TEMPE, Ariz. — Score early. Never relent.
It’s a game plan Arizona soccer executed to perfection this weekend and it resulted in two trouble-free wins.
Sunday, the Wildcats (4-1) closed out the Sun Devil Desert Classic with a 2-0 victory against New Hampshire just two days after they hung five goals on Southeast Missouri State on Friday.
It is Arizona’s fourth straight win after dropping their season-opener to Albany. They have outscored opponents 14-0 in that span.
“We’ve been building confidence, figuring out who we are,” said head coach Tony Amato. “We dropped the first one and won four straight and I think we have a better idea of what we can be good at this year.”
Jada Talley and Emily Knous both scored early for the second straight game. In the fifth minute, Talley ran onto a long ball, put herself in a one-on-one with the keeper and zig-zagged around her to set up an effortless finish.
Not much later, Knous freed herself up atop the box and fired a screamer into the left side of the net, ending any hope New Hampshire had of upsetting another Arizona team (they beat ASU Friday).
“I think we did a good job of getting that grind in early, like we’ve been focusing on,” Knous said. “We knew this team was going to give us a challenge, but we shut it down early.”
Which is what Arizona has been doing since losing to Albany. They scored two goals in the first 20 minutes of Friday’s match and three first-half goals against Houston Baptist last week.
“It gives us a good feel for the game and lets us play how we play,” said Talley, who leads the team with four goals. “Once we get one, I wouldn’t say we settle, but it lets us calm down a little.”
Arizona finished Sunday’s match with a 20-3 shot differential. They fired 13 shots in the first half as the ball rarely escaped New Hampshire’s side of the field.
“The first half, it was a really good performance,” Amato said. “And then we were comfortable in the second half. They put a lot people behind the ball, so it was hard to break them down with as many chances in the second half, but we had a two-goal lead.”
Arizona could not get a third goal, but they didn’t need it.
Lainey Burdett recorded her fourth shutout of the season and 21st of her career, breaking the school’s all-time record. She only needed to make two saves all weekend and neither were the acrobatic ones she usually makes. Arizona defended well enough to prevent any real scoring threats.
“I feel pretty great about getting (the record), but I couldn’t have done it without all the lines in front of me,” Burdett said. “When they work hard and they defend for me, it makes my job easier.”
They feel the same way about her.
“I feel really safe with Lainey back there,” Talley said. “When the ball gets back there, I don’t spaz. If I make a bad play and we get countered and it’s my fault, I’m like ‘we have Lainey’ and I can calm down a little bit.”
Burdett has stabilized Arizona’s backline for four years now. She started as a true freshman back in 2015 and has continued to improve each and every year. She was an All-Pac-12 Second Team performer as a junior last season, and the UA coaching staff believes she is the best goalkeeper in the conference this year.
“It’s been a crazy ride, honestly,” Burdett said. “You always have a goal that you want to be the best. The coaching staff is always pushing me to do my best. (Assistant) Paul (Nagy) especially.”
Burdett becoming Arizona’s all-time shutouts leader is “impressive,” Nagy said, but her work isn’t done just yet.
“I told her ‘great, you got the record, now the idea is to put the record in a place where it can’t be broken,’” Nagy said. “That’s the next level.”
Arizona is trending up at the right time. They are set to host Boise State (3-1) and Baylor (3-2) next weekend in the most arduous part of their non-conference schedule.
Baylor, known for their physical brand of soccer, reached the Elite Eight last season. Boise State went 13-6-3, finishing second in the Mountain West.
“Those are definitely going to be two challenges,” Knous said. “But I think going off two wins will give us a setup for a good week of training and put us in a good place for next weekend.”