Arizona soccer opens season with a win
Doller with a brace; Lopez and Ponce open their seasons' goal tallies
"We are tired of playing against each other," said University of Arizona coach Tony Amato earlier this week. "We want to play some games and see where we are at."
If Friday night's match against Florida International University is any indication, "where we are at" is in a pretty good spot as the Wildcats put on a fantastic offensive performance and posted a win in their very first match, 4 - 2 over the FIU Panthers.
Kaitlyn Lopez opened up the scoring in the sixth minute as goal keeper Gabby Kaufman and the Cats' backline kept FIU off the board for the first half. Ali Doller, a transfer from Paradise Valley Community College, scored two more before FIU could get on the board. Senior Jazmin Ponce scored her first of the season to keep the Cats out front. FIU's Madlen Weinhardt pulled one back for FIU, taking advantage of a confusion on the restart and scoring in her only look on goal all match.
The Wildcats dominated the offense, outshooting FIU 23 - 9.
Arizona takes a short trip up I-95 for their next match to face off against Florida Atlantic University on Sunday. FAU is searching for its first win after losing its home opener Friday against the University of Albany Great Danes.
Only three seniors have returned from last year's squad: Shannon Heinzler, Jazmin Ponce and Colombian national team player Ana-Maria Montoya.
Of the three, only Ponce with nine shots, an assist in the 59th minute and goal, showed up in the stat sheets. Nonetheless, coach Tony Amato likes what he sees from all three.
"They really are the core group of our leadership," Amato said earlier this week before departing to Florida. "They've done a great job so far...we've tried to instill some basic leadership in them that we would expect from seniors that have been here through it all. They have done a good job with it...but it's new for them and everyone is learning and growing together."
The new coaching style is appreciated by the trio of seniors, particularly Montoya, who refers to Amato as a "blessing."
"It's just what we need," she said. "He came in with a fresh new plate. So calm and composed. He has a way of approaching each player in a way that works for them."
Montoya has spent her summer with the team's trainer, the first summer she's trained in Tucson in two years. She took time out in 2011 to train with the Colombian national team when they were preparing for the World Cup and her 2012 was spent at the Olympics, where she made an appearance with the national side.
Even with her international record, Montoya was a bit of an unknown to Amato when he first started thinking about a move to Arizona.
"I had first known about her when I first started looking to go to Arizona. I started talking to people who had played against the team," he said. "They had related who the better players were and I heard her name. Her name was on my radar before I got here."
"She's come a long way even in the time I've been here," he said. "She works extremely hard. She's got a passion about playing the game. She's a tough player. She won't give up on tackles. She'll stick her head in for headers. She comes to practice ready to work."
"If you don't have that out of your senior players, it's going to be hard to instill that in your younger ones," he added.
Montoya is looking for contributions from the incoming freshmen, picking out a few for special attention including Jaden DeGracie of Gilbert and Tucson's Justene Kesterson.
"She has what we need. She's very aggressive on the ball. I feel she can contribute a lot this season," she said.
She also had some good news about Lexe Selman, who red-shirted last year after being diagnosed with leukemia but looks to play this season.
"She's moved into the dorms with the incoming freshman," she said. "That girl is an inspiration for all of us."
Now in her senior year, Montoya has put few thoughts into how she'll continue in the game she loves.
"That's an excellent question. Right now I'm focusing on achieving our goal of getting into the tournament this season," Montoya said. "With Colombia, we are transitioning to qualifying for the World Cup, Olympics and the Pan American games. I'm just trying to focus on my collegiate career."