Arizona soccer was missing two starters Saturday but handled New Mexico State anyway, blowing out the Aggies 4-0 at an empty Mulcahy Stadium.
The script was similar to the first two games of the season: the Wildcats got an extended look at their young players while leaning on their veterans to handle the scoring load.
Seniors Jada Talley (16’) and Jill Aguilera (20’) and junior Grace Santos (81’) netted a goal apiece, while the other tally (60’) was an own goal created by Jordan Hall, who deflected a ball off an Aggie defender.
Hall was one of four freshmen to start for the Wildcats. The speedy Quincy Bonds started at forward in place of senior Hannah Clifford, and Jenna Studer—a tall, tough center back—got the nod for junior Ava McCray. Then there was freshman defender Ava Hetzel who has been a mainstay in the starting 11 all season.
Head coach Tony Amato said Clifford and McCray are battling minor injuries but could have played Saturday if they needed to. Aguilera is ailing as well, only playing 54 minutes due to leg soreness. Her left thigh was wrapped heavily with white tape.
“We had people who came out and showed that if we do have people down, that they can step up,” Talley said. “It was good seeing my teammates not fold under pressure and really work for us.”
With three starters out/limited and the game out of reach for most of the night, every healthy Arizona field player played at least nine minutes. Backup goalkeeper Samantha Hauk—another freshman—even made her debut, subbing in for Hope Hisey for the final 17 minutes of the match.
Neither keeper was tested much, as Arizona posted a 15-2 shot differential. Like most mid-majors, the Aggies had trouble with the Wildcats’ high press.
“We always want to win every game that we go out and play, but we are trying to move people around in different roles and get people into the game to see how they react to game situations,” Amato said. “And so you’ve seen over the first three games that we’ve played a lot of people. That’ll help us get ready for when we do start Pac 12 play in two weeks.”
It helped that Talley and Aguilera gave the Wildcats room to experiment by providing a two-goal cushion within the first 20 minutes of the match.
After ringing a shot off the post in the opening minutes, Talley collected a pass from Hall at the far post and somehow snuck a tough-angled shot past the keeper and into the side of the net.
“I just remember turning on the line and then I saw a very small gap but I shot it, but I don’t know (how it went in),” Talley said. “I have to go watch it on film. I just saw the net rattle.”
Aguilera, who also delivered the free kick to set up Hall’s assist, scored four minutes later when she ran onto a ball from Hetzel, beat the keeper and calmly slotted a shot into an empty net.
Aguilera already has four goals on the young season. Talley has two, meaning the senior duo has accounted for six of Arizona’s eight non-own goals this season.
Amato laughed when asked if he is worried about Arizona’s attack centering too much on his star forwards.
“No, they’re really good,” he quipped. “I’d be worried if we didn’t have players like Jada and Jill scoring goals. And anytime that you have two electric players like that, that can put it in the back of the net, you feel really good about that. If you only have one, you still feel good. If you have none, you don’t sleep at night.”
Besides, Arizona showed it can score without them on the pitch. With both getting a breather, Santos collected a pass from Madison Goerlinger atop the 18-yard box and banged it into the right side of the net. It was her second career goal at Arizona, the last coming in the NCAA Tournament game vs. Penn State in November 2019.
The public address announcer accidentally awarded the goal to Goerlinger, but Santos thought that was fitting because of the pinpoint pass Goerlinger delivered.
“We have a lot of dynamic attackers and we have a lot of athletic people on the team, and we’re at our best when we’re combining,” Santos said. “You saw that today in moments, so I think everyone’s pretty happy.”
Amato said he has a pretty good idea of what Arizona’s rotation will look like when the schedule stiffens up, but said his team is further behind than usual because of all the new faces and the unique circumstances created by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Wildcats know they need to make the most of their last week of non-conference play. They are scheduled to host NAU next Saturday before opening the Pac-12 season at home against No. 3 UCLA the following Friday.
“Practice is a lot of us learning because some of these people I haven’t even really played with yet up until today,” Talley said. “I get my first pass in a game from some of these people, so it’s just a lot of learning right now. We’re trying to use these non-conference games to figure out what we can do besides getting in behind (the defense). I know a lot of teams are going to gameplan for that now because we’re known for being fast and running by people, so it’s kind of like, ‘what else can we do?’ So that’s what we’re working on now, just expanding our game and being able to play behind or in front, whatever the game is asking of us.”
Postgame interviews & highlights
Jada Talley scored her second goal of the season to help Arizona beat New Mexico State 4-0 on a night the Wildcats were without two starters.— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) February 14, 2021
"We had people who came out and showed that if we do have people down, that they can step up." pic.twitter.com/iCzl0DhOAD
Grace Santos scored the second goal of her Arizona career in the 4-0 win over New Mexico State. It was a banger from the top of the 18.— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) February 14, 2021
"We have a lot of dynamic attackers and we have a lot of athletic people, and we're at our best when we're combining and you saw that today." pic.twitter.com/nkeDoosCiv