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Wildcats to wind up soccer season against Tempe Normal

2 struggling teams battle for pride at UA's Mulcahy Stadium

The University of Arizona soccer team has not had the best season so far. They’ve only had four wins, only one of which was in conference.

Of course, this is Tucson. A successful season can also mean one thing: beating Arizona State University. The Wildcats have a chance to do that on Friday night at 7 p.m. at Mulcahy Stadium.

It hasn’t taken long for first-year Wildcat coach Becca Moros to understand that the true enemy is solar and diabolical. As a one-time Duke Blue Devil, she understands rivalries.

“I think buying into it is easy,” she said. “I came from the Duke-UNC rivalry, so I have good familiarity with local rivalries very close to what a geographical proximity can do. But I think I'm still learning about it. I'm learning about just how much in all the best ways to hate ASU. So it's a rivalry that I already love and will enjoy hating Arizona State with everybody else.”

She concedes that Graham Winkworth, the Sun Devil Coach, was helpful to her as she moved into being the head coach at UA. Still, a rivalry is a rivalry.

ASU hasn’t had the most spectacular of seasons either, only managing PAC-12 wins against lower-table residents Colorado and Utah and a tie against Washington. English forward Nicole Douglas is by far their most productive player with a stunning 18 goals, half of which came against PAC-12 opponents.

Aside from conference records, the two teams are comparable in other ways.

“I've watched a lot of their games and especially because they played here and we played there. So I got to see live games of theirs as well, and I like the qualities of the team,” she said. “I like the style that they play. I think it's a good match up for us. I think there's more similarity in our styles now than they say was with the previous coaching staff “

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“They have some clever international players that can do really interesting things on the field. I think there's a little bit of overlap formation wise,” she added. There's some differences personnel wise. There's obviously different players than they have, but I think trying to play, trying to play the game well, trying to think the game faster than other people, trying to be tactically savvy and the players be able to solve problems on the field. I think there's overlap in the way they do things and the way we do things.”

The ASU match will culminate a season of transition. Moros brought a new tactical look to the team that it has taken a whole season to get used to, but a strong performance against Utah last Thursday is a good ramp up to the match this Friday.

“I think this last weekend was actually a very good weekend for us and a probably more complete weekend of games than we've had going into this game,” she said. “I definitely don't think it's difficult to get up for this game. One we've proven to ourselves a lot of things, but we're still proving stuff to ourselves. So every game and every minute that we have together is important to push forward, to push towards what our goals are long term. So I think the team will be up for that, finishing on a high note.”

Raised Sun Devil, now Wildcat

Becca Moros has noted that there has been an improvement in the team’s defensive shape over the last few weeks. Unfortunately for defender Jordan Schulte, she hasn’t gotten any time on the field. Still, she has praise for her teammates on the back line, particularly their performance without the injured Sabrina Enciso.

“She's definitely a voice and a big leader in the back for us,” said Schulte. “But I think it's just a transition that we've been preparing for. We're practicing with all of our defenders and everyone's getting the reps in and the leadership. She's got every practice, she's still helping us out with everything that we need. So I think it's a transition, definitely. But we're all, like, super supportive.”

“I would confidently say our style of play is much better than how we used to play and how we were used to, like how we closed before,” she added. “This style is much more progressive, much more team oriented, which I think is a big deal.”

Schulte injured her ACL last March so missed the COVID delayed season last Spring plus this Fall’s games. She’ll hopes to be healthy for the spring season, but she’ll miss the ASU match.

The Wildcats usually have a smattering of Valley of the Sun-raised players on the squad, but this year, Schulte, who is from Chandler, is the only one this season. She had a brother that went to the U of A, so she was one of the rare Arizonans with a split allegiance.

“I just wanted to get away from just what I had already known and, like, Chandler and Phoenix and all that. So that was good,” she said. “I have a lot of friends that have played high school and club that actually play at ASU now. So it'll be interesting to see, like, the rivalry and everything and like some of my old teammates that are there. But I just wanted to get away from what I had already known, which was ASU.”

Check the record, check the record

The ASU match could be another victory: if Jill Aguilera scores just once, she’ll tie the decade-and-a-half-old goals record for the Wildcats.

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“That's something that we all have to be backing her when we play ASU,” said coach Becca Moros. “I think we've beaten them the last seven games, so that team is going to come in here desperate to snap that winning streak that we've had against them, and that's something that we can definitely fight for.”

The woman that holds that goals record is Mallory Miller. She plans to be in the audience at the ASU match.

She has been following the team as best as she can from her current perch as an elementary school principal in Chandler. She won’t mind having her record of 32 career goals topped. She says “records are made to be broken.”

Interestingly, Miller spent the first years of her time at Arizona as a midfielder. She was a steady goal scorer. It wasn’t until 2005, when she was a senior, that a combination of graduations and an untested group of freshmen meant then-coach Dan Tobias moved her up to a forward.

She went on to score 19 goals that year, including hat tricks against Oregon and UC Santa Barbara. It’s a single season record that hasn’t been topped. She also holds the record for game winning goals in both a single season (9 in 2005) and over the course of a career (14), and nearly unassailable records for points (83 career/43 in 2005).

Those numbers earned her numerous honors, including a 2005 PAC-12 Player of the Year Award, a spot in the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame, a Legend of Tucson Soccer award from FC Tucson and an induction later this month into the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame.

“ I am very humbled and honored to have those prestigious records in place,” said Miller. “I said it back in my Hall of Fame speech especially in soccer, it's a team sport and if it wasn't for that opportunity to move up to forward in my senior year, I think I scored almost 19 or 20, whatever goals that was just in one year, if it wasn't for that and who the coach and everyone around, I wouldn’t have done it.”

“It was just the dynamic of the team that allowed that to happen,” she added. “And so as cool as it is to set those records, I wholeheartedly believe any of that would not have been possible without the dynamic players I played with while I was there.”

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Joshua Pearson/TucsonSentinel.com

Wildcat players celebrate after a game-winning goal against ASU in March.