UA soccer, Amato look to improve upon strong 2013 season
Members of the Arizona soccer team practice on Thursday. The Wildcats take the field for an exhibition on Aug. 16 against New Mexico.
Arizona soccer will kick off the 2014-15 UA sports schedule looking to improve on one of the school’s best seasons ever.
In 2013, head coach Tony Amato’s first season, the Wildcats went 9-7-4, 4-6-1 in the Pac-12. Last season, Arizona opened by going undefeated through seven games, the best start in school history.
“It’s a process,” Amato said. “We’re definitely looking to improve one step at a time and having some success last year definitely helps the buy-in factor.”
The Wildcats begin the season with a friendly exhibition against New Mexico on Saturday at 7 p.m. at home before starting the regular season on Aug. 22 at Florida International and hosting their home opener on Aug. 28 against NAU.
“I’m excited we have our first game coming up,” senior goalkeeper Gabby Kaufman said. “I’m just really looking forward to the season.”
The Wildcats’ four Pac-12 wins last season were Arizona’s second best ever. Arizona went 1-16-2 in 2011 and before last season only had winning records in 2004 (15-6-0), when the Wildcats made it to the NCAA tournament for the first time and 2005 (11-8-3), when they made it to the Sweet Sixteen.
Senior forward Alexandra Doller said the Wildcats can keep up the momentum by reminding themselves how hard they worked last year and that they’re trying to build something.
“You can only go up from a season like that,” Kaufman said. “We made a lot of improvements from the years before, and you could really only go up from what we did last year.”
The Wildcats lost Jazmin Ponce, who led the team in points with 25 and was first team All-Pac-12, but return four of their top five 2013 scorers.
Arizona returns Doller, who was second on the team with 17 points, junior forward Kaitlyn Lopez and sophomore midfielder Lexe Selman, who each had 11 points and sophomore midfielder Jaden DeGracie, who had 10. College Sports Madness named DeGracie second team Pac-12.
Kaufman played in 20 of the Wildcats’ 21 games last year, playing 1,768 minutes, recording a 1.17 goals against average and going 8-7-4 with five shut outs.
Kaufman, who transferred from Texas Tech after her freshman season, said the program is “much better” than when she arrived and is more professional.
“We have our core values which we base our program around and everybody follows them and it just creates a better team environment,” she said.
Arizona welcomes 12 newcomers, 11 freshmen and one transfer.
“They’re all awesome so far,” Kaufman said. “There’s a lot of them, so it’s like a whole new team, but they’re awesome and fitting in great and we’re glad to have them.”
Amato said 12 players is a bit bigger than normal recruiting classes; some schools have classes as small as four players.
“We’re at a phase where we want to bring in closer to 10,” Amato said. “So 10-12 is definitely a larger number of new players and we think that’s what we need right now on our team.”
Amato said he was impressed with how last year’s freshmen performed in the spring practices and exhibitions, especially sophomore forward Haley Silverberg and sophomore midfielder Laura Pimienta.
“There are players all across the board that are a little bit stronger, have a little bit of belief, and that goes a long way,” Amato said.
Amato said the Wildcats play “very good” teams in Florida, FIU and Florida Gulf Coast, before facing the best team in the SEC in 2013, Texas A&M, and NCAA tournament regular Oklahoma State at the Sun Devil Desert Classic, which will get the Wildcats ready for Pac-12 play.
After the Florida trip, the Wildcats don’t leave the state again until Oct. 10 and will play seven home games.
“We’re here most of the time, which is nice,” Doller said. “[We have] a lot of home games.”
—Follow James Kelley @JamesKelley520