Postseason fate on line this week
Oct. 17, 2012
The Montana soccer team will play its final Big Sky Conference matches this week when it travels to Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. The Grizzlies will face the Thunderbirds Friday at 3 p.m. at Cedar City, Utah, and the Lumberjacks Sunday at noon (MT) at Flagstaff, Ariz.
Depending on results this week, Montana could win the regular-season title and host the tournament for the first time since 2000, or the Grizzlies could miss the tournament all together.
"You work so hard throughout the year to get to this point," said UM coach Mark Plakorus, whose team has won three straight matches. "I'm looking forward to seeing us play this week because we've just been getting better and better as the year's gone along.
"If we compete like crazy this week, I'm excited about what could happen."
Live coverage: Friday's match at Southern Utah can be followed via audio stream and live stats at SUUTBirds.com. ... Sunday's match at Northern Arizona can be tracked by live stats at NAUAthletics.com.
Where they stand: Montana (8-6-2, 4-2-1 BSC) is tied for third in the Big Sky with Idaho State. Both teams trail first-place Portland State and second-place Northern Colorado. ... Southern Utah (2-9-2, 1-5-1 BSC) is in ninth place and can only play spoiler this weekend against Montana and Eastern Washington, which SUU hosts Sunday. ... Northern Arizona (5-7-4, 3-2-2 BSC), which hosts EWU on Friday night, is currently tied for sixth place but is still among the teams in the running not just to make the tournament but host it.
Current Big Sky Conference standings:
Portland State: 5-2-1 (16) ... 7-7-2
With eight teams still alive, the postseason scenarios are too many to break down. Just know that eight of the 10 league teams have two matches remaining this week. First-place Portland State and Sacramento State, which is tied for sixth, meet each other Friday afternoon in those teams' only remaining league match.
This week's schedule:
Thursday, Oct. 18
Friday, Oct. 19
Saturday, Oct. 20
Sunday, Oct. 21
The final standings and tournament field will work themselves out over 72 hours, from Thursday afternoon at Weber State and Idaho State to Sunday afternoon at Northern Arizona and Southern Utah.
Most recently: Montana extended its winning streak to three matches with a 4-0 victory at Eastern Washington Friday afternoon in its only match of the week. The Grizzlies received a pair of goals from senior Erin Craig and one each from sophomores Tyler Adair and Allie Simon.
Craig was named the Inland Northwest Soccer News Player of the Week for her two-goal, one-assist effort against the Eagles.
Montana has outscored its last three opponents 9-0, and its consecutive 4-0 victories over North Dakota and Eastern Washington give the Grizzlies their best two-match goal output since 2001.
More on Southern Utah: After losing its first five Big Sky matches by a combined score of 10-2, Southern Utah showed signs of fight last weekend on the road with a surprising 1-1 draw at Northern Colorado and a 3-0 win at North Dakota, the Thunderbirds' first shutout of the season.
Southern Utah has just two wins this season, the other a 3-0 home win over Division II Western State, but its 2-9-2 record is deceiving. Five of SUU's nine losses have been by a single goal.
"Southern Utah has been in every game they've played this year," Plakorus said. "Their overall record does not reflect their level as a team and what they can do.
"They got a couple of really good results on the road last weekend, so that is going to give them some confidence going into this weekend."
History: Montana and Southern Utah met for the first time last season in a nonconference match at Cedar City. The Thunderbirds led 4-1 at the half, but the Grizzlies fought back with three unanswered goals in the second half to forge a 4-4 draw.
New look: Southern Utah is under a new coach for just the second time in program history. Brian Stock coached the Thunderbirds from their inception in 2001 through the end of last season, when SUU went 4-11-3. Stock resigned in November and was replaced in January by Becky Hogan.
Though Montana played at Southern Utah last season, the experience does little to prepare Montana for Friday's game.
"It's a new coaching staff, and they've done their own thing with this team, so it will be pretty much a new team that we see Friday," said Plakorus.
More on Northern Arizona: The Lumberjacks opened their Big Sky schedule with consecutive wins at home against Southern Utah, 1-0, and on the road at Weber State, 1-0. NAU has won just once in five matches since.
Northern Arizona played to 0-0 draws at home two weekends ago against both Portland State and Sacramento State, then played to wildly divergent results on the road last weekend. NAU won at North Dakota last Friday, 4-0, then lost on Sunday at Northern Colorado, 5-0.
Goals for Montana should be tough to come by Sunday. The Lumberjacks have not allowed a goal in their last four home matches.
"Northern Arizona is a very confident team at home, and they don't give up a lot of goals," Plakorus said. "We'll have to be sharp with a quick turnaround from our game Friday afternoon to Sunday morning.
"We'll need to be focused and ready to give our best effort that day."
History: Montana holds a 12-5-1 lead in its meetings with Northern Arizona. All five of the Lumberjacks' wins in the series have come in matches played at Flagstaff.
Montana's last trip to Flagstaff, under the previous coaching staff, got ugly early. Northern Arizona, which won the Big Sky regular-season title that season, led 5-0 at the half in a match that ended up 5-0.
Road trip challenges: Montana will fly from Missoula to Las Vegas Thursday, then bus the 170 miles to Cedar City. The Grizzlies will bus the 287 miles from Cedar City to Flagstaff on Saturday.
Following Sunday's match, the team will bus from Flagstaff to Phoenix, fly to Spokane, then bus home to Missoula, arriving early Monday morning.
"The travel is going to be a little bit of a challenge for us," Plakorus said. "I think what will play more of a factor is our mental focus, our preparation, our effort as we play and making sure we give our players the proper amounts of rest with all the travel."
Montana notes: Lauren Costa was one of 30 finalists under consideration for the 2012 Senior CLASS Award for women's collegiate soccer. The award recognizes student-athletes who have excelled in the areas of community, classroom, character and competition. It was announced Wednesday that Costa was not among those making the cut from 30 to 10. ... Montana's three-match winning streak is the program's second such streak under second-year coach Mark Plakorus. The last three-match winning streak came during the 2006 season. ... Erin Craig's two goals Friday at Eastern Washington give her 19 for her career, moving her into a tie for eighth on the Montana career list with Sharalyn Fowler (1994-96). Stacy Forslund (1994-96) ranks seventh with 24 career goals. ... Craig's 180 shots rank fourth in UM history, her 47 points rank ninth. ... Kristen Hoon's current career goals against average of 1.11 ranks second in Montana history behind the 1.02 of Amy Bemis (1995-99). ... The Grizzlies' eight shutouts this season lead the Big Sky Conference, as do their 88 corner kicks.
Upcoming: Montana will close its regular season with a match at Utah Valley on Friday, Oct. 26. Playing beyond that will be determined this weekend.
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