Jill Aguilera scored in the 71st minute to lift Arizona soccer to a crucial 1-0 victory at UC Irvine on Thursday.
The win serves as redemption for the Wildcats (1-1) after they were stunned by Albany in their opener last Friday.
“It was a very hard fought match and I’m really happy for our team,” UA head coach Tony Amato said after the game (via Arizona Athletics). “We showed great character and it was great to get the win.”
Arizona dominated the second half, outshooting UC Irvine 10-4 in the period and 14-11 overall. The two teams battled to a scoreless tie last season and appeared headed for a similar fate Thursday before Aguilera’s heroics.
She roofed the keeper after a throw-in by Sabrina Enciso and a flick-on by Kelcey Cavarra. It was the first goal of the season for Aguilera and the Wildcats.
Aguilera was second on the team in shots last year, but had trouble with her finishing, scoring just twice. So the redshirt sophomore worked on that with Amato in the offseason, which paid off Thursday.
Amato moves just one win shy of becoming the winningest coach in Arizona history. He owns a 55-36-13 record as he enters his sixth season in Tucson.
Meanwhile, goalkeeper Lainey Burdett tallied her 18th career shutout and needs just three more to break the school record. The senior had four saves against the Anteaters, including a diving save in the 89th minute to preserve the lead.
Arizona returns to action Sunday when it hosts Houston Baptist at 6 p.m. MST. HBU beat Houston in its season opener.
3 things to know
- The Wildcats needed this result. Arizona’s loss to Albany was really bad. How bad? That same Albany team lost 5-0 to Boston College on Thursday. Dropping to 0-2 could have been fatal to UA’s NCAA Tournament aspirations given the strength of their conference schedule, but they showed the resolve needed to bounce back from a disappointing opener. And a road victory over UC Irvine is nothing to scoff at. The Anteaters played No. 12 USC tough last weekend and received votes in the Coaches Poll this week. In other words, this was a much-needed win over a quality West Coast team. Now Arizona needs to win Sunday’s game, too.
- Arizona is closer to full strength. UA defenders Morgan McGarry and Samantha Falasco returned to the starting lineup after missing the Albany game with minor injuries. Both are vital players for the Wildcats. McGarry, an outside back, is viewed as the team’s best player. Falasco, a center back and three-year starter, is the leader of the backline. Forward Hannah Clifford returned from injury too, but was limited to 17 minutes. Highly-regarded freshman Brooke Wilson made her first career start, taking one shot on-goal in 52 minutes. She is believed to be the highest-ranked recruit Arizona has ever landed and is a player to keep an eye on as the season wears on.
- Cavarra makes winning plays. The junior tallied her first career assist on Aguilera’s goal. While Cavarra is known for making key plays in crunch time, her effort in the midfield rarely shows up on the stat sheet. But it did this time and Amato probably isn’t surprised. “Kelcey is a pure winner,” he said this week. “Fit, works hard, covers ground, does some of the dirty work that doesn’t show up in terms of pressing, heading, tackling, and then playing simple passes out. Her role is pretty clear on our team.”