Lightning bolts flickered over the Catalina Mountains as the Arizona Wildcats notched their first goal of the season.
Both happened in the blink of an eye.
Just before thunderstorms forced a 45-minute delay, Jada Talley knocked in a feed from Kennedy Kieneker, putting the Wildcats on the board just three minutes into their 2018 opener.
It was just the beginning of a “fun” 5-0 win against the UTEP Miners on Saturday at Kino Sports Complex.
“That’s the only way I can describe it,” Kieneker said. “I think we worked really well together and it was really cool to see everything come together.”
Kieneker and Amanda Porter each had a goal and two assists. Porter scored in the sixth minute on a dish from Kieneker, then Hannah Clifford pushed the lead to 3-0 in the 18th minute with a nifty finish on a one-timer from Porter.
Both goals came shortly after the lightning delay concluded.
“I think (the delay) kind of hyped us up a little bit,” said Kieneker, who scored Arizona’s fourth goal in the 53rd minute. “We scored, we went back to the locker room, kept the energy up a little bit and it showed on the field.”
Taryn Siegele capped off the scoring in the 88th minute, completing what head coach Tony Amato called a “good performance.”
“It’s never perfect at this point in the season,” he said. “I thought we are further along in certain areas and we obviously have to spend some time on some things in other areas, but you would expect that at this time. You only have so much time in the first week of the season.”
Arizona outshot UTEP 15-0 in the first half and finished with a 25-4 shot differential. The Miners did not record their first shot on net until the second half.
UA goalkeeper Lainey Burdett made two effortless saves.
“I think overall the attack was putting them under a lot of pressure, so when you attack like that, it limits their team’s opportunities,” Amato said. “So I think there’s balance there. I think defensively, there were a couple moments we could’ve coordinated a little better in terms of winning the ball back, and we’ll work on that in this coming week.”
Arizona has been focusing on their attack in the preseason. They have to replace last year’s senior class which accounted for nearly 40 percent of the team’s scoring a season ago.
Sophomores like Porter, Clifford, and Talley are being counted on to take on bigger roles, and Porter thinks their performance Saturday proved they are ready for that responsibility.
“I think we all worked in the offseason knowing that we had to step up,” she said. “It definitely helps with our confidence going into the (regular season) knowing that we’re able to capitalize on these opportunities.”
Amato said the sophomore trio was “very good.” Kieneker, a senior, said Arizona “found out that we have a couple scorers.”
“Jada was buzzing. Cliffy was buzzing. Porter was buzzing,” Amato said. “... So I think there was a lot of good things there and we just have to keep moving forward and getting better.”
The Wildcats used 26 players, including most of their 11 freshmen. Amato thought a few newcomers were anxious, but believes they will make an impact this season. The class was ranked 13th in the country by TopDrawerSoccer.
“They weren’t necessarily their true self today. It was about getting the nerves out and getting some experience,” Amato said. “Their parents drove in, the fans were here, for them it felt different than a club game and it was out of their comfort zone a little bit. And now that that’s behind them you’ll see them continuously improve as the year moves on.”
Two freshmen, midfielder Emily Knous and centerback Hallie Pearson, were in the starting 11. Pearson played 82 minutes, the most on the team.
“You’ve got to be a good player to step in at the college level and play centerback in the first week and she looked good,” Amato said.
“And she’s a tough critic of herself, so I think she thinks she could do better. But for her first performance she did a really good job and we’ll keep moving forward with that and expect her to be really good for us in that role this year.”
Kino is Arizona’s new home — for now, at least
Arizona played Saturday’s game at Kino Sports Complex because their home field at Mulcahy Stadium is not usable yet. The Wildcats’ regular-season opener — a home game against Albany on Aug. 17 — will likely be at Kino, too.
That’s not the worst thing. The announced attendance Saturday was 1,055 and the crowd was boisterous throughout the night, despite the inclement weather.
“When we scored the first goal, it was super impressive,” Amato said. “Unfortunately we got chased off (because of lightning). I think the crowd did get back into it, but that first few minutes was awesome. The Tucson community responded and I knew they would. It’s a good venue. There was a lot of excitement tonight to be here.”
There were a couple weather delays at @ArizonaSoccer’s opener, but the atmosphere at Kino Sports Complex was “super impressive” per @CoachTonyAmato. The official attendance was 1,055. pic.twitter.com/Uhz8pFbFTh— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) August 12, 2018