The Arizona soccer team made history in its final two home games on the familiar grass of Murphey Field.
By beating defending national champion Stanford for the first time since 2005 and then edging Cal, Arizona swept the Bay Area schools for the first time in program history. The Wildcats will hit the road for their final three games of the regular season, with a ticket to the NCAA Tournament hanging in the balance.
The season’s final stretch starts Friday, when the Wildcats (8-4 overall 3-4 Pac-12) take on Colorado in Boulder. They’ll play at Utah on Sunday before finishing their season at ASU on April 16.
Senior forward Jada Talley, who had two assists in Arizona’s 2-1 win over Stanford, said the Wildcats are ready to make a playoff push.
“Making the tournament is always the end goal,” she said. “The Sweet 16 is what we are after now.”
With the points system more complicated than ever in 2021, coach Tony Amato said the focus is on winning the season’s final three games. By doing so, the Wildcats can finish 11-4 overall and 6-4 in league play and make a compelling case to qualify for the national tournament for the fourth straight year. The weekend sweep of Stanford and then Cal kept them fiercely in the fight.
Arizona’s push is more impressive given its roster contains 13 freshmen. Integrating that many new players can be challenging, especially in 2021. The Wildcats are growing close at the most critical point of the season.
“Right now in the season, I feel like we are playing together more as a team,” senior defender Sabrina Enciso said. “In the beginning of the season, we were very disconnected just because we do have a lot of newcomers, and we do have a lot of new players on the field. I think that we all know how we play a little more, and we know how to play with each other a little more.
“We know our strengths and our weaknesses, and we have been able to grow as a team.”
Strong leadership by the seniors, including Talley and Enciso, has been the foundation of this season. The veterans’ communication adds a vocal element to the team’s structure, giving them assistant coaches all over the pitch. Without these seniors, Amato said, the season could’ve taken a very different path.
“You can have 13 freshmen as long as you have good seniors,” he said. “If they were not dialed in and not good people and selfish, this season would be flipped. We would be 4-8 versus 8-4 and not talking about if we win some games down the stretch and being in the playoffs.”
The three consecutive road games will test the Wildcats’ resilience.
Sleeping in a different bed, eating different food, changing altitude, and traveling on planes and then buses won’t make anything easier. But the Wildcats have beaten the defending national champions; they knows all they need is a chance to win it all.
“I want to go to the tournament,” Enciso said. “Every year that I have been here, we’ve been to every tournament, we have made it to the tournament every single year. This time around, I don’t care whether or not it’s a COVID season, it’s a season and I want to make the tournament.”
Talley added that the team knows what has to be done on the field.
“You know how to do everything you just need to do it now,” she said. “It’s just effort at that point, and that’s one thing you can always control.”