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Arizona soccer pulls away late in win over Tennessee Tech

Photo by Ryan Kelapire

TEMPE — After going her entire freshman season without finding the back of the net, Iliana Hocking has scored two goals in as many games as a sophomore.

Her latest tally kickstarted Arizona’s 3-0 win over Tennessee Tech on Sunday.

Her secret?

“I think it’s just a different position I’m playing,” said Hocking, who scored in the 29th minute. “I’m playing a wide central midfield position, so I feel like I have more of an attacking role and I’m able to get in the box when the balls are being crossed. ... It’s just good for me. I’m getting on the end of a lot of loose balls.”

Friday, Hocking knocked in a corner kick. Sunday, the hard-nosed midfielder bolted forward to slot a rebound after a powerful shot by Emily Knous was ricocheted by a diving Eagles goalkeeper.

“It’s an extreme confidence boost just because it’s contributing to the win,” Hocking said. “I feel like I don’t score that much, so now I’ve showed myself that I’m able to get in the box and put it on frame.”

Freshman goalkeeper Hope Hisey received a similar jolt of confidence earlier in the first half when she made a key save to keep the game scoreless in her first-ever start.

The Tucson native slapped a close-range shot over the crossbar after Tennessee Tech blocked a clearance and collected it in UA’s third.

“Yeah, that’s huge just to get the game under me and realize, ‘OK, if I can make that save, I can make more,” said Hisey, who backed up Kendyll Humphreys on Friday.

And if that shot had flown past Hisey? It’s a whole different ballgame.

“One, she hadn’t played before, so how does that impact her?” said UA coach Tony Amato. “Two, I think everybody gets a little edgy if that goes in. The coaches can get a little uptight, the players not in the game can get uptight. So I think it was a really important save. And we know we have two good goalkeepers who put into good performances this weekend and we’re happy with that.”

What was not as encouraging was Arizona’s execution in the attacking third. The Wildcats had 11 corner kicks and a bevy of other scoring chances on their way to a 21-3 shot differential, but struggled to put them away until late.

Center back Samantha Falasco knocked in a corner that pin-balled around the box in the 76th minute, before a streaking Brooke Wilson netted a cross from Jada Talley in the 80th minute.

Kelcey Cavarra appeared to score on a header early in the first half, but she was deemed offsides, a recurring problem for the Wildcats throughout the match.

“It’s early in the year, but we got to clean some things up in attack for sure,” Amato said. “But it’s hard to score goals. We still scored three and if you told me we were going to score three every game, I would sign up for it.”

It might say a lot about Arizona (2-0) that it still managed to score three goals on a day when it was not so sharp. The Wildcats have scored 27 goals over their last six games (counting the spring and a friendly vs. San Diego a couple weeks ago), looking like one of the most talented, and deep, teams Amato has had.

Only two games in, nine different Wildcats have recorded a point.

“I think we can continue to grow and continue to score more and more goals as we create relationships amongst the players,” said Wilson, who has a team-high three goals. “I think that some of us being together over the summer helps, and some of us not being together, we lost a little bit that relationship and we just need to bring that back.”

And a little more urgency next week when the schedule will strengthen considerably. The Wildcats host Oklahoma and UC Irvine next weekend before heading to the Bay Area for road games against No. 19 Santa Clara and San Jose State.

After that, Arizona hosts TCU before entering the never-ending gauntlet that is Pac-12 play.

“I feel like we were a little sluggish,” Hocking said Sunday. “And I know it’s hot, but that’s just no excuse. We need to come out with more energy and just be on top of our press and lock teams into their half.”

Postgame interviews

Tony Amato

Iliana Hocking

Hope Hisey

Brooke Wilson