Written by Student Assistant Jake Bilyeu
TACOMA, Wash. – The Pacific Lutheran University men's soccer team pushed its win streak to five straight games and the Lutes now turn their attention to their toughest task since the streak began, traveling across the state to face the Whits. The Lutes, now in second place in the Northwest Conference standings, travel to Walla Walla on Saturday to face Whitman College before closing the weekend on Sunday in Spokane against Whitworth University.
The Lutes (8-4-2, 6-2-1 NWC) have shown more toughness and growth in these last few weeks with three of their five wins coming in overtime, including a 1-0 overtime victory over George Fox University on Sunday. PLU's recent success now has them just one point behind conference leader Willamette University. After their initial 1-2-1 start to NWC play, the Lutes recent surge is a testament to their effort in turning this season around.
"The ability has always been there for this team, but their maturity and discipline has really grown this season, which has allowed them to bring that talent out," Yorke said. "We're getting a more consistent focus and effort, and they've risen to the occasion in each of these last few weeks."
The team now faces the two challengers who last pushed the Lutes out of the win column. In the Lutes' first meetings with the Whits, they came away with just one point, a tie to Whitworth. Now, having jumped the two teams in the NWC standings, the Lutes hope to show their hosts how much they've grown in these last few weeks.
"We're really trying to stay mentally and physically fresh this week, as our legs and our minds tend to get heavier at this time of the year," Yorke said. "The team is in a good spot right now, in terms of confidence, so we're just making sure that we're ready for this weekend in all aspects of our game."
Spokane native Jackson Moore serves as one of the key players for the Lutes this weekend. Moore returned this past weekend in what was his first appearance for the team since their first meeting with Whitworth. The 2016 NWC Freshman of the Year made a big impact in his return, assisting on Chris Trussel's overtime winner against George Fox in the 96th minute.
"It's obviously great to be able to help the team," Moore said. "What's been really special is that it feels like nothing has changed, and I've been able to keep playing well for my teammates."
As Moore returns to his hometown, he knows that he and his teammates can avoid being distracted from their main goal, and return to Tacoma with two more victories.
"The whole team is really dialed in on getting three points on Saturday and three points on Sunday," Moore said. "We can't afford to have outside influences, and we've been able to block out the things we can't control, and instead focus on each step that our team needs to take to succeed."
Should the Lutes succeed this weekend, they'll turn their attention to league leading Willamette and Linfield College the following weekend, where two wins could leave them in sole possession of first place in the NWC.
Oct. 21: PLU vs. Whitman in Walla Walla, Washington (2:30 p.m.)
Series History: PLU owns a commanding 49-12-1 edge in the all-time series against the Blues. Whitman came away with the victory in the first meeting this season, netting a pair of second half scores in a 2-0 win on Sept. 24 at East Field.
About the Blues: Whitman (5-7-2, 4-3-2 NWC) heads into the weekend having dropped just one of its last six games (3-1-2). Last weekend Whitman earned a 1-1 double overtime draw against conference leading Willamette before scoring two goals in a three minute stretch in a 2-0 victory over host Linfield on Sunday.
Noah Cavanaugh is Whitman's top offensive weapon with five goals on the season. Peter Stephens adds thee goals and an assist while Gabe Jacobson has a team-best three assists. Owen Davis-Bower has handled a majority of the goalkeeping duties, making 31 saves with a 1.17 goals against average.
Oct. 22: PLU vs. Whitworth in Spokane, Washington (2:30 p.m.)
Series History: The Lutes and Pirates have battled 62 times on the soccer pitch with Whitworth owning a 30-23-9 advantage in the all-time series. The teams last met on Sept. 23 at East Field with Eddie Na netting the equalizer in the 62nd minute in a 1-1 double overtime draw.
About the Pirates: Whitworth (7-6-1, 5-3-1 NWC) owns a four-game win streak heading into its Saturday clash with the University of Puget Sound. The Pirates win streak began on Oct. 1 with a 3-1 win over Linfield before downing Whitman 3-2 the following day. Last weekend, Whiworth steamrolled Linfield 3-0 before unseating Willamette 2-1.
Jonah Snyder leads the team in both assists (six) and points (18) while Moi Diaz has a team-best seven goals. Micah Weller has found the back of the net on four occasions while Eric Espinoza and Austin Cassity both have five assists on the year. Jesus Nunez is the Pirates top goalkeeper, logging 1,071 minutes between the posts with a 1.35 goals against average and 48 saves.