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Hannah Clifford’s hat trick leads Arizona soccer past UTEP in spring opener

Photo by Ryan Kelapire

Arizona soccer is short on players but not on firepower.

Hannah Clifford had a hat trick and Jada Talley added a brace as the Wildcats routed UTEP 5-0 on Saturday to open the spring season.

“We had a lot of reps in practice—me and her, especially—so I’m just happy it carried over because I know we had a lot to do with each other’s goals,” Talley said. “And whether or not she directly assists me, her movement creates space for me to be one-v-one with somebody.”

Talley, Arizona’s leading scorer in the fall, opened the scoring in the third minute, making a run down the right side and weaving around a defender before slotting a slot inside the far post.

She capped the scoring in the 73rd minute, battling for a long ball and juking the goalkeeper before firing into an open net.

That came just minutes after Clifford used her back heel to knock in a cross from Jill Aguilera. Her first goal came in similar fashion, one-timing a cross from Grace Santos in the 21st minute.

“Our frontline did a good job moving today,” Clifford said. “I think a lot of times our biggest enemy is not having enough movement up top, and so when we do that I think it’s hard to stop us.”

Arizona lost seven players to graduation and transfer, leaving them with 14 for the spring. Two are sidelined with injuries, so Saturday that meant newly-added walk-on Jordan Schulke was the only backup.

“Obviously fatigue is a big thing for us,” Talley said, “but nobody cares.”

The Wildcats looked like the fitter team anyway, outshooting the Miners 14-3 and holding them in their half for most of the match.

The teams played two 40-minute halves (as opposed to 45) with a water break every 20 minutes.

“We didn’t have any subs but we played 80 (minutes), I came out for probably five minutes, so it shows you that you can do it,” Talley said. “It’s kind of like, ‘what can you do if you do have a 10-minute sub?’ So I can only get better from here.”

Coming off a 10-goal season, Talley has already shown she can play at a high level. But some of her teammates have a lot more to prove, and a short bench gives them a chance to shine.

Defenders Molly Shannon and Sabrina Hillyer, who both redshirted last season, started Saturday, operating along the left and right flanks, respectively.

Fellow sophomore Mariah Dunn, who only totaled 60 minutes last season, started at right back alongside junior center back Ava McCray and senior left back Sabrina Enciso.

The Miners, who went 10-7-3 in the fall, didn’t test UA goalkeeper Hope Hisey until five minutes into the second half when a cross skipped across the mouth of the goal before being cleared to safety.

UTEP’s only shot on frame was a floater from distance. Hisey corralled it with ease.

“I felt like the backline stepped up when they needed to,” Clifford said. “Obviously we were getting the ball higher up the field a lot of the time, but when it went back there, they definitely did their job and cleaned it up.”

Talley was impressed by the way Madison Goerlinger, a versatile sophomore, commanded the midfield and how Enciso, a three-year starter, steadied the backline.

“Her being an older player, being a senior this year, being able to tell everybody where to go, it’s a big job,” Talley said.

Talley then looked to her left and pointed at Clifford.

“I think my girl played really good,” Talley smiled.

Clifford’s three goals were three times as many as she scored in the 2019 season. The senior has mostly been a backup at Arizona, but Talley thinks she’s ready for a bigger role.

“She didn’t get as many starts as I would have liked her to have last year and I think she just proved herself right now,” Talley said. “And spring just started, so I’m really excited for season and the rest of spring camp.”

Extra kicks

  • Junior Iyana Zimmerman, one of Arizona’s better attackers, is currently sidelined with a minor knee injury.
  • Junior Iliana Hocking, a key midfielder, is out indefinitely with a hip injury.
  • As of now, Arizona’s next spring game is Saturday, March 21 in Tempe against BYU, who are coming off an Elite Eight season.

Postgame interview