Even though Arizona’s 2018 recruiting class was lauded on a national scale, head coach Tony Amato has been hesitant to add to the hype.
He knows it’s a talented group, but he prefers to wait and see how freshmen perform before placing any expectations on them.
“You recruit them all in hopes that everybody is going to be great over four years,” he said, “but sometimes it takes some longer than others (to contribute).”
Seven games into the 2018 season, he has to like what he sees.
Led by goals from freshmen Emily Knous and Hallie Pearson, two highly-ranked recruits who have started every game, the Wildcats beat Baylor 3-1 on Sunday for their sixth straight win.
Arizona is now 6-1 and enjoying their longest winning streak since 2004. Six freshmen played in Sunday’s match and three started (Brooke Wilson being the third).
“I think we’re a pretty good class, but there’s already been some amazing players here, and I think that we have the type of talent that we can add to it,” Pearson said.
Knous, who enrolled early in January, contributed by scoring two goals from distance. The first goal came in the 31st minute after Wilson and sophomore Amanda Porter pinballed a couple passes to Knous, whose shot from inside the box ricocheted off the goalkeeper before rolling into the back of the net.
Beautiful teamwork between Amanda Porter and Brooke Wilson set up a chance for Emily Knous and she buried it. @ArizonaSoccer leads Baylor, 1-0. pic.twitter.com/io11FQgEnu— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) September 9, 2018
Then, a few minutes after Baylor scored an equalizer early in the second half, Knous laced a rocket that found the top right corner for what proved to be the game-winning goal.
“The first one was a great team effort and finished out the way we wanted it to. The second one I took a chance and I hit it well,” said Knous, whose four goals this season are tied for the team lead. “They were two really good goals and I think they were well-deserving for the team, and it was a team effort from start to finish.”
What a strike! pic.twitter.com/MPdbKIwEXS— Arizona Soccer (@ArizonaSoccer) September 9, 2018
But Knous’s day didn’t end there. Ten minutes after her second goal she took a corner kick that found the feet of Pearson, who tapped it in through traffic.
“It went through Jada (Talley)’s legs and I had the smallest pocket, and I’m just like ‘I’m gonna hit’,” Pearson said. “So I took a touch and I shot and I don’t think the goalie saw it because it went right through.”
It was Pearson’s first career goal and it gave the Wildcats a two-goal lead in the 65th minute, sealing an impressive win against a Baylor team that reached the Elite Eight last season.
Pearson, a key cog in Arizona’s impermeable backline, admitted she was a little frustrated Baylor was able to end their five-game shutout streak — the Bears scored a header — but she was happy how the Wildcats responded.
“We weren’t going to let that hurt us in any way because one goal doesn’t mean anything,” Pearson said. “It’s how we respond to it, and that’s where we show our grit and who we are as a program.”
Every bit of that grit was needed. While the Wildcats staved off Baylor and outshot them 20-12, it was a taxing match.
The Bears are known for their physical brand of soccer, and it showed just 17 seconds into the game when Talley was fouled and took a hard fall. Later, Wilson exited with what appeared to be a left arm injury.
A few Baylor players departed with their own ailments, too. In all, the Bears committed 12 fouls to Arizona’s eight, despite what Amato thought was lenient officiating.
“We haven’t had a lot of games like this this year,” he said. “I thought the Irvine game was (similar) and we hung in there for that and got the win, and it was the same sort of thing — you have to battle and Baylor does a really good job of being physical but not necessarily fouling you all the time.
“And the ref was not calling things tight, so our team had to make sure we could still pick up second balls and fight through it, and I thought the response to that was awesome. Knowing that we have that fight in us and combine that with our ability to create goal-scoring chances, I think that will take us a long way this year.”
Baylor represents the kind of competition Arizona will face regularly in the ultra-competitive Pac-12, so it was their biggest win of the season and a good primer for the freshmen, who are still getting adjusted to college soccer even though they play like seasoned veterans.
“Some of the freshmen said ‘wow, that felt like a real game’ and I think they all felt that way,” Amato said. “And to come out on top will build our confidence.”
Freshman @emknous16 had 2 goals and an assist in @ArizonaSoccer’s 3-1 win vs. Baylor. She worked hard to enroll early for moments just like this: “Finally getting here and watching that pay off is exciting.” pic.twitter.com/hpgoPj6sZ7— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) September 9, 2018
Here’s Tony Amato on @ArizonaSoccer’s 3-1 win vs. Baylor and the freshman class that produced all three goals pic.twitter.com/uEM83RkD4j— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) September 9, 2018
.@ArizonaSoccer’s shutout streak ended but they still beat Baylor 3-1, and freshman defender Hallie Pearson scored her first career goal. She has started every game this season which she says is “crazy.” pic.twitter.com/eo509Jsj1Y— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) September 9, 2018