PHOENIX — Spring has been full of surprises for Arizona soccer.
Leading assister Amanda Porter transferred to Texas Tech, its first spring game in February got snowed out, and assistant coach Kate Norton left the program at the beginning of March.
The Wildcats can probably overcome those obstacles. Their latest one? Not so much.
Arizona was forced to use two field players in goal Saturday as it fell to the BYU Cougars 3-1 in its first of four spring games.
UA’s starting (and only) goalkeeper Kendyll Humphreys was sidelined with a broken finger that she sustained before spring break. Forward Jill Aguilera and midfielder Iliana Hocking put the gloves on in the first and second half, respectively.
“It was a little nerve-wracking, but our backline is really solid,” said Aguilera, who said she was an emergency goalie in her club soccer days. “(Center back) Sam (Falasco) definitely made sure that I felt comfortable and that just as long as we communicated well, we’d be fine.”
That rang true in the first half. Aguilera did not have to make a save as the Wildcats defended well and pitched a shutout. The disappointing part was that they failed to capitalize on several scoring chances, looking like a team that, well, hadn’t played since November.
“I thought we created enough chances in the first half to be up a goal at halftime at least, and that came back to bite us in the second half,” said UA coach Tony Amato. “We’ll keep working on that and hopefully see some better attacks next week.”
BYU, which won the WCC last year and has played a handful of spring games already, broke the seal in the second half by peppering three close-range goals past Hocking.
Between BYU’s second and third goal, Brooke Wilson centered a pass to Hannah Clifford, who scored from well inside the 18-yard box for Arizona’s first and only tally of the day.
With the goalkeeping situation being what it was, Arizona needed a lot more of that.
“It’s something that we identified back in January knowing we only had one keeper on the roster for the spring, so (Aguilera and Hocking) were always going to be ready,” Amato said. “Our approach going into the game is that we needed to win 4-3. It was on everyone else to put the ball in the back of the net.”
Hocking, who did record a save, was noticeably distraught after surrendering the trio of goals, but Amato had no gripes with the way she and Aguilera handled their double duty.
“I’m really proud of Jill and Ili for stepping up and taking it on the chin and being willing and able to get in there,” he said. “Because you know that you could be set up to fail there.”
Saturday’s game would have been a crucial time for Humphreys to get some seasoning. The soon-to-be sophomore served as Lainey Burdett’s backup last season and has not appeared in a game since her senior year of high school.
Amato hopes Humphreys will be available for next Saturday’s game at ASU — “we think Kendyll is pretty close,” he said — but he told the team that he doesn’t want the goalkeeping situation to be used as an excuse to get comfortable with losing.
“I don’t want us to be a program that’s not focused on winning,” Amato said. “Development and all that can follow, but you have to have a winning mentality. We’re not going to walk away from any scrimmage, any spring game with a mentality that we’re not going out there to win soccer games.”
How do you know he means that? Amato made the team redo its postgame chant after the first rendition lacked enthusiasm.
“I didn’t want the team to fall back into, well, we had field players in goal or, it’s just spring,” he said. “That doesn’t fly with us.”
A lot of familiar faces
Other than Aguilera in net, Arizona’s starting lineup was pretty much as expected.
It consisted of Aguilera (GK), Hocking (MF), Falasco (D), Wilson (F), Clifford (F), Hallie Pearson (D), Morgan McGarry (D), Sabrina Enciso (D), Emily Knous (MF), Kelcey Cavarra (MF) and Jada Talley (F).
All 11 had a major role on last year’s 13-6-2 team, and the only three starters missing from the 2018 squad were Burdett, Porter and Kennedy Kieneker.
“I think it’s a really strong group,” Aguilera said. “Of course it’s hard to get used to the seniors not being there, but I think the spring is a good time to get everybody to mesh together again, fill in some spots, and get ready for fall.”
There aren’t many spots to fill once the goalkeeping situation gets sorted out.
“We lost three starters in the fall and usually you lose a lot more players than that from season to season,” Amato said. “So I think there is a lot of opportunity for us to have a good season if we can keep heading in the right direction.”
Here’s Tony Amato after Arizona Soccer’s 3-1 loss to BYU. Wildcats had to use a couple field players in goal due to injury.Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Saturday, March 23, 2019
Jill Aguilera, a forward, was forced to play goalkeeper Saturday as Arizona Soccer lost to BYUPosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Saturday, March 23, 2019