Wildcats defeat Northern Colorado 2-0, advance onto second round
The ball gets familiar with Northern Colorado midfielder Jacqui Pulley's (19) face as Arizona midfielder Hayley Estopare (23) closes in during the Wildcats' 2-0 win over the Bears at Murphey Field at Mulcahy Soccer Stadium Friday, Nov. 13.
The Arizona women’s soccer team will live to play another day as it was able to knock off the Northern Colorado Bears 2-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
It was Arizona’s first time hosting an NCAA Tournament game, and it certainly made it count.
“We’re happy,” Arizona head coach Tony Amato said after the game. “It’s hard to win NCAA Tournament games. It’s the first time in program history to host a game and it was important for us to win that game and not just host it.”
After giving up a goal in the very first minute of their last game, it was imperative for the Wildcats to get off to a strong start.
However, it was Northern Colorado that got the first dangerous shot on net. In the 10th minute a UNC corner was headed towards the near post, but it just went wide.
After that scare, it was all Arizona. The Wildcats ended up outshooting the Bears 19-3 in the first half.
Despite the sheer number of shots taken, the Wildcats had trouble getting one into the net.
In the 13th minute, an Arizona corner led to shot in front of the net, but it was deflected away.
A few minutes later, Paige Crouch created some space near the top left of the box, but her shot sailed over the crossbar. A minute after that, Hannah Wong would take aim at the bottom left corner, but her shot from the top of the box was wide.
Finally, after shot after shot, the Wildcats would get a goal.
In the 40th minute, a penalty would give Arizona a free kick right on the edge of Northern Colorado’s box. Cali Crisler took a shot on net, but the shot was saved. The rebound went to Laura Pimienta, who put the ball back on net, but that shot was saved too. The goalie again was unable to secure the ball, however, and the second rebound was knocked in by Jessica Nelson.
“It was a pretty amazing feeling,” Nelson said. “I knew we had to get on the board… and just [being] on the end of it was pretty amazing. Laura [Pimenta] did a great job getting on the end of the ball and I just knew I had to put it in.”
It was the Tucson native's second goal of the season, and certainly the most meaningful, as it would give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead heading into halftime.
After being dominated in the first half, Northern Colorado started to step things up and began to control the ball for much of the beginning of the second half.
“I think we got a little frantic and panicked,” Arizona defender Sheaffer Skadsen said. “There were some times when the ball was stuck in our 18-yard box for minutes it seemed like. We’d clear it and it’d hit someone and come back, and eventually we’d get the ball out.”
In the 57th minute, the Bears nearly tied things up when a dangerous shot appeared to be headed towards the near post. Arizona goalkeeper Rachel Estopare dove and made the save, however.
Estopare, who surprisingly started over Lainey Burdett, finished with three saves on the night. Amato felt Estopare was well-prepared for the game.
“[It’s] the same it is with everyone on our team,” Amato said. “We look at who’s the sharpest during the week, who looks the most confident, and that was ultimately why we made that decision based on what we saw in training this week. And next week will be the same thing. We’ll look at it again and whoever is sharp, confident, and is playing well will get the nod.”
As the second half wore on, the Wildcats started to regain control of the pace of the game.
Then in the 74th minute, Kaitlyn Lopez was taken down in the box to set up a penalty kick for the Wildcats. Skadsen, eyeing an opportunity to put the game out of reach, stepped up to take the kick.
“I just get really excited,” Skadsen said. “I know it’s my opportunity. We practice those a lot and I know and I’m confident that I can make that shot.”
And she did. She placed into into the right side of the net to give her team a late 2-0 lead.
The two goals proved to be more than enough as the Wildcats, who let up only seven shots all game, would ultimately shut out the Bears and win 2-0.
“I think we pride ourselves on defending,” Amato said. “The first training session we did here back in August, we wanted to make sure we were solid defensively first and then can kind of play out of that. I thought we put them under a lot of pressure which limited their chances.”
Winning an NCAA Tournament game is impressive, but the Wildcats also did it without their leading scorer, Gabi Stoian. Stoian has now missed the past four games with a quad injury, but was available to play tonight if needed.
“She’s definitely a lot closer and would’ve been an option tonight at some point,” Amato said. “We’ve been really cautious with her, and we could’ve played her and if we were losing and in a desperate situation, we probably would’ve gotten her in the game.”
With their lead however, Amato chose not to place her into the game.
“But when we went up 2-0 we felt like we could be cautious and get her more ready for next week and we expect her to be back,” Amato said.
The Wildcats and Stoian will return to the field next weekend for the second round of the NCAA Tournament. They’ll be facing the winner of the Long Beach State-Santa Clara game.
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