For the first time in the history of the NCAA College Cup, all three Arizona women’s soccer teams made it into the post-season tournament. But it didn’t take long to narrow that down to two teams.
Arizona State and Northern Arizona met in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament to assure there would be just two Arizona teams going forward into this week’s second round. ASU won that battle, as the Sun Devils beat the Lumberjacks, who were making their fist tournament appearance since 2009, for the 10th time in 11 meetings. Freshman forward Aly Moon gave the Sun Devils a head start by scoring the first two goals of the game as ASU rolled to a 4-2 win.
The game was played at Sun Devil Soccer Stadium and a school-record crowd of 2,067 showed up to watch a little history being made.
ASU (12-5-4) moves on to play Kentucky this afternoon at the University of Virginia’s Klockner Stadium. The Wildcats made it out of the first round by dominating Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville in shots and corner kicks, but then took a penalty shootout to pull off the 4-2 win. Kentucky (15-6-1) finished third in the SEC in the regular season.
But the team taking center stage tonight has to be the University of Arizona Wildcats. They will take on No. 1-seeded Texas A&M in their second-round game after beating Oklahoma State in the tournament opener, 1-0, the second time this season ASU has bested the Cowgirls.
The first-round victory over Oklahoma State, which finished second in the Big 12 Conference, marked just the third time Arizona has won in the NCAA Tournament, the other two wins coming in 2005 when the team advanced all the way to the Sweet 16.
However, the No. 3 team in the country is standing in the way of their advancing any further this time. The Texas A&M Aggies have lost just two games this season, and have tied two, while piling up 19 wins.
One of those ties, however, was with Arizona. So this may not be as big a hurdle as it seems.
Arizona (11-7-2) played the Aggies back on Sept. 5, when A&M was ranked No. 6 in the national polls, and gave them all they could handle. The Cats jumped out to a 1-0 advantage, traded leads back and forth, and were headed for a huge win when the Aggies tied the game up with 30 seconds left in regulation. Neither team could score in the overtime period, so it ended in a 2-2 tie.
Since then the Aggies have moved up in the rankings and are 11-1-1 when playing on their home turf at Ellis Field in College Station, TX. So guess where tonight’s game is going to be played… yep, Ellis Field. Conversely, the Cats are 4-5 on the road. Not an encouraging statistic if you’re a Wildcat fan.
And the Aggies can score. Their 59 team goals are the fifth-best in the country.
Arizona has notched 33 total goals this season, but spreads the scoring around. Ten different players have contributed to that total, led by a couple of local recruits, Gabi Stoian and Alexandra Doller.
Stoian, a freshman mid-fielder from Pinnacle High School in Phoenix, leads the team with 13 goals, which is second-best in program history for goals in a single season. Her seven assists in a season put her at No. 3 on that list, and she is also just the sixth player in program history to record a hat trick in a game.
Doller, a 5’4″ senior from nearby Marcos de Niza High School in Tempe has scored seven goals, including the lone goal that beat Oklahoma State. She’s also one of the most active in front of the opponent’s net, with 70 shot attempts on the season.
Add to that a goalkeeper who has posted seven shutouts this season and is now tied for second place on the all-time ASU list with 16 shutouts in her career. Gabby Kaufman, a 5’6″ senior from Calabasas, Calif., has played in 20 games this season and recorded 85 saves for a .766 percentage.
But Texas A&M will counter with a pair of scorers of their own that are hard to hold down. Shea Groom is the team’s leading scorer, with 15 goals this season, and Kelley Monogue has put up 13 to go with 10 assists.
It will probably be the Arizona defense, though, that will be called upon to level the playing field against the Aggies. An experienced core of defenders playing in front of Kaufman have enabled the Cats to give up just 27 goals this season and have a goal differential of +6.
Head coach Tony Amato knows he will have to count heavily on his defense tonight and, particularly, his senior keeper: “They’re going to get their chances, and really, it’s going to take Gabby to make a few saves. But we need to weather that a little bit and, hopefully, catch them on a counter or two and get a goal ourselves.”
So what was the game plan when his squad held the Aggies to a draw earlier this season?
“We said it was going to take two or three goals for us to have a shot at winning that game,” he recalls. “We scored two that night against them; three would have won it.
“We know that’s what it’s going to take again.”
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)