SPOKANE, Wash. – Tied for first place with two matches to play. That is where the Whitworth women's soccer team finds itself heading into contests against Puget Sound and Linfield this week. Those also happen to be the two teams that the Pirates are battling down to the wire for a Northwest Conference championship. Whitworth will play Puget Sound on Wednesday in Ellensburg at 2:00 pm. Saturday's home game with Linfield (noon) is the regular season finale for both teams.
The Pirates (10-6-2 overall, 10-2-2 NWC) split on the road at Willamette and Lewis & Clark last weekend.
Live links are not available for Wednesday's match.
Live links to Saturday's match:
The Pirates: Whitworth came from behind with two second half goals, including the match-winner in the final 13 seconds, for a 2-1 win at Willamette on Saturday. After going into the locker rooms down 1-0 at halftime, the Pirates tied the match less than two minutes into the second half when Jackie Day scored her second goal of the season. Tiara Pajimola had the assist. Then in the closing moments of regulation Hanna Bokma was taken down in the box, drawing a penalty kick with 13 seconds to play. Mackenzie Grow converted the PK for her third goal of the year, giving Whitworth the dramatic victory. Whitworth finished the season with a 2-0 record against the Bearcats.
The Pirates could not get much going at Lewis & Clark on Sunday. The Pioneers scored their only goal in the 35th minute. Andrea Stump made six saves in goal to keep Whitworth close. L&C and the Bucs split their two matches this season.
Meeting in the Middle: Whitworth and Puget Sound agreed to meet in the middle to make up the match that was postponed on October 13th. So the teams will play their match at Central Washington University in Ellensburg at 2:00 p.m. Puget Sound will be the official home team for the match. Click here for directions to CWU's athletic facilities.
It's a Record: Whitworth went 528:42 without allowing a goal from the end of the match against Augustana until the 79th minute against Pacific Lutheran on September 29, a span of six games. That set a new defensive scoreless streak record for the team. The previous record was 422:22 during the end of the 2008 season.
The Bug Bites: The injury bug has hit Whitworth hard once again in 2012. Within a span of six minutes, both Jill Pecka and Molly Smith were lost to season-ending knee injuries in the September 8th match against Augustana. Pecka is lost for the season for the third year in a row.
Several other Pirates suffered injuries over the first two weeks that continue to keep them out of the lineup, including Rachel Jones' hip injury suffered in the September 7th match with Wheaton. Two other injuries from the weekend of September 7th and 8th have impacted the Pirates' lineup – Lacee Scott (quad) and Courtney Larson (hamstring) are both considered week to week.
Re·sil·ient: Merriam-Webster defines the word resilient as "capable of withstanding shock without permanent damage." Nothing better describes the Pirates in the early going of 2012. Whitworth opened 0-4 against a brutal non-conference schedule against four schools that currently have a combined record of 62-14-2. On top of that, the team suffered serious injuries to several key players that have forced head coach Jael Hagerott to juggle her line-up all season. But the Pirates have responded to share the lead in the Northwest Conference standings.
NWC Standings: The conference standings are based on a point system in which three points are awarded for a win and one point for a tie. No points are gained in a loss. So far at 10-2-2 the Pirates have 32 points in the standings, tied with Linfield (10-2-2, 32 points). Puget Sound (10-2-1) has 31 points with one fewer match played than the Pirates or Wildcats.
With the way the schedule has worked out this season, all three teams control their own destiny to the 2012 NWC Championship.
Frosh Spark: Tiara Pajimola has made herself an offensive spark plug in her first season with the Pirates. She leads the team in total goals (8) and total points (20) and ranks second in the NWC in both categories.
The Opponents: Puget Sound is 11-4-1 overall and 10-2-1 in the NWC. The Loggers are aiming for an 11th straight NWC championship after winning twice last week – 3-0 at Pacific Lutheran on October 24th and 3-1 at George Fox on October 28th. UPS has a balanced attack with four different players who have totaled at least five goals. Freshman Amalia Aconda-Fey leads the way with seven goals, while senior Teresa Henle has five goals and five assists to lead the team with 15 points. Whitworth claimed the first meeting 1-0 at home on September 30th on a goal by Tiara Pajimola.
Linfield is 14-2-2 overall and 10-2-2 in the NWC heading into a Friday afternoon contest at Whitman. Like the Pirates, the Wildcats split on the road last week – winning 1-0 at George Fox on Saturday before falling 2-1 at Pacific on Sunday. Junior forward Emily Fellows is the most dominant offensive player in the NWC for the third straight season. She has 16 goals and five assists to lead the conference in scoring by a wide margin. Freshman Emma Vukic adds 6 goals and four assists. Linfield defeated Whitworth 2-1 in overtime on October 6th in McMinnville. Katrin Grant had the Pirates' goal.
The Coach: Jael Hagerott, one of the greatest players in Whitworth history, was promoted to head coach in 2011 and posted an 8-6-4 record in her first season leading the Pirates. She is Whitworth's all-time leader in career assists. She was the NWC Offensive Player of the Year in 2004 and an NSCAA Third Team All-American in 2007.
Coming up: If Whitworth can pull off two victories this week, the Pirates will earn the NWC's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament. The announcement of that field will come on Monday.