PHOENIX — Arizona soccer began its spring season the same way its regular season ended — with a 1-0 win against a school from up north.
This time, the Wildcats beat GCU — not ASU — with freshman Zoe Barrie scoring the match’s lone goal in the 84th minute at GCU Stadium.
Barrie, who collected a loose ball inside the six-yard box and knocked it past GCU’s keeper, only played in two games as a freshman in the fall.
“That’s what the spring is about,” head coach Tony Amato said after the game, “to see if those players can step up and elevate and get better.”
There were no official stats from the match, but juniors Gabi Stoian, Charlotte Brascia, and Cali Crisler notched a fair share of scoring chances and sophomore Kennedy Kieneker nearly scored in the first half on a free kick.
“They’re good players. That’s where it all starts, and they know what it takes,” Amato said of the soon-to-be seniors and their leadership skills. “They’ve been to the NCAA Tournament a couple times and they know they have to play well first and set the example that way and I think they do a good job of that.”
Sophomore goalkeeper Lainey Burdett played the first half, while freshman Meredith Reinhardt took over in net for the second half.
Reinhardt made a diving save in the 68th minute to keep GCU off the board.
“You gotta give credit to Grand Canyon,” Amato said. “Those girls fought hard, they battled, they played tough, they made it difficult and we found a way to get the goal. I felt good obviously about the result. We’ll have to watch the video to get a handle on exactly what the positives were, what we need to work on, and how we need to keep improving.”
Amato says the goal this spring is for the players and team to develop, as well as to find an identity for this group.
“The No. 1 thing is finding out what is going to be our go-to identity,” he said. “What are we going to be good at and then have them be really, really awesome at that and that’s what we’re trying to figure out.”
One thing that will not be part of the Wildcats’ identity is their renowned flip-throw ins.
(Here’s an example from this past season)
Jaden DeGracie-Bailey flip throw pic.twitter.com/CfDooTJtOB— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) October 14, 2016
Arizona had three players that were capable of performing flip-throws, but all three players have moved on from the program.
The flip-throws were an integral part of Arizona’s offense in recent seasons as they allowed the Wildcats to toss the ball in favorable scoring position from the sideline (similar to a corner kick).
“Right now we don’t have anyone that does it,” Amato said. “So we gotta still be good at set-pieces and find ways to manufacture goals and that’s part of what the spring is about.”
It’s not a skill Amato teaches, either.
“My philosophy is let’s utilize what players are good at,” he said. “We had girls that could do it, so we utilized it, but now we don’t so we’ll do other things.”
Amato talks Dave Heeke
Amato said he has met new athletic director Dave Heeke, but only briefly.
“He came by the office so I shook his hand,” Amato said. “He’s in a whirlwind, he’s got a lot going on, but he seems to have a presence and ... he’s a good communicator and I think everyone is excited for him to get started.”
Amato was hired by former UA athletic director Greg Byrne prior to the 2013 season.
“Greg did a great job and in college athletics people move on a lot in different areas. It’s up to me to make sure that I make the adjustment and help make Dave’s job easier, so I’m looking forward to that,” he said.
Amato is also looking forward to August when Arizona begins the 2017 season.
The Wildcats went 9-9-1 last season, missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013, but won three of their last four games of the season, including a 1-0 win over ASU to finish the year.
“I’m pretty process-oriented so from that standpoint it makes me want to go to practice everyday, makes me want to keep trying to find ways to improve the team and for us to get better and better,” Amato said.
The Wildcats have their second spring game on Saturday, March 25 against UTEP at Mulcahy Stadium in Tucson. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. and admission is free.
Shout out to GCU Stadium
Saturday’s game was held at the state-of-the-art GCU Stadium, which opened in August of 2016.
The stadium holds over 6,000 people and has a distinct atmosphere, as it is nestled in the middle of the GCU campus and has the feel of professional soccer stadium with a raised, concrete platform on the east side of the stadium and grass berm seating on the other three sides.
“This stadium is a great venue. Unbelievable structure,” Amato said. “You look at the overhang and all those things. It’s pretty impressive. So, to get a spring game in this environment was pretty cool. I enjoyed it.”
Arizona soccer’s remaining spring schedule
Saturday, March 25: vs. UTEP — 4 p.m.
Saturday, April 15: vs. NAU* — 12 p.m.
Saturday, April 22: vs. New Mexico — 1 p.m.
Sunday, April 23: vs. New Mexico State — 12 p.m.
*at a neutral location. The rest of the games will be played in Tucson
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire