Utah Valley pinged a few passes in the midfield before Amber Tripp sent a through ball into the box for a streaking Nicole Ray. The sophomore sprinted onto it and slotted a left-footed shot inside the far post for the Wolverines’ first goal of the season.
It was the kind of possession-oriented offense Becca Moros hopes to implement at Arizona, but Friday’s 2-0 loss at Utah Valley showed the Wildcats are a work in progress under their new head coach.
The UA only mustered one shot in their regular-season opener, tying the fewest in program history. It didn’t come until the 89th minute when freshman Gianna Christensen let loose from just outside the 18-yard box.
Her shot was deflected by a Utah Valley defender and the ball bounced out to Quincy Bonds on the wing. The UA forward appeared to put the Wildcats on the board with a hard shot into the top of the net, but she was ruled offsides, causing her to flail her arms in frustration after a premature celebration.
Friday’s match always figured to be a tough one. Utah Valley won the WAC and an NCAA Tournament game last season. From the onset, the Wolverines dominated possession with their pace and passing. They finished with a 16-1 shot differential and an 8-1 edge in corner kicks.
Arizona, meanwhile, looked like a team that’s only had a couple of weeks to learn a new system. Their passes were often errant, mistimed or easily anticipated by Utah Valley defenders.
The Wildcats were lucky to only be down by one goal at the half. In addition to Ray’s 19th-minute tally, Utah Valley slammed a shot from a similar spot off the far post and nearly converted a long free kick. Hope Hisey slapped it over the bar, one of four saves the UA keeper made on the night.
The Wolverines remained on the front foot in the final 45 minutes, taking three corner kicks in the 66th minute alone. Arizona cleared them all but could only stave Utah Valley off for so long. Heather Stainbrook iced the game a couple minutes later by netting a free kick from just outside the 18.
It’s the first time the Wildcats have lost their regular-season opener since 2018 when they were stunned at home by Albany. Arizona wound up winning 13 games that year, one of the best seasons in program history.
They hope to start a similar turnaround Friday when they host NAU at 7 p.m. MST.
Heather Stainbrook slots a free kick from just outside the box to give Utah Valley a 2-0 lead on Arizona in the 68th minute.— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) August 21, 2021
It's been all Wolverines tonight. Cats still looking for their first shot. pic.twitter.com/g3CUyD8yYl