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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona soccer preps for rematch in NCAA Tournament against No. 12 Santa Clara

Alex McIntyre

Arizona midfielder Gabi Stoian (9) defends the ball from two Stanford opponents on Oct. 4. Stoian has missed four games because of injury but returned to practice ahead of the Wildcats’ second round NCAA Tournament game this week.

Arizona women’s soccer advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament after defeating Northern Colorado 2-0 last week at Murphey Field at Mulcahy Soccer Stadium.

The Wildcats had never faced Northern Colorado before, but they will be facing a team they’re quite familiar with in the second round—No. 12 Santa Clara—and they’ll be doing it with some added help.

The Wildcats’ leading scorer Gabi Stoian practiced fully Tuesday and is expected to play, barring a last-minute setback, Amato said. She has missed the team’s last four games with a quad injury .

Arizona (13-5-2, 6-4-1 Pac-12 Conference) faced off against Santa Clara (14-5-2, 6-1-2 West Coast Conference) in August, when the Wildcats came away with a 2-1 win at home. It was a surprising loss for Santa Clara, given its storied soccer tradition.

“We didn’t let the history of Santa Clara—that [it has] won a lot of games over the past 29 years that Jerry [Smith] has been the coach—bother us,” Arizona head coach Tony Amato said. “And we were able to compete and believe and work hard, and I thought that made it so that we put them under some pressure when we were able to get the ball into their area of the field.”

Santa Clara scored early in that meeting, but Stoian countered to tie it before halftime. Cece Bilginer then scored the game-winning goal for Arizona in the 68th minute. Not only did the Wildcats win, but they also outshot Santa Clara 15-9.

“We’re going to have to do that again,” Amato said.

That will be easier said than done, however.

“It’s a totally different game,” Amato said. “It’s the NCAA Tournament. It’s a different situation. We played the first weekend of the season, we played at our place and both teams were still trying to find their way a little bit.”

Not only did the Broncos find their way, as they won the West Coast Conference and beat Long Beach State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, they will be the ones with a home-field advantage this time.

The game is technically located at a “neutral” site, but with Santa Clara being just a short car ride from its location in Palo Alto, California, it’s a virtual home game for the Broncos.

Still, the Wildcats are confident they can beat Santa Clara for a second time.

“I expect that it’s going to be a really hard game because they’re a very good team,” Arizona midfielder Jaden DeGracie said. “But we beat them early in the season and we can do it again. We know that we can battle with them when we play our best.”

Arizona will have something else going for it too.

Despite missing four games, Stoian leads the team in goals scored (6), assists (8), shots taken (56) and shots on goal (24). One of those goals was against this same Santa Clara team. The Wildcats have a better chance of advancing to the Sweet Sixteen with Stoian in the lineup, and it would be just the second time in program history to do so.

“It’s just super exciting,” DeGracie said. “You just can’t not be excited to be in the NCAA Tournament, and it just shows that all the hard work we put in on and off the field and in the weight room is all coming together. This is the moment we play for.”

The match will kickoff on Thursday at 5:30 p.m at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium. Follow @ArizonaWSoccer for live updates throughout the game. The winner will play on Nov. 27 against the victor of the Stanford vs. BYU game.

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter.

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