Even before Arizona soccer kicked off its first-ever practice inside the Davis Sports Center in April, sophomore midfielder Emily Knous knew what she liked most about the new facility.
“The air conditioning,” she laughed. “It makes it super cool inside.”
So cool that defender Morgan McGarry trained with a jacket on—and was teased by her teammates for it.
But you can excuse the fifth-year senior for feeling the need to bundle up. The Wildcats aren’t exactly used to crisp conditions. The bulk of their season takes place in the scorching months of August, September, and October, which regularly forces them to endure 100-degree temperatures.
Now, they have a way to beat the heat.
“I think it helps a lot,” junior forward Jill Aguilera said of the Davis Center, which opened in late February. “It helps us stay hydrated. A lot of the heat takes away what we work towards hydration-wise. And I think practicing inside, going through corner kicks, set pieces, all that kind of stuff, will help in a cooler environment.”
The Wildcats will still do most of their training outdoors at Mulcahy Stadium, and Aguilera noted it’s important that they are comfortable competing in the heat since they have to play in it.
At the same time, junior forward Jada Talley said training indoors can help players hone in on the small, but important, details of the game plan.
“I’ll come off practice off this field (at Mulcahy) and I’m just really hot and I know my muscles are really tired,” Talley said. “In there, it’s just cooler. You can kind of focus on the soccer aspect of it versus, ‘oh, I’m really hot. I wish practice would be over.’”
And it’s not just heat that the Davis Center will provide shelter from. Late-summer monsoons have been known to create untenable conditions at Mulcahy Stadium.
Believe it or not, the Wildcats sometimes have to deal with frigid weather too. In February, their spring season opener was snowed—yes, snowed—out.
“It’s cool to see we can play indoors because a lot of times we get rained out or our field is too wet to play on or sometimes it’s been too frosty, so I think it’s good that we get to come in here and play,” said senior midfielder Kelcey Cavarra. “There were a couple times we had to wait at our field in the morning because there was frost on our field. Sometimes we ended up waiting longer than we actually practiced.”
Another place to train...
The Wildcats had to wait for their field to defrost because they didn’t have any other place to go.
Or at least not any good ones.
In the past, when inclement weather prevented the Wildcats from practicing at Mulcahy, they had to move their operations to less than ideal locations.
Last August, their home field was in such poor condition that they trained at Kino Sports Complex, which is five miles south of campus, all the way up until their regular-season opener. Perhaps not so coincidentally, the Wildcats dropped that game to Albany.
Other times, when the forecast called for rain, the Wildcats practiced on the turf at Bear Down Field, a small outdoor student recreational area nestled north of Arizona Stadium.
The Davis Center has its own limitations. It’s a little short on space, turf is less appealing than grass, and Cavarra joked that the Wildcats had trouble finding the Aux cord.
But at least it’s a viable option when Mother Nature throws them a curveball.
“It’s just awesome to have another resource to truly get over all the situations that we’re going to face,” Knous said. “The only thing we don’t have is soccer lines on the field, but that’s easy to fix with cones and the use of other lines. We’re used to practicing on grass, but there are some stadiums that we play at during season that do have turf. Being able to practice on turf can make it more game-like.”
Location, location, location...
Arizona soccer is one of the few programs at the school that operates off campus. Located on East 15th Street and Plumer Avenue, Mulcahy Stadium is about a mile and a half away from the UA.
The Davis Center is not only on campus, it’s right across the street from the team’s remodeled locker room in McKale Center and a stone’s throw from the C.A.T.S. Academic Center, where UA players often go to hit the books.
“If we ever have to train in there in the morning, we can just go straight to class,” Cavarra said. “It’s not a drive over and dealing with traffic.”
That might sound trivial, but motoring to and from Mulcahy consumes an extra 15 to 20 minutes that student-athletes, already swamped as it is, can put to better use.
The Davis Center on the other hand...
“It’s a two-minute walk,” Knous said. “It’s really easy to go the locker room, change, and come right over. It’s super efficient.”
For the coaching staff too.
“Our soccer offices are right there (at McKale),” said head coach Tony Amato. “It just helps being able to meet in there, get organized, come in (the Davis Center) and knock some things out.”
It’s unclear how often the soccer team will utilize the Davis Center—it will have to wrestle with the football team for access—but Amato is most excited about what it can offer on game days.
“Because we do a walkthrough in the morning (before a day game) or in the afternoon before a night game and this will give us a perfect opportunity to meet, maybe do some last-minute video inside or at our offices, meet with players and then pop over there and do a walkthrough,” he explained.
“There are times we just want to get on the field and do a walkthrough in running shoes, and when it’s hot out that still takes a toll on you. So I think some of that stuff we can balance by just doing it in there. It’s not what we play in every day, so we wouldn’t be utilizing it every day of the week, but there are some opportunities where there’s no point in being in the heat and getting dehydrated.”
With four NCAA Tournament appearances in the last five years, Arizona has established itself as one of the premier programs in the West and has recently been recruiting at a top-25 level, despite Mulcahy Stadium being far from a state-of-the-art facility.
But with the Davis Center now at their disposal, the Wildcats should have an easier time sustaining their success.
Or, even better, building on it.
“A lot of people look through a lens of, ‘oh, Arizona weather it’s so great. That’s how you can get players to come here,’” Amato said. “But for us it’s always a concern because we play in August, September, October. So this will be one way that can help show them that it’s not about playing in the heat all the time.”