Women's soccer season preview: On top-15 recruiting class, talented returners and team identity
The Arizona Wildcats are entering the 2018 season looking to build off the best season in program history. They won a program-high seven conference games in 2017 and finished fourth in the Pac-12. As a result, the ‘Cats hosted a NCAA tournament game for the first time in school history, and they won.
This fall, the ‘Cats are returning seven of their starters and have a top 15 recruiting class to complement the existing core. The trajectory of the program continues to elevate, and this season could reaffirm to the rest of college soccer that the ‘Cats belong in the national picture.
Despite last season’s success story, head coach Tony Amato is wiping the slate clean for a new year.
“Our goal this season is not to settle or be happy with last season,” Amato told AZ Desert Swarm. “We’ve heard so much, like, ‘You’ve won the most games in the Pac,’ and ‘You made it to the NCAA tournament and you hosted and you won a game,’ and we’ve got to make sure that we put last season behind us.”
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Reminiscing about the prior season won’t be an issue for the 11 incoming freshmen that Amato recruited; the freshman class makes up 40% of the roster. Even with seven returning starters and a talented recruiting class, last year’s seniors scored nine of the ‘Cats’ 25 goals and recorded 11 of their 23 assists.
The concern of UA’s graduated offensive firepower is shown in the recruiting class that Amato is bringing in. Four of the 11 freshmen are listed as forwards, including Emily Knous.
Knous graduated high school last winter in order to attend Arizona for the spring semester and play in the spring season. In the three of the five games from the spring season, Knous started in all three, was listed as a forward and took some of UA’s of the corner kicks. Assuming she begins the year as a starter, Knous will make an immediate impact as a freshman.
Other newcomers that could be poised to make an impact are defender Hallie Pearson, the fourth ranked player out of Indiana according to MaxPreps and U18 US international, and midfielder Gabe Jillings who represented the province of British Columbia at the 2017 Canada Games.
Forward Amanda Porter could play the number nine center forward role that Charlotte Brascia played and excelled in last season. Hannah Clifford could also see time at that position. Redshirt freshman Hailey Clifford missed last season with a torn ACL, and should compete with Leah Carillo to replace the graduated Brandi Park, who started all but two games last season.
The rest of the starting eleven will stay the same. Lainey Burdett will continue to be a wall in front of goal for the ‘Cats. Burdett was named a top-10 goalkeeper in the country by Top Drawer Soccer.
Sabrina Enciso will continue to play left back. Samantha Falasco will play half of the center back pairing, while the other half hasn’t been announced yet. 2017 All-Pac-12 Second-Teamer Morgan McGarry will hold down the right back spot.
In the midfield, the left mid spot has been vacated by Cali Crisler, and her replacement hasn’t been announced. Kennedy Kieneker will keep her holding number six midfield spot, while her center midfield partner hasn’t been announced by Amato. Kelsey Cavarra will play on the right side of the midfield.
Up top, holding center forward Charlotte Brascia is now playing for Skovde KIK, so it will be seen who her replacement is. Finally, Jill Aguilera will start as the number eleven striker.
The Wildcats had a clear team identity last year. They pressed high and hard with their wings and forwards and forced tons of turnovers in their opponent’s half and in the middle third. Afterwards, they were able to find Kieneker, who’d start the attack. Against more talented teams, the ‘Cats would sit back, dropping Kieneker even farther into their own half, and playing on the counterattack. The Wildcats have the pieces to do that this year, and head coach Tony Amato has established that this is how he wants his teams to play.
The ‘Cats have the ability and opportunity to continue their recent trend of success and cement their place on the national stage this year.
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