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Head coach Amato helps Arizona Wildcats soccer's development

Arizona’s senior midfielder Jazmin Ponce had one word to describe new head coach Tony Amato’s coaching style: “Perfect.”

As the Wildcats won their final two spring soccer games last Sunday, pushing their record to 3-0-1, the change to Amato has Arizona’s future looking brighter. Arizona has won just seven games (7-27-5) in its past two seasons, but for Amato, the most positive sign of the spring was the goose egg in the loss column.

“We didn’t lose any games,” he said. “The team developed and kind of got used to me and I got used to them and a new approach. To not lose any games, we felt that was a huge step in their development.”

Amato, a two-time Southland Conference Soccer Coach of the Year winner, brought two assistants from his former school, Stephen F. Austin, to Tucson as well. Senior goalkeeper Gabby Kaufman said the players’ growth this spring season is a result of the entirely new coaching staff.

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“In order to have a successful team you need to have a successful coaching staff, and our coaching staff is great,” Kaufman said. “We just have so much fun and everyone gets along so well. It’s a huge difference from what we had before.”

Ponce, a Pac-12 All-Conference First Team selection last season, had similar thoughts on the difference between this season and last.

“We had no motivation to keep us going,” she said.

“Girls were just there because it’s like a job for us. Now everyone wants to play, everyone wants to be here and it depends on the coaching staff. The way Tony [Amato] talks to us is way different than the way Lisa [Oyen] would talk to us. He explains how everything is going to work and that’s how it always should have been.”

When Amato came to Arizona, he said he was aware of the underdog reputation the Wildcat team has had in the Pac-12 conference. He added, though, that the reputation could soon be erased.

“I definitely think we’ve made steps in the right direction,” said Amato. “I’m excited about the fall. I think we will surprise some teams that traditionally, over the last few years, have probably looked at us and thought, ‘Oh, we don’t have to give our best effort to beat Arizona.’”

In addition to a new coach, the team’s successful spring season adds even more motivation. Weekly practice and conditioning drills aren’t wasted effort, and the players said they are improving quickly.

“When Tony [Amato] first started coaching us in the spring, the first thing he said is, ‘If you have a successful spring you’re going to have a successful fall,’ and I trust his word completely,” said Kaufman. “Everybody’s game has improved so much, we’re working as a team and there’s a new attitude that we all have. I have a very strong feeling that things are about to change for us.”

While on-field success is still a ways off, Ponce said the change has already begun.

“He tells me how to play my position and it’s way easier now,” Ponce said. “He made me understand my position more this year than the past few years I’ve been playing.”

A big part of Amato’s coaching style deals with studying the game. He said watching soccer is just as essential as playing to learn and improve a team’s game. With the recent rut the Arizona soccer program has been stuck in, any type of change has the potential for improvement.

“He really makes us better players on and off the field,” Kaufman said. “Everything we’ve done, between core values to fitness testing, he’s always behind us, pushing us. I think everybody’s passion is back. Everyone has a chip on their shoulder and is ready to prove people wrong.”


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UA COVID-19 Test Tracker

Daily (12/4)
744 14 1.9%
Total (8/2)
64,794 1,040 1.6%
Includes tests since August 2, 2021
Data from https://covid19.arizona.edu/updates
Updated December 5, 2021