The climb just keeps getting steeper. But the University of Arizona women’s soccer team is taking it in stride, one ranked team at a time.
The Wildcats (7-2) lost their Pac-12 opener, but took No. 17 Colorado to double overtime before succumbing, 2-1. Then Thursday they upset No. 16 UCLA by shutting out the Trojans, 3-0, marking just the second time in the history of program that Arizona has beaten a UCLA team. The only other time was 15 years ago.
And tomorrow the Cats will continue moving up the ladder to take on No. 5 USC.
After their performance against the first two ranked teams, the Cats are on a roll – even if it is uphill. Colorado had just one loss coming into the Arizona match, but it took the Buffaloes 106 minutes to put the game away. So the Cats wasted no time in jumping on UCLA, taking a 1-0 lead at the half and then adding a couple of insurance goals in the second half.
Against Colorado, the Wildcats picked up their lone goal in the seventh minute when a corner kick into the goal box was deflected off a defender’s foot and into the net. But it was junior forward Jada Talley that stepped up in the UCLA win, scoring two of the team’s three goals. The other goal came from sophomore forward Brooke Wilson, who scored the second goal of the game with a cannon shot from 30 yards out in the 67th minute. The import from Vista, Calif., has six goals already this season.
But much of the credit also goes to goalkeeper Hope Hilsey. The freshman from Tucson’s Canyon del Oro High School made six saves against the Buffs in her first Pac-12 start, and then came back with four more against the Bruins.
Arizona is on track to better last season’s 13-6-2 record, despite losing Kennedy Kieneker, the winningest player in program history, and the winningest goalkeeper, Lainey Burdett, to graduation.
However, the offense returned three of the top four goal scorers from last season in Talley, junior forward Jill Aguilera, and sophomore midfield/forward Emily Knous. The Wildcats returned 72 percent of their scoring from last year.
There’s stability on defense as well, since all four defenders on the back line from last year’s squad that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament are back in the fold. And they bring some experienced leadership to this year’s team since Morgan McGarry and Samantha Falasco are both seniors, and Sabrina Enciso is a junior. Sophomore Hallie Pearson rounds out the group.
And there’s also that program stability on the sidelines. Head Coach Tony Amato is in his seventh season leading the program, taking teams to the NCAA Tournament four times, including a Sweet 16 berth. The program’s all-time winningest coach was given a contract extension in the spring that will take him through the 2021 season.
“Every game is a challenge and we’re going to have to enjoy it today and then move on and find a way to do it again on Sunday,” said Amato after the UCLA win.
“It doesn’t get any easier.”
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)