Written by Student Assistant Jake Bilyeu
TACOMA, Wash. – After opening Northwest Conference action away from home, the Pacific Lutheran University men's soccer team returns home for the first conference games in Tacoma of 2016. The Lutes hosts Whitman College Saturday and Whitworth University Sunday. Both games will be contested on the artificial turf at East Field.
The Lutes (4-3-1, 1-1 NWC) snagged their first conference win against George Fox University 4-1 on Saturday, but were disappointed when their second game against Pacific University ended in a 2-1 overtime loss the following day. Bennett Bugbee stole the show on Saturday with three assists while Sunday's contest showed the team the level of play needed to contend in conference, and it's a level they now aim to reach.
"The group was a bit disappointed after the loss Sunday," assistant coach Peter Voiles said. "We've responded by reframing our mental focus, and we've working on maintaining intensity and focus to prepare for this weekend's games."
The Lutes will need to bring that intensity this weekend, as they'll face off against Whitworth, the defending league champions. Before that, though, they need to save some energy for Whitman, who sits just behind them in the standings after the opening weekend.
"Pretty excited for the upcoming weekend, and for setting the standard of play for rest of season," Voiles said. "We need to establish level of consistency, though. There are moments where we've looked unstoppable, but also moments where our group level goes down at times."
The players also understand the need to set the standard, as this weekend could go on to define their season.
"We were taken a bit off guard Sunday, but we just need to play our game at practice every day," Diego Aceves said. "We just have to focus on us, once we do that we'll be confident to show our fans what we can do this weekend."
Eight games into the season and Eddie Na continues to turn heads offensively for the Lutes. The junior striker has five goals and five assists already, averaging over a point a game while Clint Absher has four goals and Aceves three.
With two great performances, the Lutes could find themselves at the top of the Northwest Conference early in the season, which could even set the pace for an extended run into the postseason.
Sept. 24: PLU vs. Whitman at East Field (2:30 PM)
Series History: The Lutes and Whitman have met 59 times with PLU owning a commanding 48-10-1 edge in the series, including winning 21 of the last 26 since 2003. The Lutes swept the series in 2015, outscoring Whitman by a 7-0 margin.
About Whitman: Whitman (4-4, 1-1 NWC)split its opening NWC games, earning a 1-0 overtime win over Linfield College before stumbling 3-0 to Willamette University on Sunday.
Nine different players have scored goals for WC with Eric Conte the lone player with more than one score, netting two goals and two assists on the young season.
Owen Davis-Bower has logged a majority of time in goal, collecting two shutouts and owning a goals against average of 1.44 with 24 saves.
Sept. 25: PLU vs. Whitworth at East Field (2:30 PM)
Series History: The Lutes and Pirates have met 59 times on the pitch with Whitworth owning a 29-22-8 edge in the series. The two squads split last season with PLU winning 2-0 at East Field and WU prevailing 1-0 in Spokane.
About the Pirates: Whitworth (4-2, 2-0 NWC) heads into the weekend having won three of its last four matches, including a sweep last weekend to open conference play.
The Pirates sank Willamette 2-1 in the NWC opener last Saturday before netting a 1-0 victory over Linfield to close the homestand.
Both of WU's setbacks came on its trip to New Jersey, dropping 3-1 matches to both Rutgers-Newark and Montclair State.
Seven of Whitworth's 13 goals have come off the boot of Jonah Snyder while Rylan Berriman and Austin Cassity pace the team in assists with two helpers on the season.
Timmy Costa has handled a majority of the goalkeeping duties for the Pirates, making eight saves and sporting a 1.26 goals against average in 358 minutes of work.