Arizona soccer starts its last season as a member of the Pac-12 with an exhibition match on Thursday, Aug. 10. As the analysis of volleyball explored, the Pac-12 has been one of the top soccer conferences in the country for years. In fact, it’s probably the strongest conference for women’s sports across the board. What does the future look like for the major women’s sports once the school moves to the Big 12 in 2024-25?
Just like in volleyball, Texas won the league’s regular season last year. In fact, it went undefeated in conference play. In this case, the league was more competitive, though, as shown by West Virginia winning the conference tournament. Yes, one perk of the Big 12 is that it has a conference tournament for soccer.
The league will get even more competitive after adding four teams this year. Current Wildcats are looking forward to that competition.
“I’m really excited,” said sophomore midfielder Sami Baytosh. “I think it’ll be good for us. First, I’ll have another year this year with the Pac-12, and then two more years with the Big 12. So, I’m excited for the new competition and new travel experiences, and I think it’ll be good for the brand at Arizona.”
What kind of experiences will they have?
The 2023-24 additions
As with volleyball, both BYU and UCF promise to be good additions to the Big 12 when it comes to soccer while Houston and Cincinnati will likely have more difficulty competing in the new landscape.
BYU went 11-3-7 last season and made it to the third round of the NCAA Tournament. On their way, the Cougars dispatched Stanford in the second round on penalty kicks. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for them to find themselves in that position.
The Cougars of Provo started playing soccer in 1995. They have been to all but five national championship tournaments since. They have not missed the tournament since 2017. In the fall of 2021, they advanced to the finals where they lost a 0-0 decision to Florida State on penalties. Even if Texas was not leaving after this season, this team would likely take over the top step on the ladder in the Big 12 going forward.
The Wildcats have faced the Cougars 13 times in program history. They have only emerged victorious twice with BYU holding an 11-2-0 record in the series. The Wildcats won the last meeting 2-1 in overtime back in 2017.
UCF has a soccer history that stretches back to the AIAW days of 1981. In its first season, it advanced to the AIAW championship game where it had to face North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The Knights lost 1-0. Their soccer program has remained strong over the past 42 years.
The Knights have only had four losing seasons since the inception of the program. One of them was in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season. They returned to the NCAA Tournament last season after a four-year absence. They lost to eventual national champion UCLA on penalties after a 1-1 draw in the second round. It was their 24th postseason appearance including 23 NCAA Tournament appearances.
Arizona has never beaten UCF, holding an 0-1-1 record against the Knights. The last meeting was in 2017.
Of the other two teams entering the conference this season, the Wildcats have never played Cincinnati. They have two meetings against Houston, both ending in victories.
The Big 12 Old Guard
One thing Arizona has going in its favor is that it has regularly faced at least one Big 12 team in out-of-conference competition over the past several years. Last season, the Wildcats played both Iowa State and Texas Tech, hosting the Cyclones and traveling to Lubbock to face the Red Raiders. They defeated both teams. They will face both again this season, with the home-and-away flipped.
Of the teams that are currently in the Big 12, Arizona has faced Texas Tech the most with nine meetings between the two schools and a 10th scheduled for this season. The Wildcats have a 4-1-4 record in the series. Arizona has also played TCU in recent years, defeating the Horned Frogs 4-3 under former coach Tony Amato in 2019. In 2018, it was Baylor falling to the Wildcats 3-1.
Six of the current teams finished above .500 overall last year, including Texas and Oklahoma. Kansas finished right at .500. Five had winning records in conference play, including the champion Longhorns.
Despite finishing 4-1-4 in the Big 12 last season, West Virginia still had an 11-5-7 record and got to the NCAA Tournament after taking the automatic bid with the conference tournament title. It was able to host the opening round but went out in the second round at Penn State.
The Mountaineers are entering their 23rd season and have only missed one tournament in their existence. That was in the fall of 2021. In years when they competed, they have never lost before the second round. They reached the finals in 2016.
TCU finished second in the regular season last year and lost to WVU in the conference title game. The Horned Frogs got to host the opening round of the tournament and advanced to the third round, losing to Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. Prior to last year, they had finished first in the league for two straight years. TCU has double-digit wins every year stretching back to 2016 and won 19 matches in 2021.
However, Chris Henderson of WoSoIndependent has either TTU or BYU winning the league this season, depending on how BYU is able to handle the step up in conference. (See entire thread on X to see the standings without penalties applied to BYU for the increased difficulty of the league.)
2023 NCAA Women's Soccer Projection #4 - Big 12 (v1.0)— Chris Henderson (@chris_awk) August 3, 2023
1. Texas Tech
2. West Virginia
6. Oklahoma State
12. Kansas State
14. Iowa State pic.twitter.com/OUrtMWNmrd
The Red Raiders finished 9-4-6 last season, including a 1-0 loss to Arizona in Lubbock. They were knocked out of the conference tournament by Oklahoma in the first round.
The Wildcats have losing records against both ASU and Colorado but have a better history against Utah. Despite their overall losing record to the Sun Devils, Arizona had won the previous seven meetings prior to last season. None of these teams are near the upper echelon of the Pac-12, though, and the Big 12 will not have the kind of upper-tier depth that the Pac-12 has had. With BYU, UCF, TCU, and West Virginia looking to be the strongest contenders in the new Big 12, it may be time for Arizona to take a step forward.
Of the 31 players on Arizona’s current roster, 15 come from California, Oregon, and Washington. Most of those come from California.
The positive for head coach Becca Moros is that the state that provides the most players on her roster after California is Texas, where her team will now have four conference opponents. The difference in number of players is fairly drastic, though. While only four are from Texas, 12 are from California.
Moros has been fairly aggressive in recruiting states back East. The New York native has brought in eight players from the eastern part of the country in her first two recruiting classes. She also brought in a transfer from Massachusetts this year. Last year, she got one from New Jersey and another from Montreal, Quebec.
In the freshmen and sophomore classes, the number of West Coast players goes down. Nine of the 15 underclassmen are from Arizona or states to its east. All-in-all, Moros’ recruits have tended to be from Texas or the states along the Atlantic Coast rather than the Pacific Coast, although she has brought in some quality players from states where Arizona will no longer visit during conference play.
Soccer is one of the non-revenue sports that will be most impacted by the change of conferences simply because every school in the league sponsors the sport. There is no ducking areas without major airports, and there are only five metros with major airports in the new Big 12, although Boulder is less than 30 miles from the Denver metro to add a sixth. However, one of those metros includes ASU, which the Wildcats drive to. That leaves nine small regional or medium-sized airports Arizona will have to use to reach their opponents.
Last year provided a glimpse into what the Wildcat soccer players will face when going to many of these places. When the team traveled to Lubbock to face the Red Raiders, they had to take two flights to get there according to Baytosh, who said it was “in the middle of nowhere.” Fifth-year goalkeeper Hope Hisey used the word “interesting” to describe both the trip and Lubbock.
The loss of the Pac-12 Network and the free streams offered by the Pac-12 mean that fans will need to make a small investment to watch most women’s sports. Few Big 12 women’s sports make their way to the linear TV airwaves, so ESPN+ will likely be the way to go for most Wildcat volleyball, soccer, women’s basketball, softball, and gymnastics competitions once the school changes conferences.