You gotta give ’em credit. The University of Arizona women’s soccer team isn’t afraid of an early-season challenge -and it’s even willing to go on the road to take it on.
The Wildcats are in Provo, Utah, getting ready for tonight’s game against the BYU Cougars, the No. 19-ranked team in the country.
By contrast, the Arizona State squad played Northern Arizona University last night for their exhibition opportunity. Sitting at home and taking on an FBS school out of the Big Sky Conference is just a step up from an intra-squad scrimmage for the Sun Devils.
Granted, it’s just an exhibition game against BYU. But when you pack your team up and travel 600 miles, it certainly feels like a real game to the players. A loss in this exhibition game would hurt almost as much – and would do nothing to build confidence leading into the season opener next week against Abilene Christian.
In that regard, this is a bit of a risky move. BYU was picked in the pre-season poll to finish first in the West Coast Conference and the favorite to win its fourth straight conference title.
And Arizona has always had trouble with he Cougars. They’ve met a dozen times and the Cats have won just one of those contests.
Despite coming off the best season in a decade, the Cats were picked in the pre-season to do no better than eighth place in the Pac-12. They finished last season 11-8-2, earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament, and advanced to the second round before losing to Texas A&M.
The Wildcats return their top offensive weapon from last year, sophomore attacker Gabi Stoian who lead the team in goals (13), assists (7), shots (78), and shots on goal (36). The 5’5″ midfielder is a local recruit, from Pinnacle High School in north Phoenix.
However, they must find a replacement for their starting goalkeeper, Gabby Kaufman. Kaufman was in the net for all 21 games and averaged 1.53 saves a game. That will become a big negative this season since her back-up, junior Alison Gondosch, has logged just 45 total minutes in goal so far during her college career.
On the plus side, the Cats have experience that covers the field. There are eight players returning from the 2014 squad that saw game time.
It has been 11 years since an Arizona soccer team was able to get the best of BYU, going all the way back to September of 2004. And that was actually a road game for the Wildcats.
This game, too, will be in Provo. So maybe it’s time for a repeat.
That would be a big confidence boost for a team trying to show doubters that their lowly pre-season ranking was well off the mark.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)