No. 17 Arizona soccer hosts No. 23 California and No. 5 Stanford this weekend
Arizona forward Hannah Wong (7) races Washington defender Havana McElvaine (8) for the ball on Murphey Field at Mulcahy Soccer Stadium on Friday, Sept. 25. The Wildcats host Cal and Stanford this weekend.
If there were any weekend that epitomizes what it means to be in the Pac-12 Conference, this would be it. Arizona women’s soccer will host both No. 23 Cal (6-2-2) and No. 5 Stanford (7-2) in what should be an arduous weekend of soccer.
“It’s Pac-12 play, so we know every weekend is going to be like that, where it’s one or two [tough] games,” said Arizona head coach Tony Amato.
The Wildcats (7-1-1), who moved up from No. 25 to No. 17 in the NSCAA Coaches Poll after an impressive home win against No. 21 Washington, are well-prepared for these difficult weekends, however.
Almost three weeks ago, the Wildcats took on both No. 18 Texas Tech and No. 14 Pepperdine in the same weekend. Arizona didn’t get exactly the results it wanted, coming away with a tie and a loss, but Amato thought it was a perfect primer for what the UA is going to see on a weekly basis in conference play.
“We felt like that looked like a Pac-12 weekend,” he said. “That was an important weekend for us to see and gauge where our team was and know that it’s going to take that sort of effort in any given weekend to get results, and we were able to learn a lot from that.”
Arizona midfielder Jaden DeGracie said that the tough opponents Amato sets the team up with help them practice and improve.
“The Texas Tech and Pepperdine weekend definitely will help us for Stanford and Cal, even though I think Stanford and Cal will be harder just because [they’re] in the Pac-12, and [they’re] going to be more of a grind, but we’re ready for [them],” DeGracie said.
The first of the two games is Friday against Cal at 7 p.m. The Golden Bears lost to Colorado in overtime in their first Pac-12 game.
Cal has one of the better offenses in the Pac-12, as it is tied for fourth in the conference for goals scored. The offense is spearheaded by Arielle Ship, who leads the Pac-12 in shots (40), points (18) and goals (8).
Ship and company won’t find it easy to score on Friday, however, as Arizona’s defense has only given up a conference-best four goals this season.
Senior Sheaffer Skadsen has been the anchor of the unit. She has played the entire game in eight of nine matches this year, and was recently named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week.
If last year’s matchup between the two schools is any indication of how Friday’s game will play out, it should be a dogfight. That game resulted in a 1-1 tie after two extra times. For that reason, Amato knows Arizona can’t afford to overlook Cal for the more difficult game against Stanford.
“We’ll only look only at Cal in terms of what the team knows, and we’ll try and find a way to get that win on Friday,” Amato said. “Then we’ll move on to Stanford from there. There’s no easy game in this league, and Cal is no exception to that.”
Arizona will then take on Stanford on Sunday at 11 a.m. The Cardinal beat Utah 4-1 in its Pac-12 opener.
Stanford’s success this year is certainly no surprise. The Cardinal has dominated the Pac-12 for years. It has won the conference nine times and once won 44 straight conference games from 2008-2013.
The Cardinal, like the Wildcats, is a stout defensive team. It is tied for second in the conference in goals allowed (5) and have recorded four shutouts this year. One interesting statistic is that the team hasn’t given up more than two goals in a game in over 10 years.
Cardinal offense is no slouch either, as it is second in the conference in shots taken (167), and the high level of play on both ends has allowed the team to out-shoot its opponents 167-52.
Historically, Arizona is 2-18-0 against Stanford, with the Wildcats’ last win coming in 2005. There are a lot of similarities between Arizona’s conference-winning 2005 team and the current team, so perhaps this is the year that the Wildcats can break their nine-game losing streak to the Cardinal.
It will require a tremendous effort to do so, but it is a challenge that the Wildcats are more than willing to take on.
“We’re always up for a challenge,” DeGracie said. “Every sprint we did in preseason and every time we’re in the weight room and grinding on the field, … that’s for moments like [this] weekend.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter.