Wildcats set for top-25 matchup against No. 21 Washington
The women's soccer team lines up before their game on Sept. 13, 2015. The Wildcats begin their season on the road at Pepperdine on Friday, Aug. 19.
After a strong 6-1-1 start to the season, Arizona soccer was ranked No. 25 in the latest NSCAA Coaches Poll. It’s the first time the program has been ranked in the top 25 since 2004.
However, non-conference play is now over, and the team will begin its challenging Pac-12 Conference schedule.
“I think these first couple of games are going to be really critical for not only the veterans but for the young kids too, in terms of really knowing what they’re up against because this conference is so deep,” said Pac-12 Network’s Ann Schatz.
The Wildcats’ first conference game is at home Friday against No. 21 Washington at 4 p.m.
Washington comes in with a 7-1-1 record, and the team hasn’t lost since dropping its season opener against Kentucky.
“Both clubs come in on some serious rolls,” Schatz said. “I think Washington is a very frisky, hungry and creative club, with an absolute proven goalkeeper in Megan Kufeld.”
On the surface, Washington and Arizona are very similar teams.
In nine games, the Huskies have given up just 84 shots and seven goals. Certainly an impressive mark, but the Wildcats have been even better. They’ve allowed only 57 shots and four goals in eight games.
“I love [the Wildcats’] defense,” Schatz said. “It’s extremely stingy. The fact that [they] have given up four goals, even with the platooning goalkeeper situation, [is impressive].”
Both offenses are potent as well.
Washington has taken 144 shots while putting 17 of them in the net.
Washington’s Shannon Simon leads the team in goals and assists with five and three respectively. Simon switched positions over the summer, and she has since become the main cog in the Huskies’ offense.
“She has just been unbelievable,” Schatz said. “They’re taking her off the flank and putting her more in No. 10 role, so she’s right behind Washington’s target forward. She’s absolutely thriving and she has been one of the real good stories for Washington this year.”
Of course, Arizona has a dangerous offense of its own.
Despite playing one fewer game than the Huskies, Wildcat offense has managed to score 17 goals as well.
Gabi Stoian is Arizona’s main scoring threat, as she has five goals and five assists this year, but Schatz mentioned that senior Hayley Estopare and the Wildcats’ ability to share the ball also catches her eye.
“[Arizona] spreads it around awfully well. When you look at Hayley Estopare … [she] is a darn good defender, but can [also] really get in the mix and get numbers forward and has come up with three goals,” Schatz said. “I think that really says a lot about how [Arizona] doesn’t rely on just one or two kids.”
While both offenses are capable of creating plenty of shots, Schatz believes that tomorrow’s game will be about which offense can create high-percentage opportunities, or which defense can limit the other’s shot attempts.
“What I’m looking for more than anything else is the shots on goal. I want to see who really extends the keeper,” she said. “It’s one thing to get a good shot, but let’s see who gets the quality shots on goal. That, to me, is what’s really going to be the separator tomorrow.”
Schatz also said she will keep her eye on both teams’ defense.
“Let’s see what keeper is on top of her game, and conversely let’s see which club contests those defenses with shots on frame,” she said. “I don’t mean shots right at, but I mean, let’s see who can get the keeper to have to dive. I think it’s going to be a really interesting match.”
Schatz also predicted that, because of the heat and Arizona’s notoriety for playing well at home, the Wildcats should have the upper hand in this one.
“I’d give Arizona a 2-1 win or 1-1 draw in this Friday’s game,” she said.
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