Soccer forwards are always quick to credit the teammates behind them.
It’s just the opposite at the other end of the field, especially at Whitworth, where goalkeeper Kyle Novak sees nothing but good things in front of him.
That includes the rest of the season, which Novak hopes will end with a Northwest Conference championship and a deep run in the Division III national tournament.
“It’s mostly the back line,” said Novak, nodding to central defenders Bailin Larson and Andrew Flint during a recent practice. “The fewer shots on goal for our opponents, the fewer saves I need to make.”
So far, so good: The Pirates lead the NWC by three points are ranked 11th in the nation, mostly on the strength of a defense that’s given up just three goals this season.
Whitworth is 6-0-1 in the NWC and 9-0-2 overall after a 1-0 overtime win Saturday over Whitman, a match witnessed by the 2005 team that was on hand after being inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame earlier in the day.
That team reached the Final Four, and that’s the whole point: keeping the ball rolling.
“You want to have high expectations, but you have to prove it,” said Whitworth head coach Sean Bushéy, who is 206-89-33 entering his 18th season. Despite graduating nine seniors, including seven all-NWC honorees, Bushéy said, “We thought we’d be in the mix and be competitive.
“Certainly, we’ve done a good job of trying to keep the ball out of the goal.”
Novak, a 6-foot-5 senior from Eugene, Ore., posted a 0.42 goals-against average in 10 matches as a sophomore in 2010. He hasn’t missed a beat since spending last year studying in China, going five straight matches without conceding a goal until a 3-2 win over Pacific Lutheran on Sept. 29.
“Kyle’s been excellent,” Bushéy said. “He keeps things calm in front of himself, not creating more work for the players in front of him. And he has the ability to make the big save when he’s called upon.”
Last weekend’s win over Whitman was typical: Novak made five saves and the Pirates finally won it in the 106th minute when Samuel Engle won the ball near midfield and then hit Robby Ubben in stride near the top of the box. Ubben’s one-touch goal was his fourth winner of the season.
And while Bushéy hopes the Pirates can push forward a bit more and maintain more possession, Larson sees the midfielders and even the forwards as an important part of the defensive success.
“I’d say it’s all of us subscribing to the same team dynamic,” Larson said. “It’s been about the team more than the individual.”
The NWC regular season is still wide open with Whitworth at third-place UPS and second-place PLU this weekend.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs dropped a pair of games in Southern California last weekend to fall to 0-4 in the West Coast Conference and 4-7 overall. GU fell 2-1 in overtime at Loyola Marymount and 2-0 at San Diego. Gonzaga faces a two-game home stand this week, at 3 p.m. Friday against Saint Mary’s and at 2 p.m. Sunday against Santa Clara.
Washington State: The Cougars recorded their sixth shutout of the season Sunday, defeating visiting Arizona 3-0. The Cougars (8-4-1, 2-2-1 Pac-12) had six players make it onto the score sheet and senior defender Zoe Jeffers pick up her first career goal and assist. On Friday, the Cougars return to Lower Soccer Field for the Cougs Wave Pink match in support of National Breast Cancer Awareness month where they will face USC at 1 p.m. The match will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs scored twice in the final 75 seconds of regulation, but visiting Saint Mary’s scored the winner late in the second overtime to beat host GU 3-2 in the WCC opener. “I couldn’t be prouder of the team for battling, not giving up and scoring two goals in the final minutes of regulation,” GU head coach Amy Edwards said. “Unfortunately, a missed communication in our defense, after controlling play in overtime, was the difference.” The Bulldogs (0-1 in the conference and 6-6 overall) host Portland at 3 p.m. Thursday.
Eastern Washington: Forward Cassie Black scored her first collegiate hat trick as the Eagles defeated North Dakota 4-1 Friday at home. Two days later, Eastern goalkeeper Jamie Walker saved a penalty kick in the first overtime to preserve a scoreless draw with Northern Colorado. The Eagles (2-2-2 in the Big Sky Conference and 6-5-3 overall) play host to Montana at 3:30 p.m. Friday.
Whitworth: The Pirates lost a chance at sole possession in the Northwest Conference when they conceded an overtime goal at Linfield, losing 2-1. Whitworth (6-1-1 in the NWC and 6-5-1 overall) fell into a first-place tie with Puget Sound entering today’s 1:30 p.m. home match against Whitman. Linfield improved to 5-1-2 in the NWC.