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Arizona soccer handles Oklahoma in first major test of season

Hannah Clifford (13) gets hugged by a teammate
Photo by Ryan Kelapire

School is back in session, and Friday was exam day for Arizona soccer. They passed with flying colors.

Taking on a Power-5 team for the first time this season, the Wildcats handled Oklahoma 2-0 in Tucson, outshooting the Sooners 15-3 in a one-sided affair.

“If that’s our starting point and we can continue to get better, this team can do a lot,” said Arizona coach Tony Amato. “This was our first game against a Power-5 and our home opener and they came out and really had the energy from the beginning. I thought we had a really good balance of toughness and grit. For what we want to do on attack, it’s really important that we have that balance. And I thought the players did a really good job that of that right from the start and carried that out till the end of the game.”

Arizona (3-0) took the lead in the ninth minute when junior Hannah Clifford netted a shot from just inside the 18 after collecting a rebound. Jada Talley had sent a cross to Brooke Wilson, whose close-range shot was blocked near the net and trickled out to Clifford.

She smoked it past the diving keeper.

“I saw the ball coming towards me and I just put my head down, struck it as hard as I could, just tried to keep the ball on the ground,” Clifford said. “We went into this game knowing that we needed to prove ourselves a little bit, and it was definitely an exciting moment to get off on the right foot.”

Senior Leah Carillo added some insurance in the 70th minute by slotting a rebound after a physical run by Talley forced the keeper to come off her line. Talley’s ensuing shot was deflected, but Carillo, trailing the play, was there on the follow.

The Wildcats could have stretched their lead even further if not for two offsides penalties that wiped away a goal in each half. But it didn’t matter. Not with the way they have been defending.

“Some of our backs like Sam Falasco and Hallie Pearson played the best games they’ve played with us in a long time,” said Amato, whose team hasn’t conceded a goal this season. “I thought they set the tone in front of (goalkeeper) Kendyll (Humphreys). Madison (Goerlinger) was really good, Morgan (McGarry) was good and then we rotated some players in.

“From the forwards into the midfield with Kelcey (Cavarra) winning balls and everyone in front of them pressing and doubling and pressing back, to keep a clean sheet is something we’re really proud of.”

Amato was proud of Carillo, too. Her second-half goal was the first of her career. It is fitting that it came on a hustle play. Carillo’s playing time has fluctuated over the years, but not because of a lack of effort.

“A lot of times you get down on yourself, but if you have a good attitude and keep working, someone will recognize it,” Carillo said.

That someone apparently is Amato, who joked that he should have spotted Carillo’s talent earlier. She was moved to forward this year after spending her first three seasons as a defender.

“Yeah, we got it right finally,” Amato quipped. “And we just needed her in the back before for some depth there, and she was a versatile player that can do both. Now we have a situation where she can just focus in on being a forward. And she’s had a role so far this year where she’s come into games and worked really hard, and popped up with a goal tonight. And that’s good credit to her to stick with it and stay focused, and when she got her opportunity she buried it.”

Postgame interviews