One more step up on the national rankings ladder. That’s how close head coach Tony Amato is to tying a major school record with the University of Arizona women’s soccer team.
A 1-0 upset win last Friday over No. 21-ranked Washington moved the Wildcats up from No. 25 to No. 16 in the NCAA rankings. The program record for highest national ranking is held by the 2004 squad that climbed to No. 15 in early November of that year.
That 2004 team, and the current edition, are the only two teams in the history of the program to be nationally-ranked. That’s a good indication of the scope of work ahead of Amato as he begins the process of moving the Arizona soccer program back onto the national stage.
This is Amato’s third season since arriving from Stephen F. Austin University where he spent three years, during which time he won two Southland Conference titles and was twice named the conference Coach of the Year.
He took over a program in Tucson that won just two conference games and finished 6-13-1 overall the previous year. It was a program that had been mired in mediocrity for some time, winning just 12 games total in the three years prior to Amato’s arrival. In Amato’s first two seasons, his teams won a combined 20 games.
The 2015 team squeezed into the Top 25 rankings a week ago with a 2-1 victory over UC Riverside in extra time. Sophomore sensation Gabi Stoian was largely responsible for that signature victory, scoring the winning goal in the 94th minute, just as she has played a big role in the team’s success since arriving last year.
The Cats went 11-8-2 last year as Stoian, a local product from Pinnacle High School in Phoenix, netted 13 goals to move her into second place on the school’s all-time list. Her 33 points were also second on that list and her seven assists put her at No. 3 for assists in a single season.
Stoian, a 5’5″ midfielder, was the 2014 Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year and the Arizona Republic’s All-Arizona Big Schools Player of the Year her senior season at Pinnacle after piling up 24 goals and nine assists in 26 games.
Her goal against UC Riverside was her fifth already this season and she has also contributed five assists. The latest assist also came in the Riverside game when her corner kick fed Hayley Estopare for the senior’s third goal of the season.
Stoian has taken more shots than any other player on the team, 27 of the 138 total shots on goal, so she draws a lot of coverage – which gives her teammates better opportunities. Jaden DeGracie, the junior midfielder from Gilbert High School, was the latest beneficiary, scoring her first goal of the season to beat Washington.
In a recent article in the Arizona Wildcat student newspaper, Stoian said she wants to leave a legacy at UofA and “put my footprint on the school and in the record book.”
Right now, it looks as if she – and her head coach – are well on their way to doing just that.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)