Even as the talent level has improved and the style of play has changed at Arizona, head coach Tony Amato wants all his teams to have one quality in common.
“That’s kind of who I am, so I’ve always tried to instill that in the team and not lose that blue-collar toughness, the perseverance, and the passion,” he said. “If my teams wouldn’t have that, I wouldn’t love it.”
Luckily for him, these Wildcats have it.
Despite a shaky first half and being outshot 9-7, the Wildcats scored twice in the second half in a 2-1 comeback victory over the Washington Huskies on Thursday night in Tucson.
“We knew we had the talent, so it was just a matter of us working hard, and digging deep,” said UA midfielder Kelcey Cavarra. “We knew we were down 1-0. We knew we were going to have to work hard to at least tie it up and even more to get the win.”
Fittingly, it was Cavarra who made one of the match’s big plays.
The midfielder fought her way through UW’s backline to head in a corner from Morgan McGarry to tie the game in the 63rd minute.
“Kelcey epitomizes that (grit),” Amato said. “She runs and grinds and heads and tackles. She’s a winner and she buys into that and it kinda bleeds through the team.”
It sure did.
The Wildcats would be celebrating again moments later when Charlotte Brascia knocked in a cross from Cali Crisler to put them ahead in the 83rd minute.
“It felt really good,” Brascia said. “I wasn’t having the greatest game and I was getting fouled a lot so I was kinda on edge.”
So much so that Amato removed Brascia — and five other players — in the 57th minute.
“She started to get a little out of the game and was concerned about the ref and people fouling her and stuff like that,” Amato said. “We had her reset on the sideline.”
After a quick breather, Amato challenged Brascia and fellow seniors Crisler and Gabi Stoian to find a way to win one of their final home games.
“If not you guys, then who?,” Amato asked them.
They understood, Amato said, and responded.
“That’s where experience and will pays off,” he said. “Cali played a great ball and Char got on the end of it.”
The Wildcats improved to 8-4-4 overall and 5-2-2 in the Pac-12. One step closer to an NCAA Tournament bid.
“We didn’t play great, but we just had to find a way to be gritty and find a way to win and we did that,” Amato said. “… I think that’s a testament to the team of where they’re at.”
Coming off three straight road games, Arizona got off to a sluggish start, and the Huskies possessed for most of the first half as the Wildcats’ defense willingly retreated.
“Our team started dropping deeper and deeper,” Amato said. “We had a chance or two, the energy was fine the first 10 minutes, and then next 20 minutes, we were dropping (We) looked tired. And when you look tired you start to drop. You start going ‘well, I’m not going to let them behind me and protect the goal.’”
When that was happening, Amato warned assistants Kate Norton and Paul Nagy that the worst was coming.
“If we don’t change something soon,” Amato said, “the goal is coming.”
He was right. Washington finally broke through in the 28th minute when Kimberly Keever headed in a cross from Dominque Bond-Flasza.
“That was a wake-up call,” Cavarra said.
One the Wildcats answered with two goals, and a whole lot of resolve.
“Coming back and getting the win,” Cavarra said, “we proved that we have grit.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire