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Sandy Davison is Arizona soccer’s not-so-secret weapon vs. Washington State

Tony Amato strategizes with Sandy Davison
Photo by Ryan Kelapire

Arizona assistant coach Sandy Davison is excited to return to Pullman this week where she will get to catch up with some old friends and, if she’s lucky, find the time to dine at Black Cypress, her go-to spot on the Palouse.

“Great dinner, great wine,” she said.

Before joining the Wildcats this spring, Davison was an assistant at Washington State for five seasons (2013-17). She helped lead the Cougars to four NCAA Tournament appearances, including a run to the Sweet Sixteen in 2017—her fondest memory with the program.

The majority of Washington State’s current roster has been coached and/or recruited by Davison at some point, and the Cougars are still led by her former boss Todd Shulenberger.

That could make for an awkward situation Thursday when the Wildcats take on the Cougars at Lower Soccer Field, but Davison said it will be “pretty easy” to put those personal connections aside.

“From a coaching perspective, we’re here to win,” she said. “That’s what we do everyday. We prepare for that. You can be friends when the game is over.”

Davison was not at Washington State last year—she left for a new opportunity at Indiana in 2018—so some things have changed since her departure. But she still knows the coaches’ and players’ tendencies “fairly well” and maybe that can give the Wildcats the edge in what is expected to be a closely-contested Pac-12 game.

“I don’t know,” Davison said. “Washington State is pretty tough. They’re ranked in the Top 15 in the country, so I’m not sure that my little bit of inside information is going to make that big of a difference.”

Arizona head coach Tony Amato worked closely with Davison at Tuesday’s practice, but downplayed the unique insight she brings this week.

“There’s no secrets anymore with social media, interviews, coverage, all the stats that are in InStat with the video and the breakdown of it all,” he said. “I would say if it was 10 years ago, you’d have a lot more (inside) information. Now everything has everything on everyone, and it’s a matter of how you game plan and how you stop it.”

Which won’t be easy, with or without Davison’s input. The 15th-ranked Cougars (9-2, 2-1) are third in the Pac-12 in both goals (26) and goals allowed (13), though Arizona (7-3, 1-2) has won five straight in this rivalry.

“They are very, very athletic,” Davison said. “I was obviously a part of recruiting a lot of kids at that program so I think their brand of soccer has become very direct because of their level of athleticism. So I think they are going to a tough opponent for us in terms of the combativeness and their mental toughness.”

Even with a half-season under her belt, Davison said she is still sorting out her role at Arizona. Amato said she has been an excellent coach and recruiter, the two qualities he prioritized during the hiring process.

A former midfielder at Pfeiffer University, Davison tutors Arizona’s midfielders and forwards in the attacking third—complementing associate head coach Paul Nagy who oversees the goalkeepers and defenders, and Amato who keeps the overall picture in mind.

To boot, Amato said Davison has been a calming influence for him and the players.

“I can get wound up. Paul can wound up. She’s pretty steady Eddie and gives me good information on the sideline that helps me see things and that can be really important,” he said.

Leading scorer Brooke Wilson said Davison has created a greater sense of togetherness, crediting her for scheduling movie nights and community service events for the team.

“I think it’s important for the mental health of kids to remember that we do this because we love it, and we’re friends, and we enjoy being around each other,” Davison said.

Thursday, Davison’s new friends will line up against her old friends, and there’s no doubt where her allegiance lies.

“She’s definitely an Arizonan now,” Wilson said. “She’s got no Washington State background anymore. We totally took that out of her, and she’s ready to beat them as much as we are.”

Wilson reflects on SportsCenter appearance

Wilson’s screamer against UCLA made SportsCenter’s Top 10, and the goal was even more unbelievable to her when she got a chance to watch the replay.

“I don’t even know what made me shoot that.” she said. “I thought I just floated it over because there were no options. And then I look at it on like TV, and it was like an actual shot. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s kind of fancy.’”

Wilson was actually asleep when her goal aired on ESPN. When she woke up, her phone was flooded was hundreds of texts and social media mentions.

“I think (the coolest part) was just being able to repost on my story and just seeing all the love that I was getting,” she said. “And I think that the team made me feel really good, and it was just an awesome feeling.”

It was an especially cool moment for her considering where she was at this time last year, nursing a broken leg that kept her out of most of her freshman season.

“I think it just shows like how hard we’ve been working,” said Wilson, who has six goals this year. “Especially on that leg, the broken leg, that I was able to score that is just so exciting and the amount of support that I got from the team after was awesome. Like, they all tackled me. It was really fun.”

Arizona’s in the Top 25. Finally.

Wilson said she checks the national rankings way more than she should.

“It won’t even change and I’m still checking it,” she joked.

This week that obsession paid off. The Wildcats were pegged at No. 25 in the latest United Soccer Coaches poll after splitting against UCLA and USC last weekend. It is their first time cracking the Top 25 this season.

You can imagine their reaction.

“We get it sent in our group chat,” Wilson said. “Sabrina (Enciso) sent it this week and we were super excited.”

They felt it was long overdue.

“I think we’re just always an underdog,” Wilson said. “I think we just have to keep proving we’re not an underdog anymore and that we are a program on the come-up. Actually, we’re not even on the come-up anymore. I think we’re one of the top teams in the country and we need everyone else to agree with us on that.”

WSU’s player to watch: Brianna Alger

The Cougars have several players that pop off the stat sheet such as midfielder Averie Collins, a grad transfer from Stanford, and forward Morgan Weaver who have five goals apiece.

But WSU’s most impactful player might be outside back Brianna Alger. The converted forward has been a two-time Pac-12 Defensive of the Week this season, distributing out of the back with precise crosses and long balls.

The junior has a team-high six assists and also is one of the team’s top defenders.

“I think they’ve done a great job with her,” said Davison, who coached Alger in 2017. “Todd loves left-footed backs, so...I think he’s found a great spot for her. She can defend, is a great passer out of the back, so he kinda created a home for her—which he did with Maddy Haro when I was there.”

Haro graduated after the 2018 season after leading the Pac-12 in assists (15).