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New roles help Arizona soccer get different results early in the season

Arizona soccer celebrates after the season-opening win over Iowa State
Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

The transformation of Arizona soccer under second-year head coach Becca Moros is an ongoing project. To get where they want to be, several Wildcats are taking on new responsibilities and learning to play in different ways. Two of those doing the most in this regard have been around the longest.

Senior goalkeeper Hope Hisey is being asked to do more both defensively and offensively.

“Starting last year, we asked a lot of Hope,” head coach Becca Moros said. “We asked her to come out and catch balls more. She was very good at clearing balls. She’s great in traffic. She would punch ‘em, so we rarely conceded off of any of those second-phase attacks from the opposition. But we’ve asked her to catch balls and she’s doing an amazing job with that. Very secure. Ball goes in her hands, it sticks. It’s a really good feeling. And then we’ve asked her to play with her feet a ton. And so she’s kind of really risen to that occasion, and she’s doing a great job and adding different elements.”

Fellow senior Madison Goerlinger has had to play a completely different position. The midfielder by trade is playing center back for the Wildcats this season.

“Madison Goerlinger has never played center back for us,” Moros said. “And last spring we knew we were going to be thin in the backline, and we made a joke like you might be playing center back and she was like, ‘I’m ready.’ Like, if I’ve got to do it, I’ll do it. And she played center back all summer and she’s kind of slid in there. She’s a great leader. It’s the single most leadership-oriented position on the field. Goalkeepers do a lot of leadership, but the center back’s closer to the rest of the team for both sides of the game, offense and defense. So, she’s really stepped into that role very well.”

The two have done so well with their new responsibilities that they became the first pair of Wildcats to earn weekly Pac-12 honors in the same week as they led their team to a rather unexpected 2-0 start to the season last week. Hisey was selected Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Week, and Goerlinger took home the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week award.

Angela Baron returns

One reason the back line is a little thin is the absence of freshman defender Angela Baron. Baron has been playing in Costa Rica at the U20 World Cup for Colombia as the starting center back. Before that, she was playing for the full Colombian women’s national team.

Baron finally arrived in Tucson on Sunday evening, but that doesn’t mean that she will see the field any time soon. Her coach just wants her to get some rest.

“She’s been going kind of nonstop between the 20s and the full team for three-and-a-half months, so she needs a little bit of a rest,” Moros said. “But she’s gonna slot right in and her technical abilities and the way she plays is gonna fit in with the team really nicely. And I think she’s got some good players to compete with so she’ll have to stretch herself and continue to grow also, which is important to us that she’s challenged while she’s here.”

The emergence of Goerlinger as the defensive leader certainly gives Baron time to learn and grow before Arizona needs to rely on her too much.

Megan Chelf emerges as a threat to get goals and yellow cards

Junior Megan Chelf hasn’t been called upon to score in her first two years at Arizona, although she took a total of 12 shots over her first two seasons. With Jill Aguilera around to do that, it wasn’t the most important role for Chelf to fulfill. In her first two seasons in Tucson, she had not scored a goal.

That changed during the spring development season when Chelf got her first goal in a friendly. She followed that up in the Wildcats’ fall exhibition against San Diego State, scoring a second exhibition goal. In Sunday’s upset of Texas Tech, she finally broke through in a regular season game to lift the Wildcats to victory.

“The ball that Maddy (Koleno) played, we all thought was maybe gonna go out,” Chelf said. “But thankfully, Maddy looked up and saw the ratio in the box and thought we had a pretty good chance of scoring. So she played a solid ball right in and it was just the right place at the right time.”

What Chelf has been prone to in the early going is very aggressive defense that can sometimes get her into trouble. In the exhibition against SDSU, she got a yellow card. She followed that up with one in the regular-season win over Texas Tech.

“I think Becca gets a little more worried than I get worried,” Chelf said. “But there’s definitely times I think that was maybe a poor choice on my (part). But, yeah, sometimes I feel like it’s appropriate and others I don’t mean to.”

As a team, the Wildcats have been prone to fouling more than their opponents so far—sometimes by a considerable amount. In their two exhibitions, they were called for a total of 12 fouls to just four by the opposition. In their regular-season games, that number has been closer (23-16) but still has tilted against Arizona in every contest. As a team, they now have three yellow cards in just two matches.

Goerlinger isn’t worried about the fouling, either. She thinks it can be an advantage.

“It kind of gets us on the front foot,” she said. “It sets a tone throughout the game that we’re here.”

The road trip continues

The Wildcats will have the second of three straight road matches this week when they go to Nebraska. Setting the tone will be important there, as well.

“Playing them last year, they’re a scrappy, aggressive team,” Goerlinger said. “So we know that we have to go out there and be competitive and show who we are.”

Right now, who the Wildcats are is an undefeated team looking to add another one in the win column and turn some more heads. The next opportunity comes at 5 p.m. MST on Thursday, Aug. 25 in Lincoln, Neb. The match will stream on BTN+.