Written by Student Assistant Jake Bilyeu
TACOMA, Wash. – The Pacific Lutheran University men's soccer team opens the second half of Northwest Conference play hoping to continue the roll they've been on as of late. After stringing together three straight wins, the Lutes sit just two games behind Willamette University for first place in conference. PLU hopes to inch closer to the top of the NWC this weekend, when they host Pacific University and George Fox University at East Field.
Having come to the midway point of the season, the Lutes (6-4-2, 4-2-1 NWC) have shown great improvement, and they've set themselves up for some exciting soccer to be played over the next few weeks.
"Things are starting to click a little better than they did at the beginning of the year," head coach John Yorke said. "The guys have put themselves in a good position for the second half of the season, and we're in the mix, which is where we want to be right now."
The Lutes are just two weeks removed from their first bouts with Pacific and George Fox, which were both Lute victories. While Yorke is hoping that the team doesn't take their opponents for granted, and that they instead choose to continue showing the grit that they've displayed in their last few games which including two double overtime victories.
"We understand as a group that these are good teams that we shouldn't take lightly," Yorke said. "Additionally, we've used up our mulligans at this point, and so we have to look at every game as if it's keeping us in contention."
Along with their grit, the Lutes will be playing with heart this weekend. For Sunday's game against George Fox, the Lutes will be supporting and raising funds for cancer research. And for sophomores Giovanni Brigola and David Opanasevych, the fight against cancer hits close to home with Brigola's mother Richelle battling breast cancer, while Opanasevych's father is fighting bone cancer.
Richelle receives treatment back in Eugene, Oregon but on Sunday, though, she'll be in Tacoma supporting her son on the soccer field. This week in addition to preparing for the weekend's game, the graphic design major has helped promote the event, including designing the game program cover for Sunday's match.
Brigola will be tested on the field this weekend, but when the final buzzer sounds on Sunday, he'll be rewarded with the company of his family.
"It's really allowed me to take a pause and think about what's happening, and it's allowed me to really enjoy playing soccer and spending time with my family," Brigola said. "I know that we'll be doing something great for my mom, and as soon as that whistle blows I'm going to run over to her, hug her, and give her a big kiss on the cheek."
After what's sure to be a thrilling and emotional weekend, the Lutes will head east next week to take on Whitman College and Whitworth University.
Oct. 14: PLU vs. Pacific at East Field (12 PM)
Series History: The Lutes and Boxers have met 62 times on the soccer pitch with PLU holding a commanding 45-14-4 edge in the all-time series. The Lutes have won 11 of the past 13, including a 2-1 double overtime thriller on Oct. 1.
About the Boxers: Pacific (7-4, 4-3 NWC) heads to Tacoma having won three of its last four matches. Pacific's lone blemish during that stretch was the 2-1 double overtime setback to the Lutes.
The Boxers' recent run of success started with a 2-1 win over Linfield on Sept. 24 before vanquishing Puget Sound 1-0 on Sept. 30. Pacific had its streak snapped against PLU the following day before rebounding with a 2-1 overtime win last Friday against George Fox.
Matt Kimball is the team's biggest offensive threat, leading the team in goals (five), assists (three), and points (13). Weli Alamillo, Robert Nurmi, and Jake Castanha have all notched three goals on the season while Leyton Thommasen has been the squad's primary keeper, notching 35 saves with a 1.08 goals against average.
Oct. 15: PLU vs. George Fox at East Field (12 PM)
Series History: The Lutes and Bruins have met 49 times with PLU holding a commanding 39-9-1 advantage in the all-time series. PLU has dominated the series as of late, winning 19 of the last 20 meetings.
About the Bruins: George Fox (4-9, 2-5 NWC) heads into the weekend looking to snap a four-game slide. The Bruins blanked Linfield 2-0 on Sept. 22 but have gone cold since, dropping games to Willamette (2-0), PLU (3-0), Puget Sound (1-0), and Pacific (2-1 in OT).
Moises Manon leads the Bruins in both goals (five) and points (10). Daniel Alonzo is the only other GFU player with multiple goals, sitting second on the team in both goals (two) and points (six).
Austin Burdick and Andrew Phillis have split time in goal for the Lutes. Burdick owns a 2.31 goals against average in six starts with 22 saves and one shutout while Phillis has made seven starts with a 1.80 GAA and a team-best 34 saves.