NAU soccer ties Big Sky leader Montana

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The Northern Arizona soccer team welcomed the Montana to town Friday night as the Grizzlies came in ranked first in the Big Sky Conference and undefeated in conference play. For the second straight game the Lumberjacks played in overtime and NAU recorded its third straight shutout as the Lumberjacks tied Montana 0-0 after 110 minutes of play.

NAU is now 7-4-3 on the season and 3-1-2 in Big Sky Play.

"Tonight was a battle of two good teams," NAU coach Andre Luciano said. "I think both teams scouted each other very well tonight; they knew we were going to try and pair up Haley (Wingender) and Adrian (Nixt) and we watched a lot of film on them so there were no surprises."

Both teams knew going into the game that this would be a defensive battle as NAU opponent’s average 0.92 goals per game while the Grizzlies allow one goal a game and both defenses did not disappoint. Rather than a 2-1 score, both goalkeepers came up with big-time saves that resulted in a 0-0 draw.

"Defensively we stayed really strong tonight," Emily Wadell said. "We were not getting beat tonight one-versus-one and when we did we were able to cover each other. Tonight showed that we are a good team just like them and even though we are disappointed that we didn’t get a win, we know that we can compete with them."

NAU had a free kick five yards outside the box with 15 minutes left in regulation and Savannah Berry took the attempt, striking the ball just above the crossbar as the score remained 0-0. Four minutes after Berry’s free kick the Lumberjacks had another opportunity off a corner kick by Cierra Gamble as Diane Buzzard was able to put a header on goal but Montana’s Kailey Norman came up big again to keep the game at 0-0. NAU’s Natalie Gilbertson returned the favor as Mackenzie Akins put a strike on goal that was headed in the back of the net but Gilbertson came up with a sensational save as the game remained 0-0. With her second straight shutout, Gilbertson’s goals against average now drops to 0.46.

"I am so proud of our team," Gilbertson said. "We played our hearts out and it is unfortunate that we didn’t get the result we wanted but I will settle for a tie based on the way we played tonight. We had some really good moments and next time we can capitalize on them."

The Griz controlled possession for the first 20 minutes of play in the first half but the Lumberjacks were able to settle into the game and start to possess the ball midway through the first half. The Griz were hyper aggressive in the first half firing off seven shots in the first 45 minutes, six of them being on goal.  

"Their forwards are so dynamic," Luciano said. "It took us a half to get adjusted and to see how they were interchanging."

NAU came out in the second half attacking on offense with three quality opportunities from Nixt and Wingender but Montana’s goalkeeper Norman was able to keep the score at 0-0.

"I thought we became more direct," Luciano said. "We were able to put more pressure on them in the second half while Natalie (Gilbertson) kept them off the ball. We had a good three or four chances to score early in the second and I think that made them sit back a little bit."