Tobias faces former team to start Pac-10 play

Arizona defender Kaity Heath runs down a ball in a 1-0 loss to San Diego State on Sept. 30 in Murphy Stadium. The Wildcats are riding a 225-minute scoring drought heading into tonights Pac-10 opener against Washington State.

Arizona defender Kaity Heath runs down a ball in a 1-0 loss to San Diego State on Sept. 30 in Murphy Stadium. The Wildcats are riding a 225-minute scoring drought heading into tonight’s Pac-10 opener against Washington State.

Bobby Stover

The Arizona soccer team will begin the most difficult half of its season when it opens the Pacific 10 Conference season at home this weekend.

While tonight’s conference opener could determine how Arizona will perform for the rest of the season, the primetime showdown carries extra significance for UA head coach Dan Tobias, as six years ago he was the coach of Washington State.

“”I have great memories of my time (at WSU),”” Tobias said. “”I met my wife there. I also got to coach a lot of great student-athletes there.

“”Washington State will always be a special place to me.””

The Wildcats (5-6-0) face WSU (7-1-2) tonight at 7 and Washington (3-7-0) on Sunday afternoon at Murphey Stadium.

Tobias did not waste his time while in Pullman, as he managed to move himself into second among the program’s winningest coaches in just five years. Tobias also led the Cougars to two NCAA tournament appearances in 2000 and 2002, earning himself the Pac-10 Coach of the Year award in ’02.

Even though five years have passed since Tobias roamed the sideline for the Cougars, he said he still expects to see some familiar faces in attendance tonight.

“”There are some players I helped recruit near the end of my tenure that ended up going there,”” he said. “”They’re good student-athletes and good people, so it will be nice to see them.””

Since coming to Arizona in 2003, Tobias has not lowered his expectations and his results speak for themselves. In only his second season in Tucson, Tobias led the Wildcats to their first NCAA Tournament appearance while raking in his second Pac-10 Coach of the Year award.

By last year, Tobias had cemented himself in the record books by becoming the most victorious coach in Arizona soccer’s short history.

“”I think a lot of the goals I had when I came here have been set in motion,”” Tobias said. “”The program is not well established, we’re a tournament quality team every year, and I like the position we are in this season heading into conference play.””

While Tobias’ résumé speaks for itself, his players also attest to his abilities and effectiveness as a coach.

Forward Sam Drees said Tobias is special in his instincts to know just how hard to push his players.

“”Dan is the type of person that wants us to be the best players we can be,”” she said. “”For instance, while he might not push everyone really hard, he pushes me because he knows that I should be playing better than I have been.

“”I feel that style brings a lot to the team.””

The Wildcats will need some of Tobias’ magic this weekend as they face the possibility of dropping seven of their last eight if they cannot break the current 225-minute scoring drought the team currently bears.

Over the past six games – in which Arizona has been shutout five times – the team insists the solution lies in its ability to finish. But that has proven to be easier said than done.

“”I tend to think about scoring too much when I’m out there and I feel like I have a lot of pressure on me, and I think a lot of the other players are like that as well,”” Drees said. “”We just need to not worry about who’s scoring and make sure it gets in the back of the net no matter how ugly or pretty it is.””

This task grows ever more difficult as Arizona now has jumpstarted its offense against the tough Pac-10 conference. In the eyes of the Wildcat players, however, tonight is the start of a new season, which they hope will lead them to the NCAA tournament in November.

“”Right now we’re 0-0,”” goalkeeper Danielle Nicolai said. “”Our record doesn’t matter anymore. Now we’re just focused on doing well in the Pac-10.””