Young Eagle squad looking for breakthrough against familiar foe
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The Eastern Washington University women's soccer team is more than ready to get the Big Sky season underway. The youthful team struggled to put wins on the board in the first half of the season, but despite what the record might show, the Eagles have witnessed a great deal of growth and maturity in the games leading up to conference.
Eastern (1-7-0) will make its Big Sky debut this Friday (Sept. 30) against the Montana Grizzlies in Missoula. Kickoff is slated for 2 p.m. Pacific time.
"We are absolutely excited for the start of conference," said EWU head coach George Hageage. "Although we are still a young team, we really feel we can be competitive with other teams in this league, especially this year. Right now, the Big Sky is totally up in the air. No one has proved to be a really strong force or is coming into the season on a hot streak with five, six, seven wins like we've seen in the past."
Eastern's first Big Sky opponent comes in with a decent 3-6-1 overall record, but the Grizzlies have not celebrated a win in their last seven outings. After beating Boise State twice in double overtime and Wyoming by a narrow 2-1 margin to open the 2011 campaign, Montana has dropped six of its last seven contests, and then tied once with Southern Utah.
Although the Grizzlies have struggled to get wins as of late, they will certainly still pose a threat because of their ability to put balls in the back of the net. Montana leads the conference in goals per game and assists per game, averaging 1.80 goals and 1.40 assists. Eight different players on the team have scored, while seven have notched at least one assist.
Leading this high-powered offense are junior Erin Craig and sophomore India Watne. Craig has scored a league-leading nine goals this season, while Watne has tallied three of her own to go along with a conference-leading seven assists.
"Montana definitely had a strong start to the season and have a few big threats offensively," said Hageage. "But we really feel this is a team we can compete with. It would be great to go over there, get a win and come back 1-0 with some momentum going into our home games."
The Eagles have been led this season by freshman Cassie Black, who is just behind Craig in the conference rankings with five goals on the year. But after suffering an ankle injury in Eastern's most recent outing at Idaho, Black is questionable for the conference opener.
Senior Whitney Brannan has also continued to be an impact player for the Eagles. She has scored one goal this year and has two assists, but she is always a threat in the box, averaging 3.00 shots per game, which ranks second in the Big Sky Conference.
Montana leads the all-time series with EWU 8-5-1, but Eastern has won four of the last six meetings, including three-straight in 2007, 2008 and 2009. In the most recent meeting in 2010, the Grizzlies edged Eastern by a score of 1-0 in Cheney.
Eagle Soccer News & Notes
How does Eastern Fare in Big Sky Openers? - Since George Hageage took over the reins of the EWU women's soccer program in 2000, the Eagles have compiled a 5-3-2 record in their Big Sky openers. Three of those previous 10 openers have been against Montana, and Eastern's record in those stands at 1-1-1. EWU lost to UM in the 2003 Big Sky opener in Cheney, tied the Griz in 2004 in Missoula, and then beat Montana at home again in 2005.
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.
Brannan in the Books - In tallying her eighth-career assist in Eastern's 4-1 loss to Florida Gulf Coast on Aug. 18, senior Whitney Brannan became the school's all-time career record holder in assists. Brannan surpassed former Eagles Brittany Sparks, Cyeeta Mott and Beth Russell, who were all tied at seven. The Kennewick, Wash., native is also on pace to break the school's career record for goals, points, shots and game-winning goals. To take sole ownership of these records, Brannan would need three goals, three points, 16 shots and three game winners during the 2011 season. Last year, Brannan scored eight goals on 42 total shots, had one game winner and finished the year with 19 total points.
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. 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. In her rookie season, Black has proved valuable in many ways, especially in her ability to finish around the net. She is currently Eastern's leading scorer with five goals on eight total shots this season.
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 from its young members thus far in 2011. Currently, Eastern's leading goal scorer is freshman Cassie Black (Battle Ground, Wash.). Black has notched five goals on the year to rank second in the Big Sky Conference. Freshman Jessica Wallace (Bellingham, Wash.), has tallied three of Eastern's seven assists this season, while sophomore Siara Byers (Bremerton, Wash.) has earned four points with one goal and two assists. Seven of the underclassmen have started at least three games, while a total of 10 have played at least 45 minutes.
Black Delivers in Boise - Freshman Cassie Black from 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 most recent outing 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 shut of the Geoducks.
Fausko Honored on All-Tournament Team - Senior Kirsten Fausko 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 - The Eastern Washington women's soccer team is certainly excited and energetic about the 2011 season, but it may take some time for the Eagles to find their groove, as the roster is full of young players. Eastern returned only four starters from the 2010 squad, and of the seven other returning letterwinners, only five averaged more than 30 minutes per game last 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.