There’s an old saying: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
The University of Arizona women’s soccer team is getting a chance this season to test out that old axiom. The Wildcats came into the 2018 season ranked No. 21 in the country, but lost their season opener to a small (13,000) D-I college from New York that plays in the America East conference.
The University of Albany didn’t just kill the spirits of a team that was coming off one of its most successful seasons in program history, it stomped on its spirit by taking down the Wildcats in front of a home crowd that was expecting better things.
Albany held the Cats scoreless through 70 minutes of play, but Arizona failed to keep Albany’s junior midfielder Claire Stackel from taking a low shot that found the back post of the goal. To rub salt in the wound, 10 minutes later a shot by freshman Emily Knous was blocked by the Albany keeper.
And then, Amanda Porter nailed the tying goal with 10 seconds left in the game – but an off-sides penalty negated the score and gave Albany the upset victory.
That was a tough way to start a season, particularly since hopes were riding high following a 5-0 exhibition win over UTEP. It was a psychological hurdle that could have derailed the season.
But instead, the Cats rallied to win the next seven games, outscoring their opponents 21-2 over that span and posting five shutouts. The 21 goals in non-conference play were the most since 2013 when that team notched 23.
The Wildcats were on a roll — until they met up with Stanford, the No. 2 team in the nation, on the road in their Pac-12 opener.
Arizona played Stanford head-to-head through most of the game, until a free kick resulted in a Cardinal goal at the 57th minute. That was followed by a second score in the final 10 minutes of the game to send the Cats back to the desert with a 2-0 loss that broke their seven-game win streak.
It was time to start over. But this time it wasn’t so easy.
Arizona was back in front of the home crowd at Mulcahy Stadium, hosting Utah, and found itself down 1-0 at the mid-point of the contest. But forward Jill Aguilera answered just minutes later with a goal that would tie the game and send it into overtime.
And it was the redshirt sophomore from California that finally put the lid on the victory, as Aguilera nailed her fourth goal of the season with a shot that found the net from outside the 18.
Once again, this team showed it’s resilience, coming from behind and then keeping its composure during the overtime period.
We’ll find out today if that translates into the start of another winning streak when the Wildcats welcome the Colorado Buffaloes to Tucson for their third conference match-up.
A couple of stats best show where Arizona stacks up in the conference. The five goals the Cats have allowed is tied for fourth-fewest in the Pac-12 and their 23 points is the fourth-most.
But it’s a young team this year. The seven top point scorers are all freshmen and sophomores.
And the season is only half done, with the most challenging part ahead in conference play.
It will take more than resilience to improve on last season’s 11-5-4 finish that included a 7-2-2 Pac-12 mark. That team made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
But resilience is one of those intangibles that can’t be coached. And that could be a big factor in helping this team get back to the big dance.