Eastern’s strong efforts not enough to earn Big Sky tournament bid
In what proved to be a closely matched contest, the Eastern Washington University women’s soccer team tied Northern Arizona 0-0 on Friday (Oct. 19) at Lumberjack Stadium in Flagstaff, Ariz.
With the match remaining scoreless, the Eagles broke a seven year losing-streak against the Lumberjacks. Even more impressive is the fact that Eastern earned the draw while missing key players due to injury, and adjusting to the high altitude in Flagstaff.
“A win is always better,” said head coach George Hageage. “But it is saying a lot that we got the tie against a team we have not beat in several consecutive years. With the loss of Brianna [Brannan], we had to fill her spot on defense. We moved Kayla [Sutter] to center defender alongside Katie [Cashman], and the pairing ended up working really well for us. In fact, the entire back line did extremely well today.”
Despite holding the Lumberjacks scoreless, Eastern has officially been eliminated from the race towards the Big Sky Conference tournament. This weekend, Portland State, Idaho State, Montana, and Weber State all earned wins that put the teams out of reach for the Eagles.
With only the top four teams advancing to the tournament, Weber State is currently in fourth place with 15 points and Eastern remains in eighth place with nine points. Meaning, even if EWU wins against Southern Utah on Sunday (Oct. 21), the most points it can earn is 12 for a sixth place finish.
Knowing these results headed into today’s match, Eastern still produced one of the strongest box scores in the first half it has seen all season. It led the shot count 6-3, with three of them on frame. Two of the shots taken by EWU were headers off of well-placed corner kicks, but the team could not convert the attempts. Eastern also led in corner kicks (5-1) and was awarded seven free kicks, thanks to four fouls and three offside calls on the Lumberjacks.
“Our goal was to come out and get six shots in the first 10 minutes,” said Hageage. “We did not meet our goal, but we did control the tempo of the game in the first half by maintaining possession. We kept shoving people in off the bench, and everyone who entered the game stepped up and played really well.”
In the second half, the Lumberjacks turned the game around and put the stats back in their favor. Within the first 10 minutes of the half, NAU took six shots and four corner kicks – doubling its total stats from the first half. Three shots fell on goal, but they were all saved by senior goalkeeper Jamie Walker.
“When Montana won today we knew we were out of the tournament,” said Hageage. “But NAU still had a chance, so they threw everything they had into the second half. They are a very aggressive team and like to kick the ball up and then chase after it. The high altitude caught up to us in the second half and slowed us down a bit.”
At the 73:20 mark, the Eagles finally found their offensive footing with a shot from senior Kasey McNeill. The shot was blocked by NAU’s defense, but provided momentum for the Eagles to find two more shooting opportunities from Danielle Jones and Haley Stading.
Regulation time expired on the 0-0 match, moving it into sudden-death overtime. A total of three shots were taken by the Lumberjacks throughout the two overtime periods, but Walker came up big in goal to keep the Eagles alive. Walker recorded six saves in 110 minutes between the pipes for her second shutout of the season.
“Jamie had a really great game,” said Hageage. “She made two really important saves for us, one late in the second half and another in overtime. We also saw big contributions from Cassie [Black] up top and Siara [Byers]. Siara usually plays forward, but dropped in on midfield to help out and did a good job.”
“I am really proud of this team,” added Hageage. “We keep pressing on. Someone gets hurt, and someone else steps up to fill the spot. Now we are going to rest up and prepare to close out the conference season against Southern Utah.”
For their last Big Sky match of the season, the Eagles travel north on Sunday (Oct. 21) to play Southern Utah at Thunderbird Soccer Field in Cedar City, Utah. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m.