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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

UA soccer makes postseason for first time in nine years

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Rebecca Marie Sasnett

Arizona soccer head coach Tony Amato runs off the field at the beginning of halftime during Arizona’s 1-1 tie in double overtime against California on Oct. 26 at Murphey Field at Mulcahy Soccer Stadium. Arizona soccer finally earned an NCAA Tournament berth after a nine-year absence.

On Monday afternoon, the Arizona soccer team gathered in the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility and waited patiently for its fate to be decided. It was out of its hands at that point; only a selection committee of America’s finest, a mostly stacked resume and perhaps divine intervention could save the Wildcats and put them in the NCAA Tournament.

At approximately 2:30 p.m. MST, various teams across the country started appearing on the live stream that was announcing who was in and who was out of the field of 64.

Then, it finally happened.

After nine long years, Arizona soccer was back in the postseason.

If you ask second-year head coach Tony Amato, the wait was no sweat.

Well, maybe a little.

“I was a little anxious,” Amato said. “Until your name pops up there, you’re going to be a little anxious. We weren’t nervous because we felt like we had done enough in the course of the season in terms of results versus top-40 opponents, and our RPI was at 40, so we felt pretty comfortable.”

Amato had every right to feel comfortable about his team’s chances considering the schedule the Wildcats played and the success they had. While their final record might not have been eye-popping at 10-7-2 overall and 4-6-1 in Pac-12 Conference play, the Wildcats played in what was likely the toughest conference in the country, with a ridiculous nine teams from the Pac-12 making the field of 64 in the NCAA Tournament. In the non-conference portion of its schedule, Arizona held its own as well with a tie against Texas A&M and a 3-1 victory over Oklahoma State, which just happens to be the Wildcats’ first-round opponent on Friday.

For the seniors on this year’s team, making the postseason for the first time in their Wildcat careers has made the struggles of past seasons worthwhile.

“The transition from a few years ago to now is just unbelievable,” UA senior goalkeeper Gabby Kaufman said. “I think all of us are so honored to be a part of this program, and Tony always talks about building a legacy, and I think we are doing that.”

Kaufman began her career at Texas Tech before transferring to Arizona after a few seasons, just as fellow senior and starting forward Ali Doller spent the first few years of her career at ASU and Paradise Valley Community College before arriving in Tucson. For Doller, an All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention member this season, landing at Arizona and helping reconstruct the program was the right choice for her.

“I feel very lucky,” Doller said. “I’m happy that I made the decision to come here and be a part of Tony’s rebuilding of a program. It just feels great to be a part of something like this and know that it’s not where you start but where you end.”

Since Amato was hired before the 2013 season, he has preached the idea that his team doesn’t set specific goals, but rather, he wants every game they play to be the most important of the season.

After Monday’s announcement that the Wildcats are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005, the message has clearly been received.

“When we got here, we put our head down and got to work,” Amato said. “The girls bought in and worked really hard to get to this point and got some great results. Now, we have a tangible reward for all that hard work, and when you see that and are able to go play in a great event like this, you can’t help but be happy and excited for the achievement.”

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Follow Brian Peel on Twitter.

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