The final home game for the winningest senior class in Arizona soccer history was about to come to an end one way or another.
100 minutes had gone by, and the Wildcats were deadlocked in a 1-1 tie with No. 18 Cal in the 90-degree October Tucson heat.
“This is it, there is no third overtime,” Arizona head coach Tony Amato told his players before the final 10-minute period. “Put your heart into it.”
Eight minutes and 38 seconds later, the Wildcats were celebrating a 2-1 Senior Day victory, with junior midfielder Cali Crisler positioned at the bottom of a towering dog-pile.
“I got taken down and I was getting crunched,” Crisler said. “It was a great win and very exciting for the seniors for their last home game.”
In the 109th minute, a pair of flick-ons by midfielders Kelcey Cavarra and Gabi Stoian pushed the ball into the right side of Cal’s box, where Arizona senior forward Paige Crouch ran forward to collect it.
With the goalkeeper approaching her head on, and a trio of Golden Bear defenders—two from her left and one from behind—quickly closing, Crouch had to make a last-ditch effort with the ball.
“The last moment I remember ... I hit it at the keeper probably as hard as I could,” Crouch said. “And it rebounded [off the keeper].”
The rebound trickled to the front of the goal where a Cal defender—without picking her head up—laced the ball away from the net.
But she didn’t spot Crisler, who was crashing toward the goal, and the clearance deflected off the Arizona midfielder and in for the Wildcats’ game-winner.
“It wasn’t the prettiest goal,” Crisler said, “but I knew I had to get my body on it someway to deflect it in.”
“It feels like a national championship,” said Crouch, who immediately rushed to hug Crisler after the goal. “It just means the world because it’s our last home game for seniors and we’ve been on a losing streak. So for us to beat Cal, who is a phenomenal team, is just amazing.”
The Wildcats had lost four of their last five games heading into Sunday.
“This game was especially important because this was our last home game and we haven’t had the best run,” senior midfielder Jaden DeGracie-Bailey said. “So we wanted to go out fighting and on a high note, which we did.”
The Wildcats grabbed an early 1-0 lead when Stoian launched a shot from atop the 18-yard box into the left side of the net in just the second minute of the game.
The upset of the 18th-ranked Golden Bears was quickly brewing.
“After we saw Gabi score, we were like, ‘Oh, wow, we can do this,’” Crisler said. “[Emily Boyd] is a great goalie, but we knew we were going to get chances and we could score on her.”
Arizona saw plenty of chances—tallying 30 shots on the day—but Boyd made 12 saves and kept the Wildcats without another goal through the rest of regulation.
The Golden Bears only mustered nine shots in the game, but managed to tie the match on a penalty kick in the 30th minute. The Wildcats were dominating the game, tripling the Golden Bears in shots taken, but the scoreboard didn't reflect it.
“It would have been easy today to tie or lose that game and say, ‘Well, you worked hard,’ but to work hard and get the result is really the important thing,” Amato said.
Fittingly, the senior class that has won more games than any other in program history was able to get the result, tallying one last victory at Murphey Field at Mulcahy Soccer Stadium with Crisler’s late-game heroics.
“I’m just so relieved and happy that this is how it ended,” DeGracie-Bailey said.
“I wouldn’t want it to end with any other girls or any other way.”
But the end isn’t here just yet. The Wildcats still have a rivalry game against ASU on their schedule Friday at 3 p.m. So, even though Senior Day has passed and Arizona—with an 8-9-1 overall record and a 3-8 Pac-12 Conference record—is unlikely to reach the NCAA Tournament, there’s still plenty left to accomplish.
“We talked all week about recognizing the seniors before the game as if this was their last game, but their job’s not done,” Amato said. “I didn’t want them to just hang their hat on what they’ve done for the past three years, they also have to leave on a good note, and leave the program in a good state and that means a win today and a win on Friday.”
One down, one more to go.
“It was a relief and it was exciting all at once,” Amato said of Sunday’s Senior Day victory. “It’s definitely a great way for them to wrap up their home schedule.”
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