If Arizona soccer players are bitter about their old coaching staff leaving them for Florida, it doesn’t show.
Senior defender Sabrina Enciso said it brought their tight-knit team even closer. Junior goalkeeper Hope Hisey used it as motivation, tweeting a day after the news broke that “all we got is us!”
That doesn’t mean it’s been easy. As other teams released their 2021 schedules early this summer, the Wildcats didn’t even have a head coach. It was confusing and, at times, unnerving.
As the school searched for a replacement, Hisey led players-only Zoom meetings so the team had a place to comfort each other. She also reached out to UA administrators so the players could be as connected to the process as possible.
They waited and waited and waited.
Becca Moros was finally tabbed as the new head coach on June 16, nearly a month after Tony Amato’s departure and just two months before the start of the regular season.
“That was frantic,” Hisey said, “but it all worked out.”
Star forward Jill Aguilera admits she had never heard of Moros, so she googled her and later came away impressed after an hour-long phone conversation with the 36-year-old.
Moros’ career path resonates with young players. A Duke graduate, Moros was an All-American in college, played in the NWSL for nearly a decade, then served as an assistant coach in the league for two more.
“I was afraid of the quality of the coach, obviously I’m not worried about that now, and just the quick turnaround,” Aguilera said. “We all just embraced it and knew that she was going to help make us better as a team, as individuals, as people, and especially having a female coach is really empowering.”
Aguilera went a step further, calling Moros the “change that we all needed.” A weighty statement considering Arizona was a perennial NCAA Tournament team under Amato.
“It wasn’t like I’m happy Tony left or anything like that. That has nothing to do with that,” Aguilera said. “It’s more of like it’s a change in what we’re used to. I think that’s important to be able to adapt and change because we’ve been lucky to have the same coach for so many years, and it’s important to have different coaches, to see different perspectives, to become a more adaptable player, and overall that’s going to help you grow as a person as well. You’re not going to be around the same people your whole life.”
It’s almost like Aguilera, a sixth-year senior, feels like a freshman again.
“Before, I could tell the players what types of drills that we do, but now I don’t know because it’s a whole new coach,” she said. “In a way that’s really exciting because we get to try out new things, do different things, things that I assume professional women do, and I think that is a really important perspective. Not only for us who are here, but for recruits in the future.”
The Wildcats completed their first week of team workouts on Friday. They are considered voluntary as NCAA rules prevent Moros from coaching her players until Aug. 5. They will be training with the strength and conditioning staff and running their own practices in the meantime.
Normally those are led by upperclassmen, but it’s been a group effort so far as they adjust to the coaching change together.
“We talk with our strength and conditioning coach Scott (Kuehn) about what he wants us to do that will help us recover and be able to do another hard session the next day,” Aguilera said. “Today we did smaller-sided stuff. Tomorrow we’ll do a little bit more technical stuff.”
The most important thing is that the players are as close to game shape as possible come Aug. 5. Otherwise they will be prone to injuries, Moros said.
Moros said the first week of official practices will mostly be used to observe and perfect what her players already do well. She plans to uphold Arizona’s aggressive style of soccer but also incorporate more of a possession-oriented attack. How much of that she can install before their first match remains to be seen.
Arizona has an exhibition in San Diego on Aug. 10.
“I think they will be able to onboard a lot of stuff in a short timeline, but five days is really short,” Moros said.
While it’s too early to know what practices will look like under Moros, Enciso said Arizona players are open to anything as long as it helps the team win. Hisey joked about moving from goalkeeper to forward.
“We have a great group of coachable players, so it’s nothing we can’t handle,” Enciso said.
That’s good because Moros isn’t using the short preseason as an excuse. The Wildcats expect to be competitive in the Pac-12 and push for an NCAA Tournament bid just like they did under the previous regime.
“That’s always going to be a goal for us, and I think that’s definitely going to be a goal for Becca, especially with her success at Duke,” Aguilera said. “She’s going to challenge us, and I think that’s what we’re most excited about.”