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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Men’s club soccer prepares for its postseason run

    Finishing undefeated after its regular season, ranking first in its division and adding a major invitational win to its trophy case, this year’s Arizona men’s club soccer team has the appearance of a team of destiny.

    But don’t call them that, at least not when head coach David Hunter’s around.

    “”Team of destiny? Don’t print that,”” he said. “”That’s such bad luck.””

    Hunter is careful not to let his squad become enamored with its success. With the regional tournament coming up Oct. 27-29 at the Rincon Vista Complex, and a probable bid to the national championships in Tempe this November, the need for focus is greater than ever.

    “”Although I do have visions of grandeur, taking your eyes off the ball will end those quickly,”” Hunter said. “”We are undefeated, and that’s great, but that all ends with one mistake.””

    Team president and senior defender Ryan Ward agreed with him.

    “”One of our best teams went to Austin and went home after three losses,”” Ward said, referring to his team’s early exit from last year’s national championships.

    Hunter adopted a first-things-first attitude toward coaching the team through its upcoming challenges.

    “”My concern is the very first minute in our next game, because if I win that minute, then the next minute is available to me,”” Hunter said.

    If any team can pull off the minute-to-minute consistency expected by Hunter, it could be this one.

    This is not a team of destiny; it’s a team of consistency. Destiny alone can’t carry a team to a 10-0-2 record; fate finds little to do with a defense that allows less than one goal per game.

    If its regular season is any indication, this team is firmly in control of its postseason destiny. Besides its stellar record, Arizona has already prevailed in a pressure-packed tournament situation once this year with a victory in the San Diego Collegiate Invitational in September, an achievement that will, at the very least, help to assure a wildcard bid to compete for the national championship.

    Facing, among others, a collection of difficult and unfamiliar California squads, Arizona advanced through five games in 48 hours and faced its most difficult test of the year in a championship game against rival ASU. The Sun Devils jumped out to a 1-0 lead before halftime, and the Wildcats needed a two-goal rally in the final 20 minutes of the game to win the tournament.

    Senior defender Richard Hobson described the victory as “”the highlight of any of our careers.””

    The highlight, that is, unless the Wildcats charge on to a national championship.

    Senior defender Brian Lacher said he likes the Wildcats’ chances.

    “”This is definitely the year. … We’re probably a favorite right now,”” Lacher said. “”A favorite, not the favorite.””

    Indeed, the feeling that something special is happening pervades the team, which has been consistently good since its inception in 1972, compiling an impressive 138-23-11 record over the past 10 years.

    “”This group of boys is probably one of the most dedicated groups I’ve seen.”” Hunter said.

    Hunter would know, because he’s been familiar with Arizona soccer since he first came to Arizona as a player 18 years ago.

    He’s also intimately familiar with the challenges that club programs face, which are often greater than the tests players face on the field.

    Even a suitable playing space is not guaranteed. Hunter often provides corner flags, repairs goal nets and even lines the Wildcats’ own field at Rincon Vista in order to play the game the right way.

    “”We conform to rules that are almost the exact same as the NCAA, just we get no money,”” Hunter said. “”That’s a constant challenge, and we overcome it.””

    Nevertheless, while Hunter admits he cannot offer players a true D-I experience, he takes pride in the fact that his championship-caliber team still offers one of the premier soccer experiences in the Western United States. Arizona features a number of players who Hunter said very well could have played at that level if there was an opportunity for them.

    The result is a very high level of play, which Hunter described as close to D-I and as good as or better than D-II and D-III, as well as junior college teams.

    “”All the teams in nationals are basically Division I quality,”” Hunter said, “”and we expect to be competitive. We’ve always been competitive.””

    Despite the challenges, Hunter said he loves both his job and his team’s chances as they head into the postseason.

    “”The stars are aligned for us to be successful,”” he said. “”I feel fortunate to have the space of field, to have it be ours and to keep soccer alive at the University of Arizona. I feel blessed every single day. … I feel if I were an artist, I couldn’t have a better palette.””

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