Written by Student Assistant Jake Bilyeu
TACOMA, Wash. – Having already wrapped up at least a share of the 2017 Northwest Conference title, the Pacific Lutheran University men's soccer team looks to snag the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Championships when it closes the regular season on Saturday with the Battle of the South Sound at crosstown rival University of Puget Sound.
While the Lutes (11-4-3, 9-2-2 NWC) have won at least a share of the NWC crown, they haven't yet wrapped up the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament. Pacific Lutheran is in the drivers seat and controls its own destiny, able to clinch with a win or tie against the Loggers. The Lutes will also clinch the bid regardless of their game if Willamette University fails to win against Linfield College or if Whitworth University defeats Whitman College.
Even though the odds favor the Lutes, they'll take the field before any other teams have played and are still looking to do what they always do on the field, play to win.
"The great part about this team is that focus for us isn't a switch," senior Eddie Na said. "It's consistently on."
Na cemented his legacy as one of the greatest Lutes to ever take the field, as he passed Brian Gardner (1986-1989) and Mike Ferguson (2004-2007) for the most goals scored in PLU history after netting his 50th career goal. Na did that in the 87th minute last Sunday against Linfield, giving PLU the 4-1 victory in his final home game to extend the Lutes' unbeaten streak to nine (8-0-1).
This weekend, he's hoping he and his teammates can create a legacy of their own.
"Obviously the weekend was great for us but we are a humble group. We celebrate huge wins but shortly after, all of us were ready for the next challenge," Na said. "We've come out to start off this week with the same routine, and I'd even argue a higher intensity knowing what our team goal is."
Na is still staying focused on leading his team into the postseason, but at the same time, he's begun to reminisce on his time at PLU, and what he's done to make the most of it.
"As of now, the record hasn't fully hit me yet, but when I really think about it, I'm very happy and grateful for everything that's happened in my four years in the program," Na said. "But the season is still going and nothing has changed. I want more and I'm still hungry for more goals and more wins, and I think the feeling of having this title of PLU all-time leading goal scorer will hit me once the season is officially over."
Na hopes the team's season will make it past this weekend, and he'll play a huge role in ensuring that it does.
Nov. 4: PLU vs. Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington (12 p.m.)
Series History: The Tacoma derby has been contested 65 times with Puget Sound holding a 34-24-6 edge in the all-time series. PLU has won two of the last three however, including a 1-0 double overtime victory back on Oct. 7. Bennett Bugbee played the role of hero in that game, scoring in the 109th minute off a pass from Chris Trussel.
About the Loggers: Puget Sound (9-6-1, 7-5-1 NWC) heads into the season finale having won its last two games. The Loggers downed Linfield College 2-1 to open up its homestand last Saturday before securing a 1-0 decision over Willamette University. UPS has been a tough opponent at home in 2017, owning a 7-1-1 record at its home venue.
Ezra Kraus has been the Loggers top offensive threat, scoring five goals and two assists. Five more Lutes have found the back of the net at least twice, including Benjamin Whitham who also boasts a team-best three assists.
Wren Norwood and Robert Jorgensen have split time in goal this season for the Loggers, Norwood has seen the majority of the action recently, owning a 0.78 goals against average with 33 saves. Joregensen has logged 694 minutes between the posts, making 19 saves and owning a team-best 0.65 goals against average.