Northwestern State aiming to remain perfect in league play on Texas road trip

By Aaron Ferguson, NSU Sports Information Graduate Assistant

SAN ANTONIO – With a full head of steam and the chance to start 3-0 in Southland Conference play, the Northwestern State soccer team makes its first conference road trip of the 2021 season.

NSU (2-3-2, 2-0 SLC) travels to Incarnate Word (0-5-1, 0-0 SLC) in the Cardinals’ conference home opener. Opening kick at UIW is at 5 p.m. at Gayle and Tom Benson Stadium.

UIW has found itself on the wrong end of four 1-0 decisions through its first six matches.

“UIW has kept a (majority of their matches) a one score affair — they’re better than their record,” said NSU head coach Stuart Gore. “They’ve been more of the aggressor in a few of those games, and it just hasn’t fallen their way yet.

“Either way, with it being their conference opener, you can bet they’ll be ready to rock and roll Friday.”

Despite going 0-3-1 through its last four matches, UIW has led opponents in total shot attempts through that span.

A stingy Lady Demon back line which has earned three straight shutouts is anchored by a veteran cast, led by the reigning Southland Defender of the Week (Natalee Henry) and Goalkeeper of the Week (Acelya Aydogmus).

Aydogmus, tallying three saves against Nicholls on Sunday and logging her 18th career shutout, now sits just one behind the program leader in the category (Tiffany Swingler, 1998-02).

Despite moving up in the formation in Sunday’s match, Henry still played a meaningful role in holding the Colonels to zero goals while also contributing two goals and an assist of her own.

On her second goal of the day, Henry met a Nicholls attacker deep in their own territory, stole possession, and challenged the opposing keeper head-on, resulting in the final goal of the match.

Following her standout performance against Nicholls, Henry is now the Lady Demons’ leading offensive presence, having put up three goals and an assist, along with five shots on goal.

Junior forward Olivia Draguicevich earned Southland Offensive Player of the Week honors after scoring the game-winning goal in a 1-0 victory over Southeastern Louisiana, while earning another goal plus an assist against Nicholls.

Her award completed NSU’s sweep of the weekly Southland Conference accolades.

Despite such a high level of production from a seasoned group, one new member of the defensive lineup has made her mark.

Freshman defenseman Caroline Hilliard has found her niche within a deep defensive lineup, having started five of six matches to open the season.

Hilliard has logged the third-most minutes of the Lady Demon roster, behind only senior defender Natalee Henry and senior goalkeeper Acelya Aydogmus – who has played every minute in the net through the opening six matches.

“Caroline has certainly been a breath of fresh air,” Gore said. “She’s come right in as a freshman and fit into the scheme, which is almost never easy to do, and no less on as well-established a roster as ours.

“She came in hunting a (spot in the lineup), and she has absolutely earned that.”

NSU has maintained a 5-2-1 edge over Incarnate Word since its admission into the Southland Conference in 2013. The Lady Demons’ last outing against the Cardinals resulted in a 1-0 loss at home, following an 89th minute bicycle goal by UIW.