Arizona soccer: Four-game losing streak toughens Wildcats' path to NCAA Tournament
The Arizona women's soccer team has made it to the NCAA Tournament in each of the past two seasons, but that streak is in serious jeopardy as Pac-12 Conference play continues.
The Wildcats started the season on a hot streak, going 5-1-1 in their first seven games, but they lost their non-conference finale to Oklahoma as well as their first three Pac-12 games.
The four-game losing streak has turned a once-sparkling 5-1-1 record into an underwhelming 5-5-1 overall record and an 0-3 conference record.
And as the losses pile up, Arizona’s road to its third straight NCAA Tournament appearance suffers another roadblock. Though that’s something UA head coach Tony Amato hasn’t thought about yet.
“Not at this point,” he said, with a laugh. “I’m a little bit like Jim Mora. I’m going, ‘playoffs? heck we gotta win a game first.’”
While the Wildcats haven't won a game since their Sept. 11 win over San Francisco, there are reasons to be optimistic about the team’s ability to get back into the win column and the NCAA Tournament picture.
For one, Arizona has outshot its opponents 57-46 in the four-game skid, including a 31-17 differential in the team’s losses to Colorado and Utah this past weekend. Second, three of Arizona’s four losses were by just one goal. Third, Arizona has scored first in all but two games this season.
It’s these type of numbers that make Amato believe his team can string a few wins together and salvage its postseason outlook.
“But I also know that you can get caught up in ‘we outshot them’ or ‘oh we could have scored, we could have stopped that goal’ but that’s what the game of soccer is,” he said. “And I’m a big believer in that if you take care of all of the details then things go your way.”
One of those details is making sure the losing skid doesn’t affect the Wildcats’ confidence.
“I think the biggest thing is making sure individually everybody is in a good place,” Amato said after Tuesday’s practice. “And if they are, they’ll play well, they’ll play hard, they’ll play with confidence and that’s probably the biggest thing. We have team training here but it’s really about getting some individual messages in between those to make sure that they’re in a good place come kickoff.”
The head coach also stressed that losing streaks—like the one his team is currently enduring—don’t necessarily put a nail in a team’s postseason coffin.
In 2014, for example, the Wildcats went 1-5-1 in their last seven conference games, yet managed to sneak into the NCAA Tournament, thanks to a strong start in conference play.
“Who knows, it may be that we start that way this year and finish strong,” Amato said. “I don’t really know, we’re trying to win the game [Thursday] and if we don’t we’ll regroup and try and win Sunday.”
Arizona is taking the 'one game at a time' approach heading into its weekend road series against Washington State and Washington.
“It’s super frustrating but...now we just need to focus on the next two games and just try and get that win,” senior forward Paige Crouch said.
However, at some point—maybe even this weekend—the Wildcats are going to need that win and many more if their third-straight NCAA Tournament appearance is in the cards.
“Right now, we’re trying to regroup and trying to get that first win and after that we’ll progress from there,” defender Laura Pimienta said. “[But] it’s my senior year and if we don’t make it it’d be pretty disappointing.”
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