SPOKANE, Wash. – There is no denying how big this weekend could be for the ultimate outcome of the 2012 Northwest Conference men's soccer championship chase. Whitworth, currently alone atop the NWC standings, travels to Tacoma to play at third-place Puget Sound on Saturday and at second-place Pacific Lutheran on Sunday. Both matches will start at 2:30 pm as the second half of women's – men's doubleheaders.
The 10th-ranked Pirates earned a heart-stopping overtime victory over Whitman last Saturday to hold onto first place at the end of the first half of the NWC schedule.
Check the men's soccer schedule for live links to this weekend's matches:
The Pirates: Whitworth played Whitman in front of the 2005 Pirate men's soccer team last Saturday as that NCAA Div. III final four squad was inducted into the school's Heritage Gallery Hall of Fame. They witnessed a dramatic 1-0 overtime victory for the home team as Robby Ubben scored the match-winner with less than five minutes left to play in the second extra period. Kyle Novak made five saves to post his ninth shutout of the season, making crucial stops in each half and one in the first OT period. David Starkovich, playing his first significant minutes of the season, made an important defensive play to get the ball to Samuel Engle, who passed forward to a streaking Ubben for the winning goal.
Defensively Dominant: Whitworth continues to rank highly among Division III schools in defensive statistics. The Pirates are third in Division III in goals-against average (0.26) and are second in shutout percentage (.820). Whitworth leads the NWC in both categories by a wide margin.
Goalkeeper Kyle Novak is currently ranked third in Division III statistics with a 0.18 goals-against average and is tied for fourth in save percentage (.917).
Whitworth's defensive numbers are the team's best since 2001 when the Pirates led all of NCAA Division III with a 0.59 goals-against average for the season.
Balance: While the Whitworth offense has not yet been spectacular this season, it has been balanced. Seven different players have accounted for the Pirates' 14 goals. Robby Ubben leads with four, while Will Wren and Samuel Engle have three goals each. In addition, the Pirates have found balance in the matches, splitting their season total of 14 goals nearly equally with six in first half and eight in the second half and overtime.
You-Been-Beat: to say that Robby Ubben's four goals have been timely is to say that soccer is a popular sport played all around the world. Ubben leads the Pirates in scoring this season. But most important, all four of his goals have been match-winners. Last Saturday's came in the second overtime against Whitman. His winner against PLU came with less than seven minutes to play in regulation. He has also posted match-winners in games against Corban and George Fox.
Nationally-ranked: Whitworth moved up to 10th in this week's NSCAA Division III national rankings – up one position. The Bucs remained 11th in the D3soccer.com top-25 poll and are 2nd behind top-ranked Trinity (Texas) in the NSCAA West Region ratings.
NWC Standings: The conference standings are based on a point system that awards three points for a win and one point with a tie. With a conference record of 6-0-1 Whitworth is alone in first place with 19 points. Pacific Lutheran (5-1-1) is in second place with 16 points, while Puget Sound (4-1-2) has 14 points.
The Opponents: Puget Sound is 8-2-3 overall and 4-1-2 in the NWC heading into the weekend. And the Loggers are 5-0 at home this season. UPS played two matches last weekend, pulling out a 2-2 tie at Pacific Lutheran on Friday and then earning an impressive 3-1 non-conference win over St. John's (Minn.) at home on Sunday. As a team the Loggers are averaging 1.5 goals per match and have a goals-against average of 0.80, which ranks second behind Whitworth in the conference. Andrew White leads his team in scoring this season with four goals and one assist. Goalkeeper Chris McDonald has posted seven shutouts this season. Whitworth and UPS played to a 0-0 tie in Spokane on September 30th.
Pacific Lutheran is 6-4-2 overall and 5-1-1 in the NWC heading into a Saturday contest against Whitman. The Lutes' only match last week was the 2-2 tie at home against Puget Sound. As a team PLU leads the NWC in scoring average at 1.9 goals per game and has a goals-against average of 1.20. The Lutes have the most potent offensive combination in the league. Freshman forward Emmanuel Amarh has six goals and five assists this year, while junior forward Derek Johnson has six goals and three assists. Whitworth pulled out a dramatic 3-2 win over the Lutes in Spokane on September 29th, rallying from a 2-1 deficit in the second half to win on Robby Ubben's goal with less than seven minutes to play in the game.
The Coach: Sean Bushéy is in his 17th season as head coach of the Pirates in 2012. He has a 215-89-35 record in his 18th season as a head men's soccer coach (205-83-35 at Whitworth) and has led the Pirates to six Northwest Conference titles in the last eight years, and seven NWC titles overall. He has been named Northwest Conference Men's Coach of the Year four times (2001, 2004, 2007, 2008). Over the last 12+ years, the Whitworth men are 183-55-28 (.740).
Coming Up: The Bucs will return home to host Pacific (Ore.) and George Fox in their final scheduled home matches of the season on September 20th and 21st.