The Arizona Wildcats are well prepared for their upcoming road trip to Oregon, and they can credit Mother Nature with an assist.
When the Wildcats trained Tuesday, cold wind and rain uncharacteristically whipped through Tucson, providing a perfect primer for the conditions they’ll have to endure this weekend.
“We feel really fortunate,” said UA coach Tony Amato. “I mean, (we were wondering), ‘how do you prepare for Oregon’s weather in the desert?’
“And then we got Oregon weather in the desert.”
Another bonus: the rain forced the Wildcats to ditch their grass field at Mulcahy Stadium for the turf at Bear Down Field, where the ball skips a little differently.
“Oregon’s field is turf, which will be the first time we’ve played on a turf field,” said UA defender Morgan McGarry.
The Wildcats (10-4-2, 3-3-2 Pac-12) hope it will help them continue their winning ways as they head to the Pacific Northwest looking to cement their spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Coming off a sweep of the Washington schools, Arizona faces Oregon State on Thursday and Oregon on Sunday, before wrapping up the regular season at ASU next Friday.
The Wildcats enter the week at No. 20 in RPI and are eyeing a top-32 finish so they can not only make the postseason, but host the first round as well.
“That’s our motivation to go out there and keep our foot on the gas pedal,” McGarry said.
Every team in the Pac-12 is good, so conference games are usually 90 minutes of hell, with one team winning by the slimmest of margins.
Oregon State is the exception.
The Beavers are 2-14 this year, going just 1-7 against Pac-12 foes. They have been outscored 26-2 in those eight games and have only scored six goals all season.
But, hey, at least they play hard.
“Their players are competing and battling and we’re going to have to match that if we’re going to win the game,” Amato said.
Oregon (7-8-1, 1-7) is not much better, but they are 6-2 at home, plenty capable of topping the Wildcats should they overlook the Ducks.
“I think the big thing going into (the road trip) is it’s toward the end of the regular season and we have to make sure we don’t look ahead towards postseason and the NCAA Tournament,” McGarry said Tuesday.
“And then also like Tony said before practice today, we can’t let the weather play an effect on us. We’ve looked at the weather report and it’s supposed to be raining everyday that we’re there. That’s just something we have to deal with.”
And are accustomed to, thanks to that timely Sonoran Desert storm.
“It was great,” Amato said. “We were able to get out and deal with the elements a little bit, knowing that it’s going to be raining there and we’re going to have to play well in it.”
Perhaps Arizona’s most valuable player the last few weeks has been sophomore Amanda Porter, who has made her mark all over the field.
Usually an attacking midfielder, Porter shifted to left back when usual-starter Sabrina Enciso was sidelined for a few games with an ankle injury.
“You have to have the skill set, but mentally it would be easy to say I don’t want to play left back, not be coachable, not help the team, and she’s obviously the complete opposite of that,” Amato said of Porter, who leads the team in assists.
Enciso returned to the starting lineup Sunday against Washington State, so Porter moved back up to the midfield where she scored her first goal of the season, firing a shot into the upper corner for what proved to be the game-winner.
“I knew she was going to score because when she takes that touch, she’s got a powerful shot,” said forward Brynn Moga.
“She has a killer left foot,” added forward Taryn Siegele.
Switching positions is nothing new for Porter. The Littleton, Colorado native was a left back when she first started playing soccer, then moved to attacking mid, occasionally getting minutes at forward, too.
That kind of versatility is one of the attributes Amato says he looks for on the recruiting trail.
“When we’re looking at people you look at their initial talent and then you look at, ‘what can they excel at? What are they good at?’ Sometimes that’s versatility,” he said. “Sometimes we still recruit players where we go, ‘they can’t do anything but that’ and that’s a role we’ll have them do and carry out. It’s definitely not for everyone, but you have to have a few on your team that can play different spots.”
Cliffords coming home
Twin sisters Hannah and Hailey Clifford hail from Salem, Oregon, so this road trip is a homecoming for them. Salem is about 45 minutes north of Corvallis, while Eugene is a little over an hour away.
“It’s obviously special because I get to see my family and friends,” Hannah said. “And my dog.”
Hannah, a forward, has appeared in all but one game this year, playing 693 minutes and making 10 starts. She is an integral part of UA’s attack, logging three assists and 17 shots.
Hailey, a defender, has only appeared in two games the past two seasons, missing her entire freshman season with a knee injury.
Hannah said Hailey is always working to become a better player, but added that it is Hailey who keeps her positive, despite the difference in playing time.
“She’s like my little super fan,” Hannah said. “Whenever I get frustrated, she tells me, ‘hey, let it go, next play’ stuff like that. It’s like any teammate, but it’s different because she’s my sister, so it hits harder.”
Freshman forward Brooke Wilson is still hoping to return this season, despite breaking her right leg on Sept. 12.
Wilson, who was originally given a six-to-eight week timetable, recently upgraded from an underwater treadmill to an anti-gravity treadmill and is due for X-rays early next week. She could start practicing soon after that if the results are favorable. (She wants to return in time for the ASU game.)
Redshirting is not an option since Wilson has played in seven matches, which is more than 30 percent of Arizona’s games — the NCAA maximum for a medical redshirt.
“We knew that she was going to have to push the issue because we wouldn’t be able to get the redshirt, so she’s pushing the issue trying to get healthy, trying to get her fitness going and hopefully we’ll be able to use her at some point,” Amato said.
Wilson tallied three goals and an assist before getting injured, proving to be one of Arizona’s top scorers. The Vista, California native has not played since Sept. 9, but is still fifth on the team in points.
Read more about her injury here. It was a freak thing.
- Arizona’s Lainey Burdett was named Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Week after posting five saves and a shutout against the Washington schools. It is the second time in her career that she has earned the nomination. Surprisingly, it is the first time all season that a Wildcat has been named Player of the Week.
- I caught up with forward Brynn Moga to talk about her big week against the Washington schools, working in special education, and more. That Q&A can be found here.
- Arizona’s match against Oregon State is not being broadcasted or streamed because Oregon State is Oregon State. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.