A winless Oregon might have been a good way for Arizona soccer to get its feet wet in Pac-12 play. The second week of conference play should be a good deal more challenging. The Wildcats visit California and No. 3 Stanford beginning on Thursday.
“We’re really looking to Cal right now,” said Arizona head coach Becca Moros. “I don’t think we’ve looked past Thursday’s game as a team...the goal is always to put together your most comprehensive performances and do it back-to-back-to-back. So, we have an opportunity now to come up with a good performance. We’ve righted the ship, and we need to keep it going in that direction, and Cal’s got some powerful players and things that we’ll have to manage and be prepared for and be clean and professional in what we’re doing. So I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for us on Thursday.”
Cal should be the easier target, giving Arizona its best opportunity for a road win. It sports a 4-3-2 record, not much different than the 4-2-3 record of the Wildcats. Arizona knows that the Golden Bears don’t give up, though, and the Wildcats aren’t going to look past them to Stanford on Sunday.
Last year, the two teams were on their way to a scoreless tie when Karlie Lema found the back of the net for Cal in the 86th minute. Lema is back, joined by eight other players who have scored for the Bears this season.
“She’s a handful,” Moros said. “And she’s been producing both for herself and teammates, whether it’s just how much she attracts the defenders and creates opportunities through her crosses and balls in behind the line or whether she’s doing it herself. So, she’s somebody we’ve noticed standing out...Her dominance is just, it’s apparent in everything they’re doing. So, that’s someone we will pay a lot of attention to.”
It was after that loss to Cal last year that Arizona really turned its season around. It was 0-3 in Pac-12 play headed to USC. It was expected that the Wildcats would fall to 0-4 when they visited Los Angeles. Instead, they pulled off the upset and ended up making a good case for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament until dropping their final game at ASU.
Whatever happens in Berkeley, just a few days later, the Wildcats will be facing a similar challenge as the one they faced last year. They will be playing on the home field of an accomplished team.
The team is looking for two wins, but it has other goals, as well. Putting together several “professional” performances was something Moros referred to repeatedly. Stringing together those strong performances after a 3-1 loss to Gonzaga heading into conference play will help set them up for the rest of the season.
“We’ll see in ourselves that we can really accomplish anything,” said sophomore defender Ella Hatteberg. “That’ll just have us gain a lot of confidence.”
In addition to the confidence as it heads into more difficult games, Arizona needs these games against stronger teams to help its RPI. Heading into its game against Oregon, the Wildcats were No. 47 in the RPI. Despite winning 3-0, they dropped 20 spots to No. 67 this week. Playing a Duck’s team outside the top 200 and having Gonzaga drop from No. 26 to No. 50 conspired to deal a lot of damage to the ranking that will ultimately decide its postseason fate this year.
Arizona Wildcats (4-2-3) @ California Golden Bears (4-3-2)
When: Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023 at 3 p.m. MST
Where: Edwards Stadium in Berkeley, Calif.
TV: Pac-12 Network, Pac-12 Arizona, Pac-12 Bay Area
Stats: Cal Live Stats
Rankings: Neither team is ranked in the United Soccer Coaches poll. Cal is No. 75 in RPI. Arizona is No. 67
Arizona Wildcats (4-2-3) @ Stanford Cardinal (8-0-1)
When: Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023 at 1 p.m. MST
Where: Laird Q. Cagan Stadium in Stanford, Calif.
Streaming: Stanford Live Stream 2
Stats: Stanford Live Stats
Rankings: Stanford is ranked No. 3 in the United Soccer Coaches poll. The Cardinal is No. 4 in the RPI compared to Arizona at No. 67.