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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona soccer: Young Wildcats defeat NAU in exhibition, still a work in progress

Zi Yang Lai

Arizona women’s soccer head coach Tony Amato pumps up the team before a game against Pepperdine in September 2015. The Wildcats defeated NAU 1-0 in their final tune-up on Friday, August 12, before the 2016 regular season begins.

The Arizona soccer team took the field at Mulcahy Stadium Friday night for an exhibition game against Northern Arizona in what was the Wildcats’ final tune-up before their season-opener at Pepperdine on Aug. 19.

The UA outshot NAU 19-4 and won 1-0, with junior forward Charlotte Brascia scoring the game’s only goal in the 74th minute.

“We wanted to make sure we won the game and to see where some players were and I think we got that out of tonight,” Arizona head coach Tony Amato said.

He’s not kidding.

More than 20 different Wildcats saw the field — 19 in the first half alone — and the constant shuffling of lineups by both sides led to a game that looked like, well, exactly what it was — an exhibition game.

“It was pretty challenging,” Amato said. “And the young, new players, you don’t know how they’re going to be in a game situation. They did some things in training and [you wonder]…’Is it going to look like that in the game?’”

The Wildcats added 11 freshmen to their roster this offseason, plus lost key senior leadership, leading Amato to experiment with more players, rotations and formations than usual.

“We’re definitely a young team,” Brascia said. “We had Sheaffer Skadsen, Hayley Estopare, and all those girls as leaders who really took hold of everything we did on the field and off the field. So now it’s the other girls that are trying to replace them. We’re trying to improve on that.”

Arizona’s defense is especially young.

Senior defender Laura Pimienta, who is seemingly in line to replace Skadsen as the defense’s leader, sat out Friday’s game with an injury, while two freshmen – Brynn Moga and Samantha Falasco — started.

“Communication is key at this point,” said sophomore goalkeeper Lainey Burdett, who has been helping keep the defense in order. “Because they don’t know exactly how things have to go so I’m having to organize and make sure that they’re on top of everything.”

With inexperience comes an increased chance of mistakes being made on the field, which is why Amato felt he needed to divvy up the playing time as much as possible against NAU.

“Some [players] have to touch the hot stove before they know that it’s hot even after you tell them,” Amato said. “And that can happen with a young player, so we’re hoping they can figure it out without having to touch the stove because that could mean a loss.”

There was no loss against NAU and Amato came away generally impressed with the team’s freshmen, but there’s still plenty to work on before the games start to count.

“We have to fine tune some individual roles,” Amato said. “It’ll be really important for us to make sure that each person knows their role going into the first real game, knowing what the expectation is, and how they can get there and execute against Pepperdine.”

So what is the expectation?

Well, according to the NSCAA Preseason Poll, the UA is a top-20 team, and a team that was also selected by coaches to finish fifth in the usually-daunting Pac-12 Conference.

Simply, the Wildcats — who are coming off a Sweet Sixteen appearance — are expected to big things once again in 2016.

“I think outside the team maybe people look at that as it could be added pressure, but we don’t really pay much attention to it,” Amato said of the preseason ranking. “We know if we don’t work we won’t finish 20 at the end of the year.”

The Wildcats may not pay attention to preseason rankings, but they certainly have expectations of their own.

“[Amato] still expects the same from what we did last year to now,” Brascia said. “He still expects us to reach the Sweet Sixteen.”

Even though Arizona beat NAU, the Wildcats appear to be relatively far from the Sweet Sixteen-caliber team they expect to be by season’s end.

But luckily for them, they have more than enough time to make the transformation.

“It didn’t go as we had hoped it would go,” Burdett said. “But we can definitely get better.”

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter

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