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Battle Tested Lutes Face Whittier to Open NCAA Tourney

Battle Tested Lutes Face Whittier to Open NCAA Tourney

Written by Student Assistant Christian Bond

Complete NCAA Tournament Bracket

Lutes Heading to the NCAAs (Video)

TACOMA, Wash. -The Northwest Conference Champion Pacific Lutheran University women's soccer team travels to Thousand Oaks, California for the regional round of the NCAA Division III Tournament, starting with a game against Whittier University on Saturday at 8 p.m.

As the NCAA Tournament draws near, the Northwest Conference is handing out their postseason awards. For the second consecutive year, Machaela Graddy earned NWC Offensive Player of the Year while picking up First Team All-NWC honors as well. In total, 10 Lutes earned Northwest Conference honors. Seth Spidahl took home the Coach of the Year award as well, landing the honor for the third time in four seasons.

"I'm very proud and happy for those individuals," head coach Seth Spidahl said. "I think that's a reflection of our daily training environment. I think every player on our team can take some pride in the fact that they helped developed and made those individuals shine."

Graddy leads the Lutes with 10 goals and nine assists for a total of 29 points on the year. Liz Griffith made the most of her opportunities when she returned back to the pitch. She has four goals and five assists. Kaylie Rozell has been an excellent distributor in the Lutes offense. She has six assists with three goals to go along with it.

What the PLU women's soccer team is best known for, is it's defense. Led by centerback Kristi Kaneta, the Lutes have only allowed four goals on the entire season. Keeper Natalie Robinson has been the anchor of that outstanding defense. She's played all 1,838 minutes in goal, making 44 saves and accumulating a .917 save percentage.

This is the second time in as many years the PLU women's soccer program has made the trip to the NCAA Tournament. There's no doubt that they'll use the experience gained last season to make a deeper run than the one they had in 2016.

"We're excited," Spidahl said. "I always tell the team that there is winners and learners and we learned a lot last year in terms of traveling and what not to do. Experience is a tough teacher because first you get the test, then you learn the lesson. We have a tough task in having to travel out of state, but were excited about how we're traveling, where we are traveling, and who we are playing."

PLU starts its journey in the tourney on Saturday at 8 p.m. with a game against Whittier.

Tournament History: This is the Lutes' second NCAA Division III Tournament appearance and the program's eighth overall appearance in a national tournament, making six trips to the NAIA Tournament (1987 to 1992). The Lutes own a 21-5 overall mark in the postseason, winning NAIA titles in 1988, 1989, and 1991. Last season the Lutes fell 1-0 to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges in the opening round of the NCAA Division III Tournament.

Nov. 11: PLU vs. Whittier at Thousand Oaks, California (8 p.m.)

Series History: PLU and Whitter have squared off twice, once in 2013, then again in 2016. In their first encounter, the Lutes beat the Poet's 2-0. In 2016, the two teams played to a double overtime draw at East Field.

About the Poets: Whittier enters the 2017 NCAA Tournament with a 12-8 record, going 6-8 in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play. The Poets are riding a two game winning streak, beating NCAA Tournament host California Lutheran University 3-2 in overtime in the SCIAC semifinals. The Poets bounced Pomona-Pitzer Colleges in the finals of the SCIAC tournament with a 1-0 win.

Leah Kolek has been deadly for Whittier throughout 2017. Kolek leads the group with eight goals. Mirana Yzabal isn't far behind with seven goals, while Jazmin Gomez has netted five shots.

Lyla Matar and Stella Thermos have both played more than 900 minutes in goal for the Poets. Thermos has 38 saves, but has allowed 13 goals for a .745 save percentage. Matar has 36 saves with a higher save percentage of .837 because she's let just seven balls past her.

Rest of the Regional Field: Host Cal Lutheran, an at-large bid, faces the University of California-Santa Cruz on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. The Banana Slugs earned a Pool B bid to the NCAAs, a bid reserved from teams from conferences without an automatic qualifying spot and team's without a conference affiliation. The winner of the PLU-Whittier game will face the winner of the Cal Lu/UC-Santa Cruz game on Sunday at 7 p.m.

PLU-Cal Lu Series History: All-time, PLU holds a 3-2-1 record over California Lutheran when it comes to women's soccer. Under head coach Seth Spidahl, the Lutes are 1-1-1 against the Regals. In 2015, PLU won in a 4-0 rout of California Lutheran.

About the Regals: California Lutheran is the host school for this region of the NCAA Tournament. They enter with a record of 15-3-2, but were upset by Whittier in the semifinals of the SCIAC tournament. The week before, the Regals had knocked off the Poet's 2-0 on Whittier's home field.

Kali Youngdahl is as dangerous of scoring threat as their is in the country, leading the Regals with 12 goals on the season. Sam Cornejo makes good on the chances that Youngdahl doesn't get, cashing in for seven goals in 2017.

Four Regals have seen time between the posts, with Gabby Flores emerging as the team's primary keeper. Flores has made 33 saves while allowing 13 goals. Her save percentage is .717 while accumulating three shutouts on the season.

PLU-UCSC Series History: The Lutes and Banana Slugs have never met on the soccer pitch.

About the Banana Slugs: UC Santa Cruz enters the tournament for the third consecutive season, despite mustering just a 5-14-1 record and winning just one game in the month of October. November has been good to the Banana Slugs, as they've picked up a win in the only game they played with a 2-0 win over Providence Christian College. UC-Santa Cruz's independent schedule includes a mix of Division III opponents along with scholarship opponents from both NCAA Division II and the NAIA. The Slugs compiled a 3-5 mark against teams from Division III.

Olivia Stewart leads the squad with four goals on the season. Julianne Hoeflich, Cayce Shaw and Emma Wilson all follow the three goals each. Allie Mandel is the team's best keeper. Mandel has played 1,062 minutes in goal, making 48 saves, allowing 26 goals for a save percentage of .649.