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Arizona soccer strikes early, holds off NAU on night of firsts

Photo by Simon Asher/Arizona Athletics

Only the lightning bolts that flickered around Mulcahy Stadium struck faster than Arizona soccer in Friday’s home opener vs. NAU.

The Wildcats scored two first-half goals in a 2-1 win, wasting little time bouncing back from last week’s loss at Utah Valley.

Sophomores Kayden Heinrich and Tianna Sidtikun each knocked in a corner kick on what ended up being a night of firsts. It was their first career goals and Becca Moros’ first win as a head coach.

How does it feel?

“It feels better than last week,” Moros smiled. “Our quality of play went up big time.”

Heinrich, who was also making her first career start, collected a loose ball on a corner kick from Jill Aguilera and tapped it home in the 9th minute. Sidtikun and freshman Olivia Briede connected on a similar sequence in the 36th minute.

Moros quipped that assistant coach Brian Periman deserves to be Coach of the Week for organizing the Wildcats on their set pieces.

“We had been practicing set pieces a lot this week, so I knew where I needed to be and I was in the right place at the right time to get a body part on it,” Heinrich said. “It felt really good, especially it being the first goal of the game. It really set the tone for the rest of the game and hopefully the rest of the season.”

After only mustering one shot in last week’s 2-0 loss at Utah Valley, Arizona outshot the Lumberjacks 21-10, fired 10 corner kicks and created a bevy of chances in the run of play.

Aguilera led the charge with six shots, nearly netting a couple of long ones. Jordan Hall almost knocked in one of Aguilera’s rebounds in the 27th minute. Same with Heinrich in the 53rd minute.

Moros would have liked the Wildcats to be more clinical with their finishing, but continues to stress that they are only a few weeks into learning a new system.

“What’s most important to me is the shot creation...because you can work on finishing all day, but you got to get there,” she said. “This looked more like the way we’ve been training. Last week was a bit of an anomaly for us. We just got rattled, never settled back down, couldn’t connect passes and simple passes we were passing away. In this game, we used Hope (Hisey) more to build out of the back and used our centerbacks more to build out of the back, so we got into the midfield in better shape and positioning and then got in the final third in much better shape and positioning.”

There were still some head-scratching moments, like in the 56th minute when the Wildcats turned the ball over deep in their defensive third to set up NAU’s goal. Madison Montgomery intercepted an errant pass and deked Hisey in a one-v-one before slotting a shot into an open net.

Hisey otherwise was excellent, making three key saves. None bigger than her sliding save in the 33rd minute. The junior bolted off her line to break up a breakaway.

“That’s happened a couple times in my career and I think one of my biggest advantages as a goalkeeper is that I’m really aggressive,” Hisey said. “So I just thought it’s time for me to be big and aggressive and I laid my whole body out and made the save.”

Like Moros, Hisey praised Periman’s coaching.

“Brian has us work on one-v-ones every week because they are the hardest thing to do,” Hisey said. “And when you’re good at analyzing them and reading them right, then the rest of the game comes a lot easier to you.”

Arizona (1-1) has never lost to NAU (0-3) in 11 tries, but this was still a big win for the Wildcats, who avoided their first 0-2 start since 2012.

“Coming off a loss is always tough when you’re in a new system and you don’t have a breadth of experiences that build your identity and build your confidence,” Moros said. “We talked about that before the game, that this game was really critical to us being able to see what were working on in training come out in the game. So it shows our work is paying off and we feel like we’re becoming the team that we’re supposed to be.”

Injuries force Moros to improvise

Senior midfielder Iliana Hocking was a late scratch from the lineup after tweaking her hamstring in warmups, forcing Moros to start freshman Maddy Koleno, who wound up playing 81 minutes. Injuries also kept senior forward Iyana Zimmerman and sophomore defender Jasmine Young on the sideline for the second straight match.

Otherwise, Moros is trying to rotate her players as much as possible so they can show what they can do in game action. Heinrich, for instance, didn’t play at Utah Valley but started and played 42 minutes against NAU.

“She’s been working hard in training and she’s picked up a lot of the tactical stuff very quickly,” Moros said.

LSU, Cal State Northridge up next in Tempe

Arizona will be back on the road next week, facing LSU and Cal State Northridge in Tempe as part of the annual Sun Devil Desert Classic. Moros said Periman (what doesn’t this guy do?) has already started scouting for Thursday’s match vs. LSU.

The Tigers—8-8-3 last season—are 3-0 with wins over Southern Miss, Sam Houston State and No. 15 South Florida. They have a 12-2 goal differential.

Moros smiled when asked if she has any early thoughts on them.

“We’ve seen the scores of their games and we’ve taken notes,” she said.