Eastern aims for first road win of 2010 against Bears before returning home to face the league's current No. 1, Northern Arizona
The Eastern Washington University soccer team has a busy week ahead, as it travels to Greeley, Colo., to face the UNC Bears on Friday (Oct. 22) and then returns to Cheney on Sunday (Oct. 24) for a showdown with the only unbeaten team still remaining in the Big Sky in Northern Arizona.
The Eagles are coming off a stellar weekend that saw the team earn its first two victories of 2010 against BSC foes Idaho State and Weber State. Eastern shutout ISU 2-0 behind the brilliant play of Eastern's all-time leading scorers, Brittany Sparks and Whitney Brannan and goalkeeper Jamie Walker. Sparks and Brannan each tallied one goal and one assist in the contest, and are now 1-2 on EWU's career goals list. Walker picked up seven total saves to earn her first-career shutout.
Eastern followed that performance with a 2-1 victory over Weber State that included another Brannan-to-Sparks hookup and a 45-yard game-winning goal by junior Melanie Kitsman. With the two wins, Eastern moved into a tie for fourth in the league standings.
"Getting the sweep of Idaho State and Weber State was huge for us," said EWU head coach George Hageage. "Not only because those were our first wins of the season, but also because it got us to .500 in conference, which puts us in a tie for fourth and right back in contention for a tournament bid."
After successfully defending their home field, the Eagles will take their 2-2 Big Sky record to Northern Colorado, where they will look to capture their first road victory of the season.
The Bears are currently the No. 3 team in the league with a 2-1-1 overall record. In its most recent outing, UNC was blanked by Sacramento State after giving up two goals late in the second half. So far in the season, the Bears and Eagles have faced the same four opponents. UNC tied Weber State 1-1 in Ogden and then beat Idaho State in Pocatello with a 3-1 decision. In its first home match of the season, the Bears upset Portland State 3-2 thanks to a golden goal in the second overtime period.
Since Northern Colorado joined the Big Sky Conference in 2006, the Eagles have recorded a 2-2 record against the Bears. Eastern is 3-3 all-time against the Bears, as the two teams met twice before UNC was added to the Big Sky. Last season, Northern Colorado blanked Eastern 4-0 at Jackson Stadium in Greeley. In 2008, Eastern shut out UNC by a score of 1-0, with the goal coming off the foot of none other than Brittany Sparks.
Following the contest with the Bears, Eastern will return to the friendly and familiar EWU Sports and Recreation Playing Field to take on Northern Arizona, who was the BSC preseason favorite and is currently undefeated in league play. The Lumberjacks blanked Portland State 2-0 in its most recent game. NAU has also topped Sacramento State (3-2) and Weber State (2-0), while it battled ISU to a scoreless tie in a game that was cut short by 17 minutes due to inclement weather.
The all-time series between the Eagles and Lumberjacks stands at 8-4, in favor of the NAU. The Lumberjacks have topped Eastern in five of the last six meetings, including a 4-2 victory in Flagstaff in 2009. However, the Eagles prove to be stronger on their home field, as three of their four wins in the series have come in Cheney.
"It is extremely important for us to take care of business at home this year because of the way the Big Sky is set up. We have four home games, and as it usually takes four wins to get into the conference tournament, we want to make sure to get the job done when playing on our home field. If we win our final two home games, we are probably in [the BSC tournament], and if we lose, we are not going, but either way, we like that it is completely in our hands."
Eagle Soccer News & Notes
Eastern's 1-2 Punch - Whitney Brannan and Brittany Sparks have accounted for 11 of Eastern's 13 goals this season, which includes six direct hookups between the two talented forwards. Brannan has assisted on two of Sparks' three goals this year, while Sparks has had the helper on four of Brannan's eight tallies in 2010. Both players are products of Kamiakin High School in Kennewick, Wash. Sparks was a 2006 graduate, while Brannan earned her diploma in 2008. Earlier this season, Sparks took over sole possession of Eastern's career-goals record, as she now has 17 total in her career. Brannan, who has already scored eight goals in 2010, is closing in on Sparks' record though, as she has 14 total in just three seasons with the Eagles. Brannan is tied with Cyeeta Mott as the second-leading goal scorer in Eastern history. Brannan and Sparks are also 1-2 on Eastern's single-season points and goals list. Sparks owns the two records with 11 goals and 22 points, which she earned during the 2009 campaign, but Brannan is not far behind with eight goals and 18 points already tallied in 2010.
Walker Wins POW Honors - Sophomore Jamie Walker was tabbed as the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week after a superior performance between the pipes in Eastern's first two conference victories, and first victories overall this season, against Big Sky foes Idaho State and Weber State on Oct. 15 and 17, respectively. The Graham, Wash., native earned her first-career shutout against ISU, which was quite a feat, as the Bengals took 22 total shots in the contest. Walker collected seven total saves in the game to help her team capture the 2-0 victory. In Eastern's game against Weber State (Oct. 17), Walker picked up eight saves, and allowed only one goal on 17 shots. She finished the weekend with an impressive .938 save percentage and 0.50 goals against average.
Record-Setting Sparks - Senior Brittany Sparks scored her first goal of the 2010 season against Gonzaga on Oct. 3. With that tally, the senior became the all-time leading goal scorer in Eastern Washington history with 15 career goals. Prior to the game on Oct. 3, the Kennewick, Wash., native was tied with former Eagle, Cyeeta Mott, for the school record at 14, but she nabbed the title outright with her tally in the third minute of the contest. She also became the all-time leading point earner at Eastern, as she has now compiled 41 total points in her career (17 goals, 7 assists). Sparks is currently tied for the school's career-assists record, as she has seven total, four of which have come this season. In addition to owning three career records, Sparks is the school record-holder for single-season goals (11), points (22) and game winners (3), all of which she achieved during her stellar junior campaign.
Walker Grabs Double-Digit Saves in Back-to-Back Games - Sophomore goalkeeper Jamie Walker had 10 or more saves in two-consecutive outings this season. Her first double-digit performance of the season came against Gonzaga (Oct. 3), when she picked up ten total saves. The Bulldogs fired 19 total shots in the second half of the game, but did not convert a single one thanks to the relentless defense exhibited by Walker. In Eastern's most recent outing against Big Sky Conference foe Sacramento State, Walker set a career-record with 11 saves in her 90 minutes of play. The Graham, Wash., native has been between the pipes for 1039:10 minutes this season, collecting 86 total saves, which is the top mark in the Big Sky Conference. She averages 6.14 saves per game, which is second in the BSC.
Brannan Tabbed as Big Sky Player of the Week - Whitney Brannan was recognized as the Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week (Sept. 21) for her stellar performances in South Dakota on Sept. 17 and 19. Brannan scored four goals over the weekend, which included her first-career hat trick against South Dakota State on Sept. 19. With her three-goal performance in Brookings, S.D., Brannan broke the EWU single-game scoring record of two, which had been achieved 11 times in history, one of which was by Brannan last season. Although the Eagles fell in double-overtime in the match against SDSU., Brannan's goals kept EWU in the game, as she was able to answer every tally put up by the Jackrabbits. Brannan also notched Eastern's only goal versus South Dakota on Sept. 17. She took five total shots in that contest, three of which were on frame.
Brannan and Huff on Conference Watch List - According to TopDrawerSoccer.com, sophomore Whitney Brannan and junior Dashia Huff are among the top 20 players in the Big Sky Conference. In the most recent list, updated on Tuesday, Oct.12, Brannan was tabbed as the No. 10 player in the conference, while Huff appeared at No. 19. Brannan has scored seven goals for the Eagles this season and leads the team in total shots with 32, 17 of which have been on frame. Huff transferred to EWU this season from Walla Walla CC, where she earned NWAACC All-Star honors in 2009. Huff has started as a member of Eastern's back line in all 10 games of the 2010 season.
Hageage Added to NCAA Regional Advisory Committee - EWU head coach George Hageage was recently appointed to the NCAA Regional Advisory Committee for the Pacific Region. Hageage was nominated for the position by Big Sky Conference Associate Commissioner Ron Loghry. As a member of the committee, Hageage will provide guidance to the governing committee of NCAA Division I soccer for rankings of the top 10 teams in the Pacific Region. Hageage, who is in his 11th year at the helm of the EWU women's soccer program, is also a national staff member of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, where he contributes a vote in the accredited Top 25 poll -- released each week on NSCAA.com.
Martin's Laudable Leadership - Senior defender Lyndsey Martin was recently named co-captain for the 2010 soccer season. Martin joins Brittany Sparks and Lacey Schreiner as the senior leaders of the Eagle soccer program, both on and off the field. Martin has started all 14 games of the 2010 campaign as the central defender for EWU, and is among the top three players on the team for minutes played so far in the season. Martin earned All-Big Sky honorable mention accolades during her sophomore campaign in 2008, and has tallied one goal and one assist in her career.
Freshmen Firepower - The EWU women's soccer team has relied heavily on its freshmen contingent for valuable minutes off the bench this season. Nine different freshmen have played in at least one game for the Eagles, while two have appeared 12 of Eastern's 14 contests. In Eastern's 2010 home openers versus Seattle (Sept. 3) and UC-Irvine (Sept. 5), two different freshman earned points for the team. Hannah Scott was credited with an assist in the game against Seattle, while Erin Bourguignon notched her first-career goal with the Eagles in the showdown with UC-Irvine. Bourguignon has taken 22 total shots this season, which ranks second on the team. Eight of her 22 shots have been on frame,. Cheney native Tanya Baker has also been a constant in the Eagle lineup, as she has appeared in 10 of Eastern's 14 games thus far, including a start in the midfield versus Cal State Fullerton on Aug. 29. Freshmen Melissa Bishop and Hannah Scott, two Oregon natives, have also contributed solid minutes, as Bishop has appeared in nine games and Scott in 11.
Eagles Picked Sixth in BSC Preseason Poll - Similar to the start of last year's storybook season, Eastern was picked sixth in the 2010 Big Sky Preseason Coaches' Poll. Last year, the Eagles were selected eighth in the preseason rankings, but proved the pollsters wrong when they claimed runner-up honors in the regular season with an impressive 4-2-1 conference record. That mark in league play was the best for the Red and White since the 2004 campaign. Including last year's run, EWU has advanced to the BSC tournament four of the last eight seasons.
It's a Family Affair - The Eastern Washington Eagles have a long history of "soccer sisters." This year, the team features one set of sisters in Whitney and Brianna Brannan. Throughout history, the Eagles have had three sets of twins on the team, including two at the same time. Cynita and Cyeeta Mott and Jennifer and Kim McMullen all played on the field together during the 2004 season. In addition to siblings, the EWU coaching staff is a full-family effort. Head coach George Hageage and assistant coach Tamara Hageage have been married for 10 years, while George's father, George Jr., has served as volunteer assistant coach for the last seven seasons.