The pregame message was simple.
“Everybody has to play with positive energy,” Arizona head coach Tony Amato told his team before it took the field. “I’ll coach the rest but I won’t coach that.”
Seven minutes later, the Wildcats trailed UTEP 1-0.
The Miners converted on a set-piece. Arizona started with the “opposite” of positive energy.
“We talked about the positive energy and the effort and defending a set-piece comes down to those things,” Amato said. “You gotta be organized, you gotta have effort, and I thought we had a lapse in concentration there and the girl was wide open and she did well to score it.
“It was a little bit of a wake-up call.”
A wake-up call the Wildcats answered, responding with two first-half goals of their own to beat the Miners 2-1 on Saturday afternoon at Mulcahy Stadium.
“I thought we did a good job of responding to that ... and I thought [we] controlled a lot of the tempo from that point on,” Amato said of UTEP’s goal.
Kelcey Cavarra scored the equalizer for the Wildcats, roofing the UTEP keeper with a shot from 18 yards out just four minutes after UTEP took the lead.
“I was actually trying to serve it, but it worked that there was a shot,” she said. “I was trying to beat [the keeper] down the line and it went in.”
While the goal won’t count in the record books, the experience will.
“I keep getting touches on the field against different teams and building confidence,” said Cavarra, who will be a sophomore in the fall. “And I think for our whole team, [we’re] getting our chemistry set before we take on [the] fall [season].”
That chemistry was on display two minutes later when Cali Crisler scored from roughly the same spot on a play the Wildcats designed in practice on Friday.
Crisler lined up to take a corner kick, but tapped the ball to nearby Gabi Stoian, then overlapped with Stoian, who shifted the ball back to Crisler.
Crisler then lined a shot into the top left corner of the net.
“The same exact thing happened in practice,” Crisler said.
Amato said there’s a lesson to be learned from that.
“She was able to replicate that today and we’ll talk about that this week about why practice is important and training is everything to us,” he said.
Arizona finished with a 24-1 edge in shots taken, an improved performance compared to its 1-0 win against GCU a few weeks back — well, depending on who you ask.
“In the first game, we didn’t have as much of an attack,” Crisler said. “One person would be attacking and everyone else would be watching and I think this game we did a little better job of that.”
Meanwhile, Amato felt Saturday’s win felt more like a Sunday game.
“A lot of times the Thursday or the Friday games are a little sharper and a little better,” Amato said. “And I would say that first game we had in the spring, we were a little sharper, had a little more pop in our legs than we did today, and that would be the key difference.”
The Wildcats having heavy legs on Saturday wasn’t exactly a surprise. For one, they are coming off spring break and, two, UTEP and Arizona played with 10 players instead of 11 because of the Miners’ short bench.
“There’s a lot more ground to cover and you’re changing the dynamic,” Cavarra said. “That’s one less person, so we’re all compensating for the space. But I thought we made it work.”
The teams also played 30-minute halves instead of the usual 45-minute halves, and they compensated for the missed time by adding a round of penalty kicks at the end of regulation.
Arizona outpaced UTEP 4-3.
“I mean it’s not to win the national championship or to advance in the NCAA Tournament or anything, but it’s hard to replicate pressure situations at practice,” Amato said. “It felt like there was a little pressure and [we] really see who has the mentality in pressure situations to step up and score or make the save.”
Crisler, Stoian, Cavarra and Charlotte Brascia scored for the Wildcats while Lainey Burdett made two key saves.
“It’s different when you do it at practice against your own teammates than when you’re doing it against another team with refs and the crowd,” Cavarra said.
The Wildcats (2-0-0) will continue their spring season on April 15 against NAU in Phoenix.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire