Wildcats open NCAA postseason play against Northern Colorado
Arizona defender Sheaffer Skadsen (6) drives the ball down the field while playing against ASU at Murphey Field at Mulcahy Soccer Stadium on Nov. 6. Skadsen, a senior, hopes to keep her collegiate career alive with a postseason victory Friday.
It’s now win or go home for Arizona women’s soccer as the Wildcats start postseason play Friday night. The Wildcats will host an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in program history as they take on Northern Colorado.
“We feel like we’ve done a really good job to get to this point,” Arizona head coach Tony Amato said. “But it’s a new season now, and we’re excited to host a game and find a way to march on in the [NCAA] Tournament.”
Arizona (12-5-2, 6-4-1 Pac-12 Conference) isn’t exactly entering the NCAA Tournament on a high note, however. The Wildcats are coming off of a 4-1 blowout loss at home against rival ASU. It was an embarrassing performance on senior night, but Amato said the team has worked on a lot of things since that game and has put it in the rearview mirror.
Amato said his team has worked on “everything from that game,” and he knows how much his team has to overcome in order to advance in the tournament.
“If you look at the whole season and the lessons we learned, the positives, the negatives, [we] have been working on some things this week based on our attacking and defending principles overall, what we’ve done all year,” Amato said.
Northern Colorado (13-7-2, 8-2-1 Big Sky Conference), unlike the Wildcats, comes into the postseason on a hot streak. The Bears have won their past three games and the Big Sky Conference Championship title. This will be their first NCAA Tournament appearance.
“They have some really good players,” Amato said of the Wildcats’ opponent. “Their attacking center-mid is really good, … their outside backs get forward, so they’ll cause some problems, and [Adrienne Jordan] is a very good player at left back.”
Northern Colorado’s forwards have led the Bears to be one of the better offensive teams in the Big Sky. The Bears averaged a little over one goal per game and have taken a staggering 103 corner kicks this season.
While the Bears use corner kicks well to help initiate their offense, the Wildcats don’t think they’re so good at defending them.
“We’re going to focus a lot on set pieces,” Arizona senior Kaitlyn Lopez said. “I think we’re really going to try to expose them in that aspect and take it to them as much as we can, being a Pac-12 school.”
Arizona will also regain some of the firepower it lost late in the season.
Forward Charlotte Brascia returned to practice this week and will play against Northern Colorado. Brascia missed the last three games with a head injury and should help the Wildcats push the pace of the game in their favor. The Wildcats could be getting their leading scorer, Gabi Stoian, back, too.
Stoian, who has scored six goals this season, also missed the last three games with a quad injury. Unlike Brascia, Stoian hasn’t fully returned to practice.
“[Stoian] is doing a lot of stuff off the field right now and she was in cleats today and did some running,” Amato said after Wednesday’s practice. “We’re just trying to be really cautious, but at this point, if we lose, it’s over. So, we’re doing a lot of things to get her ready for Friday.”
Amato said Stoian will be a game-time decision and would likely be limited if she does play.
With or without Stoian, the Wildcats will have to find a way to win to keep their season alive.
Kickoff is Friday at 6 p.m. at Murphey Field at Mulcahy Soccer Stadium. Find a live stream on Arizona Athletics’ website.
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter.