Arizona soccer: Wildcats to host No. 3 Stanford in first game of Senior Weekend
Stanford celebrates while Arizona midfielder Jaden DeGracie (14) stares in disbelief following Stanford's winning goal in the second overtime period on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015 on Murphy Field at Mulcahy Soccer Stadium. The Wildcats lost for the third year in a row in overtime against the Cardinal.
Only three games remain on the Arizona soccer team's schedule, with one of its last two home games taking place Thursday night when the Wildcats host No. 3 Stanford at Mulcahy Stadium.
The season is winding down, and so are the careers of Arizona's senior class.
The class — consisting of Jaden DeGracie-Bailey, Laura Pimienta, Haley Silverberg, Lexe Selman Richards, Hannah Stevens and Paige Crouch — arrived in 2013, and has won more games (41) in a four-year span than any other senior class in program history.
They have also made two NCAA Tournament appearances, making the Round of 32 in 2014 and the Sweet Sixteen in 2015, setting a new bar for an Arizona soccer program which had a losing season each year from 2006-2012.
“Since the first day, we worked really hard," Pimienta said. "The thing we said [when we were freshmen] was 'building a legacy', so we were a part of that. We went to the tournament that next year (2014), and then the Sweet Sixteen (in 2015), so obviously we did build a legacy and we’re proud that we were part of that.”
Despite the seniors' time at Arizona quickly nearing its end, their attention remains focused on the final trio of games.
"The word surreal comes to my mind, but I don’t know if that’s correct because it’s been my life for the last four years and everything we’ve been working for," DeGracie-Bailey said. "So, for it to come to an end it’s like wow, what do I do now? We’re still focusing on games, and of course I’m looking forward to the games...but the fact that it’s ending just means that we have to leave everything we have on the field.”
Arizona head coach Tony Amato said it can be difficult to balance the Senior Week fanfare with the team's usual game day preparation.
“It’s a time to kind of reflect on the hard work they’ve done for four years and thank them for that, but it’s always tricky because you still have games to play." he said.
Arizona (7-8-1 overall, 2-6 Pac-12 Conference) is coming off a road split against the Oregon schools — losing 1-0 to Oregon last Thursday, then beating Oregon State 3-0 Sunday — and will face its toughest challenge yet on Thursday night.
Stanford (14-1-1, overall, 7-1 Pac-12) is a perennial national powerhouse — making the NCAA Tournament every year since 1997 — and it has won its last four games.
The Cardinal also have a 20-2 record against the Wildcats all-time, but unlike No. 9 UCLA, another powerhouse which beat Arizona in Tucson two weeks ago, the Wildcats have fared relatively well against Stanford in recent years.
Arizona has forced extra time against the Cardinal in the last three regular season matches. Last season, Stanford beat the Wildcats 3-2, but the match went into double overtime.
“When we went into the UCLA game, we hadn’t had any success with them over the last few years, they had beaten us pretty good and it’s hard to have anything tangible to hold onto," Amato said. "It's like ‘come on, girls, we can compete with this team if we do x, y and z’ and that week it felt like we were telling them that, but they were like ‘yeah, no.’"
"But I think going into the Stanford game...in the last two regular season games, we’ve scored four goals against Stanford. No one does that. The best teams in the country don’t do that and so that’s something tangible they can hold onto and I think going into the game it won’t take until halftime to have any sort of belief. It will start from the first whistle.”
A win versus Stanford is likely necessary for Arizona — and the senior class — to make an NCAA Tournament appearance for the third straight year.
Arizona currently sits at eighth in the Pac-12 standings, and was on a three-game losing streak before beating Oregon State on Sunday.
"We were the winningest senior class in the history of the program, so that’s obviously something that feels good and is really special, but I think it would’ve been that much better if we would’ve made the tournament," Pimienta said. "But if we can get good results this weekend and then against ASU (next Friday), there’s a chance, right? So, you just have to keep pushing forward and see what happens.”
Thurday's kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and the game will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.
Beer and wine will be on sale for the first time at Mulcahy Stadium during the game. Beer will be priced at $5, while wine will be $6. Only cash payments will be accepted.
The Wildcats then face Cal on Sunday for Senior Day before wrapping up their season next Friday at ASU. Sunday's game is scheduled for 11 a.m.
You can follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter. More Senior Week coverage will be provided throughout the week.