Arizona soccer hosts Denver in first round of NCAA Tournament
Arizona women's soccer player Kennedy Kieneker (12) guards a Huskie opponent from the ball in the Arizona-Washington game at Murphy Stadium on Thursday, October 18, 2018, in Tucson, AZ. The Wildcats won the game 1-0 in double overtime.
The stage is set for the University of Arizona and the other 63 teams that will partake in the 2018 NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Tournament as the official playoff bracket was released on Monday.
For the second consecutive year, the Wildcats will have the luxury of playing host to a visiting team in the first round, and this time they will be welcoming a familiar face – Denver University.
The last time these two teams met on the pitch was in Tempe Sept. 2, 2016. Arizona was victorious that night as they shut out the Pioneers 3-0.
Arizona finished .500 that year with a 9-9-1 record. Fast-forward two years, and the ‘Cats have vastly improved, finishing the 2018 season 12-5-2.
“The program is a really good program,” head coach Tony Amato said of Denver. “Jeff [Hooker] does an unbelievable job there. They typically play Pac-12 teams really tight, and it will be a tough game that we will have to get ready for.”
Amato’s message to his team on Monday, and more so to his younger players, was to seize the moment. This is Amato’s sixth year as head coach, and he has managed to get the Wildcats into the tournament in five out of his six seasons.
“I think we have come really far,” Amato said. “There were a lot of doubts five years ago, six years ago when we got here can we make the tournament? And now it feels like we have been pretty consistent with it.”
Senior Kelcey Cavarra reflected back on last year’s tournament and how it can be used as a learning experience.
“Knowing how much is on the line and being a year older really has given me an advantage just to see how important and how special this really is,” Cavarra said.
Like Cavarra, senior teammate Lainey Burdett also sees last year as a teaching moment for her and her teammates.
“We have been in this position before and we know what needs to be done in order to move on in the tournament,” Burdett said.
Should Arizona get past the first round, they will go head-to-head against the winner of No. 2 Tennessee or Louisville. Tennessee finished 13-2-3, while Louisville capped their regular season off at 12-6.
Some other intriguing matches that the ‘Cats will be keeping an eye on will be ones from familiar in-conference foes like No. 1 Stanford, No. 2 UCLA and No. 4 USC.
The Cardinal welcomes Seattle as their first-round opponent, while the Bruins host San Jose State and USC goes up against Long Beach State.
No set time or date has been placed as of yet, but Amato said he expects his Wildcats to play this weekend and looks forward to seeing the overall fan turnout.
“We have a great soccer base in Tucson that comes out and supports us, and let’s spread the word, because we will need them on Friday,” Amato said. “They have done excellent for us this year, and this is going to be no different.”
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