The Arizona Wildcats are confident in their abilities going into Friday night’s first round of the NCAA Tournament against the Denver Pioneers.
The Wildcats (12-5-2) will host Denver (13-5-2) at 7 p.m. Friday, with hopes of maximizing their time in the postseason. Arizona is 9-1-2 at home, where it will welcome a Denver squad that is 5-4 on the road this year.
Arizona is proving to be stiff competition, as four Wildcats earned All-Pac-12 honors Tuesday. Midfielder Amanda Porter, goalkeeper Lainey Burdett and forward Jada Talley each made All-Pac-12 third team. Midfielder Emily Knous made the All-Freshman team.
Denver brings it owns challenge with four players on the Summit League first team and four on the second team — both tied for most in the conference. Standouts for the Pioneers include forward Samantha Feller, who was named her league’s Freshman of the Year, midfielders Hannah Adler and Meg Halvorson and defender Cheyenne Shorts.
“We didn’t know all the details — who we’d get matched up against or would we host — but I felt pretty comfortable and that’s really different over the years,” Arizona coach Tony Amato said. “There were a lot of doubts and now it feels like we’ve been pretty consistent with (making the tournament). We’ll do our best to find a way to win on Friday and advance.”
Arizona has hosted an opening-round game in the NCAA Tournament in three of the last four seasons. The Wildcats won their previous two postseason home games in the first round, against TCU last season and Northern Colorado in 2015.
This will mark Denver’s 11th trip to the tournament. This season’s Summit League Coach of the Year Jeff Hooker has guided the team for 27 seasons.
“(It’s) a really good program,” Amato said. “Jeff does an unbelievable job there. We played them two years ago up in the Tempe tournament — that was the last time we saw them.”
Burdett has played in three NCAA Tournaments, so this weekend’s game won’t be new territory for her, either.
“Making sure we’re focused on what the end goal is and making sure everything is right technique-wise,” Burdett said. “Just being mentally prepared to be up for a fight.”
The Wildcats beat Denver 3-0 in that Sun Devil Desert Classic meeting in 2016. The teams this year are comparable in accolades and overall record, so it should be an interesting night at Mulcahy Soccer Stadium.
The winner will advance to play either second-seeded Tennessee or Louisville in the second round on Nov. 15.