So far, so good. The University of Arizona women’s soccer team has won both of its season-opening games under new head coach Tony Amato.
And if 2-0 doesn’t sound all that great, consider that it’s the best start for the program since the 2008 season.
Amato was hired away from Stephen F. Austin University last December to replace Lisa Oyen, who compiled a 12-40-7 record in her three seasons at the helm of the Wildcat program. Last year a rivalry loss to Arizona State in the season finale capped a 6-13-1 record for a team that won just two conference games.
And that’s when Greg Byrne, the school’s AD, handed the whistle over to Amato.
Amato played his college soccer at Rollins College, a Division II program in Florida, and then became the school’s head coach for seven years. His 2008 team went undefeated and won the school’s first league title, his 2009 team won 16 games and set records for wins and shutouts.
Stephen A. Austin hired him after seeing what he had accomplished at Rollins and held on to him for three years, during which time he won two conference titles and was named the Southland Conference Coach of the Year the past two seasons.
And now Amato appears to be applying that winning formula to a program in Tucson that has long languished in mediocrity. His first step was to gather around him familiar faces with proven ability to fill out his coaching staff.
He first hired his assistant at Stephen F. Austin, Paul Nagy, and then followed that up by adding a former player at Austin, Kylie Louw.
Nagy spent three years as an assistant at the University of Central Florida before taking the same role for another three years with Amato in Texas. He’s a former All-Conference college goal keeper who played professionally for teams in the MSL, MISL, and A-League.
Louw is a three-time Southland Conference Player of the Year who also has extensive international playing experience. The native of South Africa played in the 2012 London Olympic Games and was a member of the South African National Team since 2006.
Together, they appear to be getting some traction for the stalled program.
The Wildcats opened the season with two Florida road games, beating Florida International in the opener, 4-2, in Miami and then defeating Florida Atlantic, 1-0, in Boca Raton two days later.
It was an active offense in both contests, out-shooting FAU 13-5 and then getting a 23-9 advantage against Florida International.
Jazmin Ponce, the talented senior who plays forward and mid-fielder, scored in both games, winning the Florida Atlantic contest by scoring in the 79th minute off an assist from Jaden DeGracie, a freshman from Highland High School in Gilbert. Gabby Kaufman, the 5’6″ junior goal keeper was holding down the net, recording two saves to give the Cats a chance to win it with Ponce’s lone goal.
Against Florida International, the Cats spread the scoring around as Ponce combined with sophomore Kaitlyn Lopez and Ali Doller for the four goals.
Doller, a graduate of Marcos de Niza High School in Tempe that transfered in this year from Paradise Valley Community College, accounted for two of the goals. Lopez is another local product; the sophomore forward played at Ironwood Ridge High School in Tucson.
The Wildcat roster is heavily sprinkled with Arizona-bred players and Amato is continuing the trend. Half of the eight players in his first recruiting class last February were from in-state high schools: Karina Gabino and Justene Kesterson from Mountain View High School in Tucson, Devyn Hunley from Sabino High School in Tucson, and Hannah Stevens from Desert Vista High School in Phoenix.
With the opening two-game road trip behind them, the Cats will return Friday to the friendly confines of Murphey Field at Mulcahy Stadium in Tucson to host UC Riverside.
But after that game, there’s a trip to Columbus, Ohio, that should give Amato a better idea of just where his team stands right now. The Cats switch to the Big Ten to take on the Buckeyes of Ohio State.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)