The college soccer season in the Inland Northwest has been full of success stories, none more surprising than Idaho’s.
Picked to finish ninth out of 11 teams in the Big Sky Conference, the Vandals are alone in first place, assured of playing in the postseason and looking for even more.
“Now we can battle for the conference championship,” second-year coach Derek Pittman said Sunday after a 4-1 win at Northern Arizona that left the Vandals a game ahead of the field with three matches left in the regular season. The win over the Lumberjacks was doubly satisfying as it came two days after a 4-0 home win over Southern Utah.
“I’m really proud of our players for coming in and being focused and executing well on a road game,” Pittman said. “This is a tough weekend, playing at home on Friday, then having to travel to Flagstaff and play a really tough NAU team on Sunday.”
Next up for the Vandals (11-4-1 overall and 7-0 in the Big Sky) is the longest road trip of the year, Friday at North Dakota and Sunday at second-place Northern Colorado. Win them both and the Vandals will host the Big Sky Tournament on Nov. 5-8.
That would be a big home-field advantage, considering the Vandals are 6-0-1 at Guy Wicks Field in Moscow.
Idaho’s current seven-game winning streak is a program program record and its 11 wins this season are tied for the second most in program history.
Not bad for a team that last year finished 4-14-2 overall and 4-4-2 in the Big Sky.
Pittman said his team is defying its low pick in the preseason polls by being “focused every time they step on the field. They have a determination and confidence about themselves, when we play the way we’re capable of, we’re very dangerous.”
Especially on set pieces; on Sunday, the Vandals got three more as they scored on one free kick and two corners.
“We’re very good on set pieces because we have a number of players that are very good in the air,” said Pittman.
The Cougars are drawing a crowd these days, and they could use another big turnout this weekend when Stanford and Cal come to Pullman.
Last weekend, WSU drew 2,251 to the Lower Soccer Field, but the Cougars couldn’t find the back of the net in a 1-0 loss to Arizona. That left them at 11-3 overall and 4-2 in the Pac-12 Conference heading into their biggest homestand of the season.
First up is a chance to knock off first-place Stanford (6-0, 12-2) in a match that kicks off at 7 p.m. on Thursday. Sunday’s 1 p.m. game against Cal is just as big, since the Bears (4-2, 11-3-2) are tied with WSU for third place with five matches left in the regular season.
It keeps getting better for the Pirates. Back-to-back hat tricks from Karl Muelheims last weekend helped fourth-ranked Whitworth complete season sweeps of Pacific and George Fox.
Muelheims, from St. George’s in Spokane, put together three goals in 11 minutes during a 6-0 home win over George Fox on Saturday, then scored all three goals in a 3-0 win over Pacific.
At the other end of the field, the Pirates (12-0-1 overall and 8-0-1 in the Northwest Conference) got their ninth and 10th shutouts of the season to stay 1 ½ games ahead of Pacific Lutheran and Puget Sound with five matches left in the regular season.
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