Written by Student Assistant Jake Bilyeu
TACOMA, Wash. – The Pacific Lutheran University men's soccer team returns home after a trip to eastern Washington for a final stretch of games in the Tacoma area. The Lutes' biggest challenge left comes in the form of Northwest Conference leading Willamette University, who sit just one win ahead of them in the NWC standings. They host the Bearcats on Saturday before closing out the home slate at East Field against Linfield College on Sunday.
With such an intense challenge looming, the Lutes (9-4-3, 7-2-2 NWC) are doing what they've done well all season, worrying about themselves. For Head Coach John Yorke, the team's success has come from their ability to attack each incoming task with the same intensity and respect for the game.
"Obviously, we pay attention to and respect our opponents, but we're still trying to focus on ourselves," Yorke said. "Our guys have been really good at blocking out distractions and just being laser-focused on each weekend's game, which has been huge for our success."
Additionally, the team knows that they'll need to preserve their energy for Sunday's match against Linfield. While the match doesn't look as competitive on paper, with Linfield still winless in conference play, the Lutes don't plan on taking them lightly.
"I think that Linfield is a dangerous team, and a hungry team as well, and their record isn't indicative of what kind of a team they are, they're a talented and good team." Yorke said. "What we know is that those three points count the same against Linfield as they do against Willamette, and we need them all," Yorke said.
The team's matchup with Linfield carries added importance, as it will be the final game on PLU's campus for the team's seniors: Eddie Na and Bennett Bugbee. Na and Bugbee have made a huge impact for the Lutes over the past four years, combining for 166 total points (62 goals, 42 assists), including 17 game-winning goals.
At a time when emotions could be running high, the Lutes may have to work harder than usual to tune them out during game time, but that doesn't seem to bother them.
"There's only one thing that we're worried about, and that's our performance, our mentality, and it's how we step on the field each game," said Bugbee, the team's leader in assists with four.
"As a team, we've committed ourselves to taking things one game at a time, and we have no reason to change that just because it's what's brought us to his point in the season," added Eddie Na, the NWC's leading goal scorer (13) and this week's NWC Offensive Player of the Week. Na earned the award after scoring two goals and one assist last weekend, helping the Lutes' extended their unbeaten streak to seven games (6-0-1). The weekend also saw Na establish a new program record for career points with 114 (47 goals and 20 assists).
A successful weekend could have the Lutes poised for the NWC Championship. Regardless of how they play though, they'll wrap up the regular season with a showdown in Tacoma with their rivals, University of Puget Sound, who they defeated 1-0 in double overtime earlier this season.
Oct. 28: PLU vs. Willamette at East Field (2:30 p.m.)
Series History: The Lutes and Bearcats have battled 62 times on the soccer pitch with PLU owning a 36-23-3 lead in the all-time series. The two squads last met on Sept. 17 in Salem with the host Willamette scoring two goals in a four-minute window en route to the 2-1 victory.
About the Bearcats: Willamette (9-4-2, 8-1-2 NWC) collected a pair of shutouts to remain three points ahead of the Lutes in the NWC standings. The Bearcats notched a 2-0 victory on the road against George Fox before edging Pacific 1-0 in overtime on Sunday.
Max Berner-Hays was a one man wrecking crew for the Bearcats over the weekend, scoring all three Willamette goals in the two shutouts.
Not surprisingly, Berner-Hays leads the team in both scoring (five goals) and points (11) while Nicholas Ballenger is second in both categories with three goals and nine points. Alan Hernandez has been the top setup man, leading the squad with four assists.
Marco Gonzalez-Yanez is the Bearcats' primary goalkeeper, netting 50 saves in 1,276 minutes of action with a 0.99 goals against average.
Oct. 29: PLU vs. Linfield at East Field (2:30 p.m.)
Series History: The Lutes and Wildcats have met 59 times with PLU holding a 36-20-3 edge in the all-time series. The Lutes are unbeaten in the last nine meetings (7-0-2), including a 2-0 victory on Sept. 16 in McMinnville. In that game, Joe Sammartino scored on a header in the 12th minute with Eddie Na tacking on an insurance score in the 76th minute.
About the Wildcats: Linfield (2-12-1, 0-10-1 NWC) snapped an 11-game skid last Sunday, battling to a 1-1 double overtime draw against George Fox.
The host Wildcats conceded a goal in the 38th minute before Ryan Kister leveled the score in the 67th minute off an assist from Brian Huynh.
Kister has been Linfield's primary scoring threat all season, leading the team in both goals (seven) and points (14). Henry Rosenfeld and Isaias Flores are the only other two Wildcats with more than one goal, both netting two on the season. Matteen Villanueva has a team-best two assists.
Three keepers have seen action for the Wildcats with Eli Peckham logging the most minutes and starting eight games. Peckham owns a team-best 2.06 goals against average while making 30 saves on the season.