Selection Monday has come and gone and Arizona soccer was left out of the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since 2016.
It’s not unexpected since the field was reduced from 64 teams to 48 this season due to the coronavirus pandemic. In a normal year, the Wildcats likely would have made it. They finished 9-5-1 overall and 4-5-1 in the Pac-12, good for eighth place in the ultra-competitive conference.
Had the Wildcats won one of those one-goal losses to Utah, Oregon, USC or UCLA, they probably sneak in.
“It was definitely different in a transition year for us with 13 freshmen and Kyle (Venter) joining the staff full time, and Katie (Coleman) joining the staff full time,” head coach Tony Amato said Saturday. “I couldn’t be prouder of how everyone handled it, the experience we had navigating the protocols, competing in the Pac-12, I really enjoyed this season and I think it could have been not that way. I was really happy with how it went and how everyone worked together and I’m really excited about next season.”
The Pac-12 put five teams in the postseason: UCLA, Colorado, Washington, USC and ASU. Stanford, the reigning national champions, did not receive a bid.
The Sun Devils will be making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014, getting in over the Wildcats even though Arizona had more regular season wins, the same number of conference wins, and went 2-0 against ASU including a 2-0 victory Friday at Sun Devil Stadium.
Arizona went 3-1-1 in its final five games while the Sun Devils went 1-4 despite having the same opponents. The Wildcats (53) also have a better RPI than ASU (67). ASU likely made the tournament because it finished sixth in the Pac-12—because of one fewer loss and one more tie than Arizona—and beat UCLA and USC.
The Wildcats won’t have to wait long to show the selection committee that it made a mistake. The 2021 season begins in August.
“I feel like if we don’t get in, we’ll feel a little hard done by it and that fire will be in our belly with a lot of players coming back for next year,” Amato said Saturday.
Maybe even the four seniors, including star forwards Jada Talley and Jill Aguilera who accounted for 15 of Arizona’s 22 goals this season.
“Honestly, the four seniors at some point this year they all said that they want to come back and are coming back, and I think when we get into the summer here, emotions will settle, we’ll see where everyone is, what their options are moving forward,” Amato said. “I think very easily all four could come back and I think very easily none could come back. I think it all depends on where they are after the season ends officially and they get a couple of weeks to recover.”