El Paso, TX — The UTEP soccer team will look to cap non-conference play on a high note with a pair of road matches this weekend. The Miners (5-2-1) will challenge undefeated Northern Arizona (4-0-3) at 7 p.m. MT Friday and play at Southern Utah (2-5-0) at 12 p.m. MT Sunday.
UTEP is also looking to continue its undefeated start on the road. It has opened up at 2-0-0 in hostile territory for the first time since 2010. Both of the wins were of the shutout variety, which hadn’t occurred since 2007. In order to stay hot, though, the Miners will need to be even sharper this weekend.
“This is a very important weekend for UTEP Soccer as it is the last tune-up before we start Conference USA play,” UTEP head coach Kevin Cross said. “We face a tough challenge with Northern Arizona in that they are undefeated right now and at the top of the Big Sky Conference. They get great fan support so we will be facing a hostile crowd, and a great team. We then have to play a Southern Utah team that is very tough and plays very hard. Southern Utah is tough to score on and they are extremely hard working. We are looking to build on our great road weekend from last week.”
UTEP has surged to the 5-2-1 start to the year with a youth-laden roster. Of the 23 Miners to appear on the pitch, 11 are either true freshmen or redshirt-freshmen. UTEP has relied upon the combination of timely goals and stout defense, a combination that has led to a +5 goal differential (11-6).
Senior Jade Babcock paces the team in goals (three-t8th C-USA) while fellow classmate Azia Nicholson, sophomore Angela Cutaia and redshirt-freshman Aleah Davis have also found the back of the net twice. Babcock and Nicholson also share the team lead for assists at two. UTEP has been at its best in the opening frame, out-scoring foes by a count of 8-2.
The Orange and Blue also hold noticeable advantages in shots (113-50), shots on goal (51-32) & corner kicks (42-27).
Quality possession and tight marking has been instrumental for those statistical advantages. Another key has been the play in the net of junior goalkeeper Sarah Dilling. She has yielded just five goals on 29 shots faced, resulting in a save percentage of .828 (5th C-USA) & a goals against average of 0.70 (4th C-USA).
The Miners lead the series against Northern Arizona, 3-0, including a 1-0 victory in El Paso on Aug. 22, 2010, in the most-recent match-up. UTEP will have to be locked in heading into Friday’s match, though, if it wishes to remain perfect against the Lumberjacks.
NAU is flying high, with it standing undefeated (4-0-3) on the campaign through seven match-ups. The Lumberjacks have posted four shutouts while limiting two other foes to just one tally. They have outscored the opposition, 8-4, and are showing a flair for the dramatic with seven second-half tallies.
It features a balanced attack, with seven different players scoring. Only Haley Wingender (two) has multiple goals.
GK Lauren Weaver started & played every minute of the first six games, making 24 saves on 27 shots faced. GK Samantha DeMarco started & played the entire 110 minutes in the most-recent contest against Colorado State. She made four saves in five shots on goal.
Of note is that it sports a +4 goal differential (8-4) despite a small advantage in shots on goal (36-33) & actually being outshot overall (79-81).
NAU opened up at 3-0-0 and has relied on that steady defense to compile a mark of 1-0-3 since. It is 2-0-2 at home, where it receives tremendous support. The
Lumberjacks are averaging 668 fans per match, aided by the sixth-largest crowd ever (1,068) at home in a 1-0 triumph against GCU on Sept. 13.
UTEP and Southern Utah will be meeting for the second straight year. The Miners won last year’s match-up, the first between the programs, 1-0, in a neutral-site on Aug. 31, 2012. SUU pushed out of the gates at 2-1-0 but has hit a rough patch of late with four straight losses. The Thunderbirds have been outscored by a count of 26-12 on the year, but they have only had the opportunity to play one of their first seven contests at home. SUU did win its only home match, in a high-scoring affair against UCSB (4-3) on Aug. 28.
Another thing that makes the Thunderbirds dangerous is their balanced offense. Ten players have combined for 12 of the goals. Brianne Brown (two) and Aurora Moberly (two) are the only players with multiple goals.
On the defensive side of the ball, the goaltenders have been busy. SUU has been outshot, 121-71, including 67-37 in shots on goals. Elyssa Hashimoto has earned the bulk of the playing time, making 23 saves on 38 shots faced.