Through its first three matches last season, Arizona soccer had scored two goals and given up five. The Wildcats had two assists and went 1-2 in those matches.
Things didn’t get much better as the year progressed. Over the course of the season, they would average 0.83 goals per game while surrendering 1.89. They had just 11 assists all year and ended with a 5-13 record.
What a difference a year makes.
“I think what’s different for me is the mindset,” said junior forward Jordan Hall. “We had Becca as a new coach and we were working through the kinks of that, but now we’ve had that for a year. We know each other better.”
Being more comfortable with each other on the field has the Wildcats almost halfway to last year’s win total after just three games. They have yet to lose, going 2-0-1 despite only playing once in Mulcahy Stadium and facing a schedule of teams that all hail from Power 5 leagues.
Arizona has scored 1.33 goals per game this season and held their opponents to 0.67. Of their four goals, three have been assisted. Two of those assists came from sophomore midfielder Maddy Koleno.
Koleno sees it all as proof that things are finally coming together for them as a group.
“It’s exciting to kind of see our game plan that we’ve had all spring take shape and kind of prove itself on the field,” Koleno said. “We’ve come a long way through all the changes we had beginning of last year before season started. So it’s exciting that we’re able to finally execute on what we have been working so hard for.”
Koleno’s development is one example of the work that has made it possible to execute the game plan. Arizona head coach Becca Moros sees her results this season as just a continuation of what she was doing last year.
“We told her at the end of the year meeting last year, she’s one of the players who were still getting better the practice before we left,” Moros said. “Her focus, her attention to detail, and sort of the intention with which she went into training, it never really waned as the season went on as we got closer to finals and all those things in the spring where you do sometimes see that happen for freshmen, in particular. So I think she’s come back right in stride. Obviously there are things we want her to do better and we’re gonna keep pushing, but I don’t think she’s reached her potential by any means or ceiling and I think she’s gonna keep going.”
The entire team hopes to keep it going on Thursday when they travel to Phoenix to face Grand Canyon University. Despite being the Wildcats’ first mid-major opponent, the Antelopes present some different challenges for Arizona.
“Their formation is different than any of the formations we’ve played against,” Moros said. “They play three forwards and they do a good job using that. The way they rotate their frontline and their midfield together is different than what we’ve seen.”
There could also be a difference in the physicality of the match. All three of the Wildcats’ games have been physical on the part of both teams. That’s clear in the six yellow cards Arizona has picked up in just three games. The Wildcats have picked up more than one card in two different matches after only picking up eight all last season.
“I think some of them were soft calls,” Moros said. “One was a little bit of over intensity in a moment. It was just a regular foul but the response from a player got card, so I don’t think any of them were the kinds of things where you’re going, ‘That’s reckless.’..I think they’re doing a great job matching the intensity (of their opponents).”
While Moros isn’t concerned about the way the players are playing when they get cards, the cautions do present extra challenges for her.
“The only thing that comes to the yellow cards is game management,” Moros said. “So, picking them up early in the game, if you’re a tough player, you got to carry that for a certain number of minutes. And I think when people get fatigued, they get more cards in general.”
With a less physical opponent, it may be an opportunity for the Wildcats to break their streak of three games with at least one yellow card. They will need to keep their defense stout, though, because GCU has been effective on offense this season. While the Lopes didn’t score in their match against South Dakota State, they have scored three goals in each of their other three matches.
The other variable that Arizona must factor into the equation is the crowd they expect to face. GCU is known for the strong support of its student body. Playing in front of a large crowd is what all players want in Moros’ opinion. Whether it’s the crowd cheering against them on Thursday at GCU or the crowd cheering for them when they return to Mulcahy Stadium to face UAB on Sunday, the Wildcats just want one thing.
“I expect wins,” Hall said.
Arizona Wildcats (2-0-1) @ GCU Antelopes (2-1-1)
When and where: The match will be held at GCU Stadium in Phoenix, Ariz. Kick off is scheduled for 7 p.m. MST on Thursday, Sept. 1.
Viewing information: The match will be streamed on ESPN+
Stats: In-game stats can be found at GCU Live Stats.