PALO ALTO, Calif. — The Arizona soccer team will try to advance to its first Sweet Sixteen since 2015 on Friday against No. 4 seed Penn State at 4 p.m. PT.
Wilson gains new perspective
Brooke Wilson was on top of the world on Oct. 3.
The Arizona forward had scored her team-best sixth goal of the season, a 35-yard screamer in an upset over UCLA that landed her a spot on SportsCenter’s Top 10 and made waves on social media.
“The best goal ever,” she said at the time.
She hasn’t had many highlights since then. The sophomore hasn’t found the back of the net in 10 straight games, easily the longest streak of her UA career, despite firing 31 shots during that span.
In the past, such a drought would have devastated Wilson, who was known for judging her performance solely on whether or not she was scoring.
But right around the Oregon game on Oct. 24, her perspective changed. She began to appreciate the way she was executing the small, but important, details of the gameplan that may not make the highlight reel but have set her teammates up for success during their run to the postseason.
“Tony (Amato) has been communicating with me like, if you’re the person who had the third pass before the goal, you still made a difference there,” she said. “If you made the run that opened up the player who scored, you made a difference there. And I think that going into these (NCAA Tournament) games you need to realize that no matter how the goal went in, you made some difference in it.”
Why did she start to realize that after the Oregon game?
“Because during the Oregon game, Tony said that my combinations were really good and when he asked me how I did in the game, I was like, ‘eh, alright’ because I felt like I had a couple opportunities that should have been a goal but they weren’t,” Wilson said. “And he was like, ‘no, you did this really well and you need to give yourself credit for this even though you didn’t score.’ And I think that as these games have gone where I haven’t scored, it’s been easier for me to see.”
And if that mentality ever escapes her, Wilson can think back to where she was at this time last season, when she was only able to play seven minutes in UA’s second-round loss to Tennessee because she was still working her way back from a broken leg.
“Knowing that I will make an impact, whether it’s scoring goals or creating an opportunity to score a goal or assisting a goal or in the defensive half, trying to find a way to make sure that (the ball) can get as far away from (our) goal as possible...is mentally satisfying,” she said. “I came here to play and I came here to help this program. And not being injured obviously gives me an opportunity to do that.”
Penn State player to watch — Sam Coffey
There was a lot of hubbub when Sam Coffey transferred from Boston College to Penn State last offseason. It is not often an All-American, MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist, and U.S. youth national team member is on the open market.
The hype has been justified. The junior has nine goals and nine assists in her first season at Penn State. She is second on the team in points and is currently playing her best soccer, scoring goals in three consecutive games to go along with two assists.
Arizona will have its hands full trying to stop Coffey—as well as the rest of Penn State’s talented frontline that leads the Big Ten in scoring.
“She’s a box-to-box midfielder and she makes things happen out of the midfield,” Amato said. “A lot of times you’ll look at stat sheets and it’s a lot of forwards who get goals and assists. But she’s someone who can do it from box to box, cover the ground, get goals, get assists. Really a dominant personality on the field and that’s why she’s been so successful.”
If Arizona wins...
It will almost certainly play No. 1 Stanford on Sunday at 1 p.m. PT in the Sweet Sixteen. The Cardinal host Hofstra at 7 p.m. PT on Friday.
It would take a miracle for the Wildcats to beat Stanford. That is not a jab at Arizona, but a testament to how dominant the Cardinal are. They are 19-1 with an 87-10 goal differential, including a 6-2 victory over the Wildcats on Nov. 3.
Still, just getting to the third round would be a major success for the Wildcats, who have only made the Sweet Sixteen twice in program history.
If Arizona loses...
It will have lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season. And while Arizona has never made it to the Round of 32 three consecutive years, another second-round exit would represent a state of stagnation and perhaps lead to some doubt about the program’s upside.
Because the longer the Wildcats go without a Sweet Sixteen appearance, the more 2015 looks like a one-off.
I caught up with Amato before the team left for the Bay Area. Here are some notable quotes that did not make my preview. The full nine-minute interview can be watched below.
On Penn State: “It’s going to be about making sure we’re competing, making sure that we’re all doing stuff together in terms of the attack, it’s not a one-person job defensively. So we’re sending that message and I think our team will be ready.”
On making the second round three straight years: “It’s something we’re really proud of. One thing you worry about with your team is, are you just happy to get in the tournament? And going back to 2014, the first year we got in, that was a really big concern because that program had gone through a drought for a long time. And we got in, played on the road in cold conditions and won that game. And I think that set the tone for the program moving forward that we’re not just happy to get in the tournament, it’s not about just getting in. It’s getting in and advancing and making a run and making some noise in the tournament. And I think that set the tone. We’ve hosted the last few years, we’ve won games when we hosted, but now we want to make sure we take that next step. In 2015, we were able to win this game against Santa Clara at Stanford and we need to try and get this group to do the same because no one on our team was on the field that day in 2015 when we did that. So it’d be a great achievement for this group to find a way to win Friday and take that next step, because they’ve never done that and I know that they’re hungry to do something that hasn’t been done before.”
On the 2019 season as a whole: “Every year is a journey and every year you have ups and downs, and this team is no different. We’ve had some great results, we’ve had some we knew we could have played better in. We’ve shown improvement along the way and we’re in the place that we want it to be in—still playing. And so we feel good about that and we think we got to get a little better this week, and we have to play well Friday.”
On the seniors wanting to leave a legacy: “It’s something that we talked about from day one in the recruiting process with them—that we’re looking to grow the program and improve and have constant improvement. And for them to contribute to that, they need to come in and make it better, take ownership in making it better. We talked about if it’s going to be good, it can’t be all on the coaches, it has to be player-driven. Like, if you want to make it good, you have to take responsibility and that, and then when you leave, it needs to be better off than when you got here. And that’s the legacy part and leave something that matters on to the next generation of players coming through. And that’s what they’re talking about. That’s what they focused on. And now that’s the challenge. They’ve done a good job with it. But can we make that next step? And that’s what we’re trying to do.”
On the moment he knew Arizona soccer could be built into what it is now: “I think the most telling and rewarding thing was when we went to Oklahoma State in 2014. Our first season here, we went above .500 in 2013. And really we were just trying to figure things out and the team responded to that. But in 2014, we made the tournament and we went on the road in cold conditions and won that game, and I think that was really telling us what we can do moving forward.”
Here’s what Tony Amato had to say ahead of Arizona Soccer’s NCAA Tournament match vs. Penn StatePosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Wednesday, November 20, 2019