Northwestern State visits Lamar, aiming to keep pace in conference standings

BEAUMONT, Texas—The Northwestern State soccer team begins the second half of Southland Conference play with a road trip to Lamar on Friday, as it aims to climb over the .500 mark in league action and keep pace in the conference standings.

Kickoff is at 7 p.m. at the Lamar Soccer Complex.

NSU (5-3-3 overall, 2-2-2 SLC) is coming off a weekend in which it lost a hard-fought match at home against Houston Christian before scoring a late goal to tie McNeese.

The Lady Demons aim for revenge after they lost at home to Lamar 2-0 on Sept. 16.

In that game, the contest remained scoreless until the 67th minute when the Cardinals had a ball bounce their way and Cariel Ellis scored. LU sealed the game with another tally in the 86th minute.

“They are obviously a very good team at home, so that is probably the big difference maker,” NSU women’s soccer coach Stuart Gore said. “But other than that, I feel confident going into this game, just like Lamar is.”

Despite NSU out-shooting the Cardinals 13-5, Lamar found the back of the net twice, the only team to do that against the NSU defense so far this season.

LU (9-0-1, 6-0) keeps rolling along, having gone through its first 10 games undefeated, with the only result keeping it from a perfect 10-0 record is a tie at South Alabama on Sept. 8.

The Cardinals, who are out-scoring opponents 14-1 in Southland play, have won the past three meetings with NSU and five of the past six. After dropping the first two in the series, Lamar has gone 10-2-2 since.

NSU’s defense has been the second best in the conference, ranking just behind Lamar, allowing just .82 goals per game overall and .83 in league play. In SLC action, the Cardinals have a miniscule .17 goals against average.

“I think reasons, why our defense is so good, is that we stay compact and we talk a lot,” said freshman defender Madison Murphy, who earned her first career start in the tie at McNeese. “We just make sure we all know what is going on and we all have one goal, which is to make sure the ball doesn’t go in the back of our net.”

Nicole Panis, the stalwart in goal for Lamar, has won four of the seven SLC Goalkeeper of the Week awards, including this past week. She made a combined eight saves in victories against UIW and Southeastern Louisiana.

Panis, a senior, has recorded six shutouts and posted a .32 goals against average and an incredible .933 save percentage.

On the other side, NSU’s Chloe DeShazer has played every minute for NSU this season, posting three shutouts and has recorded 28 saves.

Offensively for NSU, freshman Taylor Spitzer, who scored the game-tying goal at McNeese this past Sunday, has scored two goals in league play, which is tied for the most on the team in such games.

“As a freshman, you generally just come in sometimes the moment is too big,” Gore said. “Taylor just comes in and she is kind of a young version of Liv (Draguicevich) to me. She knows where the goal is and she is loving the fact that she is now a college soccer player and has taken full advantage.”

Her eight points on the season is the most by an NSU freshman since Olivia Draguicevich’s 12 in 2019.

Draguicevich, a senior, continues to lead the team in both goals and scoring, posting seven and 14, respectively.

NSU registered one goal this past weekend, but controlled much of the two matches and it feels like it is just a matter of time before the team goes on an offensive run.

“I think we are on the verge of breaking through with another great offensive performance,” Emily Mougia said. “We’re this close to having a goal breakthrough like we had against Texas A&M-Commerce. We just need one goal and then they’ll start coming like crazy.”

Offensively for the Cardinals, Christine Kitaru leads her team in both goals (8) and points (17). She has scored a goal in each of her last two games. Kitaru did not play in the first meeting.

Ellis, however, did play in the first matchup and scored the first goal of the contest in the 67th minute to give LU the late lead to push the Cardinals to victory in Natchitoches.

Ellis, a senior, has recorded six goals and four assists for a total of 16 points, the second-most in each category.

NSU heads back to Natchitoches to round out the weekend with a visit from Nicholls on Sunday, which is the first of two straight contests at home.

PHOTO: Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services