Tuesday, June 28 2022
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Arizona forward Desiree Foster shoots in the first half. – Joshua Pearson/TucsonSentinel.com

There were so many things that seemed to go wrong with Arizona’s football game against the Arizona Western Matadors on Friday night. Let’s make a list.

The game was supposed to be against Arizona State University. The Sun Devils had to withdraw due to the number of injured players on their roster. The Matadors, however, wear maroon and gold so the Wildcats can pretend they were playing ASU.

The referee team assigned to the match did not show up. Teams reverted to 19th century procedures and each picked a linesman, with the injured Wildcat Jordan Hall taking the side near the fans. There was no fourth official, and a staff member from the Arizona team took the place of center referee.

The match started at 8 p.m., an hour later than usual. Instead of a warm April sunset, the game was presided over by a full moon rising from the clouds and unusually cool weather.

A late injury to Matador goalie Tia Kelk halted the game in the 82nd minute.

None of the odd circumstances seemed to dampen the Wildcat offense. They left the match cut short with a 6-2 win.

The Matadors played a defensive game against the Wildcats when the two teams last met on March 4. This time, their tactics allowed for more threatening outfield runs, earning the Matadors two shots in the opening minutes of the game. That meant early action for Wildcat goaltender Hope Hisey, who had to save the second of them.

The Matador defense was still effective, but the game was much more open than six weeks ago. The Wildcats were able to take advantage of the fact that the hatches weren’t as battened down.

Gianna Christensen had the first shot for Arizona, which went over the crossbar in the fifth minute. Her persistence paid off in the 19th minute when she opened the scoring for the team.

Moments later, Nicole Dalin extended the lead with a shot past Kelk. Christensen closed the scoring in the first half with a shot in the 34th minute.

Viviana Lara, a freshman from El Centro, finally signed the Matadors to the set shortly after the break.

The answer came quickly from Arizona with Dalin scoring his second goal in the 52nd minute. The rout continued with Megan Chelf and Quincy Bonds scoring a rebound adding to the tally as the clock ticked down.

Still, the Matadors had a fight in them. A feisty No. 11 (her name did not appear on the Arizona Western’s website) had been a constant irritation for Arizona players trying to tag her. She fired a shot past Hisey in the 81st minute.

There would be no time to extend the lead, however. In the next minute, a heroic dive from Matador keeper Kelk put her face in the way of a rushing Bonds. The collision resulted in Kelk being out of action for several minutes as personnel from both teams tended to her. Being a friendly match, the referee whistled to cut it short.

The Cats celebration was muted as an occasionally shaky Kelk was escorted off the field with a towel covering her face. Tucson Fire Department paramedics were called to the stadium to attend to her.

Post-match reaction

Even with this ending, the match was considered a success by Wildcat players. The team had shown a lot of improvement since the game in March.

“The difference was not Arizona Western; the difference was us,” Quincy Bonds said. “We struggled a bit the last time we met them… tonight we were a little more fluid.”

“It’s more of us building and learning to play with each other in this new style,” she added.

Because of COVID, this year will be the first for almost all players to have a normal spring prep season and then fall games. The only player on the team to have had a full and traditional year is Iliana Hocking, who was injured on Friday night.

“This marks our full year together,” coach Becca Moros said. “I’m proud of them and the progress they’ve made.”

“It was a good opportunity for us to put our system in place,” she added. “We came here in the fall and it’s all going really fast… there’s only so much change you can ask for. Spring was a very good opportunity for us… it was good for us to have this base.

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