UA soccer showed promise for 2011, but can’t find the net

Arizona soccer started the season with great promise and high expectations, as the Wildcats returned 11 starters from last season – including a seasoned goal keeper.

But the bloom is off the rose, as they say.

Three games into the 2011 season, the women’s team is still looking for its first win… and its first goal.

The University of Arizona is coming off a disappointing 2010 season when they won just five games overall and finished 1-8 in the conference.  The Cats wrapped up the year without scoring a single goal in the final five outings and got stomped on by No. 17 USC in a 5-0 season finale – which was played at home, to make it even worse.

But eighth-year head coach, Lisa Oyen, had high hopes for a fresh start this season.  She had talent, depth, and experience to help contend with a challenging first season in the new Pac-12, as Colorado and Utah have been added to the mix.

Ashley Jett was back in goal, a tall, athletic senior who had a solid season last year in starting 18 games.  Oyen’s top goal scorer, junior Renae Cueller, is back after missing the last 14 games of 2010 with a knee injury.  And the Cats have added some impressive freshmen talent to the roster as well.

But the results so far have been anything but rewarding.  They have been downright heartbreaking because victories have been just out of reach.

In the opener against San Diego State, the Cats lost a 1-0 decision on a penalty kick in the 68th minute.  Cuellar took five shot attempts and Jett recorded five saves in 90 minutes, but it wasn’t enough.

Jett stepped up again in the next outing against Pepperdine, making seven saves, but the Waves just kept rolling in and Arizona departed Malibu with another loss, 2-0, and still no goals.

But Friday’s loss to South Carolina really hurt.

The game was the first opportunity to play in front of the home crowd and the Cats took the Gamecocks to double overtime before a Carolina defender launched a long shot from in front of her own bench that caught Jett off-guard for the 1-0 win just two minutes into the second OT period.

It was one of the few shots the Gamecocks took throughout the game that was on the mark.  Jett recorded just one save for the game, as most of the visitors’ shots were either blocked or missed the net wide.

But that one miss was all it took to put a team brimming with optimism at the start of the season into a deep funk.

Jett called it “the toughest loss” during her career at Arizona.

And Oyen expressed similar sentiments.  “It’s games like these that break your heart,” she said after the last loss.  “We put out a great effort, but didn’t get the result we hoped for.  We told the team that they deserve to walk off this field feeling differently.”

They will have some time to reflect back on this game, as well as study what happened in the first two, before taking on BYU next week.

Unfortunately, they will need to try to right the ship in a hostile environment since they will take on the Cougars in Provo – and then play two more on the road before returning Sept. 9 to host University of the Pacific.

To make matters worse, the other games in that road series are on the campus of in-state rival, Arizona State, where the Cats will be participating in the annual Sun Devil Desert Classic.

And, for what it’s worth, ASU is off to a 2-0 start…and were able to beat South Carolina, 1-0.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)