Sunday, keeping the second-best team in the Big Sky Conference scoreless through 85 minutes with gritty play worthy of the postseason. Unfortunately, the Eagles ultimately fell to the Lumberjacks 2-0.
"I thought we played really well against a quality opponent and battled toe for toe with them the whole game," EWU head coach George Hageage said after the game.
"We created some great shots, hit the post, I thought we defended well and it was just a really good effort overall, it's just a shame we let in an own goal and the one right after it to end the game."
From the first whistle, the Eagles let their opponents and the crowd know that their season wouldn't end without a fight. Eastern came off the initial kick playing aggressive, creating three corner kick opportunities and putting up three shots—including two by senior defender Brianna Brannan—in the first 6 minutes and 53 seconds alone.
"I was really proud of the way they came out today. It was better than the first half (against Southern Utah), and I think we carried the momentum from our second half on Friday, so I'm really proud of the team," Hageage said.
From there, both teams played a vertical game, trading shots off and on with each squad getting solid scoring opportunities. Eastern in particular had its highest shot-on-goal percentage in the first 30 minutes of the game all season with four of seven shots going on net in that time frame.
Eastern split their shot count evenly between the two halves, putting up nine in each for a total of 18. Junior Cassie Black had a career-high shot total for the afternoon with eight, a tally that also ties the EWU single-game record.
The game turned defensive for the remainder of the first half for the Eagles, with the defensive line of Brannan, Kayla Sutter, Lexi Guches, and senior Nicole Medeiros keeping at bay the notoriously potent NAU offensive attack. Sunday marked arguably the best defensive performance for the four defenders, all of whom have been consistently solid all season.
After the break, spectators saw much of the same. Eastern matched the energy of their opponents at every turn and took every opportunity they could find to put pressure on NAU goalie Lauren Weaver. After being outshot 12-9 in the first half, Eastern let off five shots before the Lumberjacks could register one.
The Eagles' closest scoring opportunity came just two minutes into the second half, when Black took a pass in traffic inside the box and fired a shot at the right side of the net. The ball, unfortunately, glanced off the right post and ricocheted out of bounds.
The visitors kept the pressure on, and despite not getting a shot off until the 65th minute found opportunities to pepper junior goalie Nathalie Schwery five times in eight minutes before EWU found another chance to shoot.
The game seemed to be headed to overtime, until a centering pass to the front of the net by Lumberjack Cierra Gamble took a bad bounce off the head of Brannan and past Schwery's outstretched arms, putting NAU up 1-0 with just over five minutes to play.
Several Eastern players were looking for a foul call from the official following the goal, so much that both Schwery and senior midfielder Torri Sitzman were given yellow cards in the ensuing seconds after the score.
Play continued for just two minutes before NAU struck again, this time on a centering shot by Jordan Stenger from just outside the box. Schwery was caught out of position trying to cover a second Lumberjack in front of the goal and wasn't able to save the ball from trickling into the left side of the net.
The game ended with the two teams tied at 18 shots apiece, while Eastern won the corner kick tally 7-6 and were charged with more fouls (8-5). Schwery notched six saves in addition to the two goals, while Weaver hauled in seven saves in a shutout win.
The loss marks the end of Eastern's 2013 campaign and dropped their record to 3-15 overall and 1-8 in conference play. It also was the final game in a red uniform for seniors Brannan, Sitzman, Siara Byers, Katy Allen, Medeiros, Jackie Rodgers and Marianne Johnson.
"It might've been a little emotional with it being Senior Day, but we tried to tell the players before the game to turn that into a positive emotion," Hageage said. "I thought they did a great job with that today, and hats off to our seniors for playing really well."
This season has a lot of positives to look back on for the Eagles, and leaves a lot for fans to be excited about heading into 2014. Junior Cassie Black, in addition to tying the EWU record for shots in a game on Sunday, broke the Eagles career goals record earlier this year. The score was an overtime game-winner in Eastern's lone conference win, a 2-1 (OT) home contest against Sacramento State.
In addition, Sutter will end her junior year with the second-most assists tallied in a single season (3) in school history, and also tied the record for most assists in a single game earlier this year (2 – NDSU, 9/22/2013). The Eagles, as a team, had their fourth-highest shot total in a single game (31) in a 3-1 loss to North Dakota on October 13.