Arizona soccer notebook: Lainey Burdett shines despite injury; Kelcey Cavarra emerges; questionable calls hurt Wildcats
Arizona goalkeeper Lainey Burdett (1) kicks the ball out of the penalty box during the Wildcats' 2-1 win over Oregon State at Murphy Field at Mulcahy Soccer Stadium Oct. 25, 2015. The Wildcats are 6-7-1 so far this season.
The Arizona soccer team is set to head to the Pacific Northwest this weekend, where the Wildcats will face Oregon and Oregon State on Thursday and Sunday, respectively.
The Wildcats currently sit with a 6-7-1 overall record and a 1-5 Pac-12 Conference record, and will need to string several wins together to make their third straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
Arizona has lost six of its last seven games, including a heartbreaker to No. 12 UCLA on Thursday, falling to the Bruins 2-1 in double overtime.
Here's the latest surrounding the team:
Defense, Burdett shine against the Bruins
While the Wildcats dropped Thursday's home match to UCLA, there were positives to take away from it. For one, Arizona was able to force double overtime against a team that had beaten them in 21 of the past 22 matches.
Arizona's defense held a UCLA offense—which ranks at or near the top of the conference in many statistical categories—to just eight shots.
"I thought defensively, especially in the second half, we did well. We defended, pressed and put them under pressure," Arizona head coach Tony Amato said following the loss to the Bruins. "I thought our back line was much better, especially when put under a lot of stress throughout the game. So, there were some key things there that we can keep building on.“
Arizona goalkeeper Lainey Burdett also made six saves in the game, keeping UCLA at bay until the 102nd minute after it scored in the seventh minute of the game.
“She killed it," said Arizona freshman midfielder Kelcey Cavarra. "She saved our butts back there.”
It was a gusty performance, considering Burdett is still hampered by an ankle injury she suffered against Washington on Oct. 9.
"She was great," Amato said after the loss to UCLA. "She took a knock in the last game and to have that injury and to play as well as she did tonight is big time. We needed it and we needed her to get out there and gut through it and still be effective, and she did both."
Despite missing the first four games of the season, Burdett is fifth in the Pac-12 in shutouts, tallying five in her sophomore campaign.
All the positives aside, the Wildcats still didn't get the result they were looking for against the Bruins, putting a damper on the team's encouraging play.
"It’s hard to go, “Wow, that is so great,” Amato said. "But we’ll take some things positive out of it and hopefully get a performance against Oregon on Thursday."
Wildcats won't go younger, freshman Cavarra emerges anyway
Even though Arizona's NCAA Tournament outlook is unfavorable with just five games left on the docket, Amato's focus remains on finishing the season on a strong note. He doesn't plan to alter his rotations to get his younger players more experience heading into the 2017 season.
“We’re going just try and win the next game. I think I owe it to all of the players to try to do that," Amato said. "That’s what we’ve done since we’ve been here and we would do something like that in the spring season—not now.”
Amato did admit his stance could change depending on how the team's upcoming road trip unfolds, but "it's too far away" to consider.
Regardless, one young player that's emerged in the Wildcats' rotation is freshman midfielder Kelcey Cavarra, who scored her first career goal in the loss to UCLA—a moment she called one of the "biggest of her life."
"I think she's the kind of player where if you're just watching in the stands, you may not notice what she does and the work she's doing," Amato said. "So, to pop up and get a goal on top of playing well in areas that maybe aren't so recognizable can help her as a young player get better moving forward."
Cavarra has appeared in every game for the Wildcats this season, but played a season-high 72 minutes against UCLA.
"When you're a young, inexperienced player it can take some time and I think she's fit, works hard and has been growing through the season," Amato said. "Even as a coaching staff now, you go, 'Well she did it against UCLA, so she can do it against others,' and that can instill some confidence in us."
What is Cavarra trying to get out of the last five games of the season?
"Experience," she said. "From my individual standpoint, going into the next three years of my college career and making sure that I’m confident on the field and I can lead. From a team perspective, making sure we’re all working hard for the seniors—the girls that have a limited amount of games left.”
Questionable calls loom large
When trying to upset a national powerhouse like UCLA, Arizona needed to not only play at its best, but it also needed a break or two along the way. But the opposite happened.
Bruins forward Anika Rodriguez snuck behind the Wildcats' backline and positioned herself in front of the net, where she'd eventually tap in a shot from point blank past Burdett for UCLA's first goal.
After a second look at the play, though, Amato was convinced Rodriguez snuck too far behind Arizona's backline.
"I definitely think it was offsides...I do," Amato said. "The more I’ve watched it, the more I think that may have been one that they missed.”
Alas, there was no call and UCLA took a 1-0 lead in just the seventh minute, which Amato said was "not what [his team] needed" in its pursuit of an unlikely upset.
It didn't end there. The Wildcats earned a corner kick early in the 10-minute period in the second overtime. But as Arizona midfielder Gabi Stoian was readying to take the kick, the official changed the call, saying the ball went off an Arizona player first.
Arizona's opportunity for a set-piece was denied, and UCLA was given a goal kick.
“That one I couldn’t tell," Amato said of the call. "I didn’t have a good video clip of it. I think the ref was closer and he gave it a corner. That one was really close.”
A few moments after the call was changed, the Bruins scored the game-winning goal, sending Arizona to its fifth one-goal loss of the season.
It's been that kind of year for the Wildcats.
“I thought we were going to do it," senior defender Laura Pimienta said on potentially beating UCLA. "We put in the work all game, we tied it up, and then overtime, we lose it. But hopefully...in the future, we can pull something off."