After receiving the school's first-ever #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament in program history, the Fightin' Texas Aggie Soccer team came out and took care of business in resounding fashion to the tune of a 5-0 victory against Houston Baptist. It was a frigid evening at Ellis Field, but the Aggies found the back of the net both early and often in front of a strong crowd despite the plummeting temperatures in Aggieland. This sets up a rematch from early this season between A&M (19-2-2; 9-1-1) and the Arizona Wildcats (11-7-2; 4-6-1) at 7pm on Friday at Ellis Field. These two teams are familiar with each other, having played to a 2-2 draw in a tournament in Arizona back in September. Before we look forward to this Friday's big game, we'll quickly look back at how both teams got here.
I said last week that it would be extremely beneficial for A&M to jump out to an early and comfortable lead to be able to rotate players and allow some players trying to fully recover from injury a chance to rest and heal. Kelley Monogue wasted no time in doing just that, netting twice in the first 11 minutes against the Huskies. A ball into the box from Annie Kunz was directed into the goal by Monogue after just 4 minutes, and she added her second by taking a pass from Bianca Brinson and firing into the far corner from the top of the 18. Fellow senior Allie Bailey made it 3 for the Aggies on 24 minutes, cleaning up a shot by Kunz that had been saved by the HBU 'keeper.
A&M took the 3-0 lead into halftime, and was able to make liberal use of their substitutions as the match wore on. 21 different Aggies saw action on Friday night which allowed Kunz, Bailey, Monogue, Brinson and Jordan Day to all play less than 60 minutes. A&M would pepper the HBU goal with 34 total shots on the night, and Brinson would tally a goal of her own in the 56th minute thanks to a stellar assist by Shea Groom. Shea would round out the scoring with a goal of her own just 5 minutes later after dispossessing a Huskies' defender and firing a rocket into the net. Midfielder Janae Cousineau sat out her second straight game with injury, and Stephanie Malherbe left the game late with an injury as well, so it will be important to watch the status of those 2 players heading into this weekend.
Arizona, meanwhile, went on the road to take on Oklahoma State in Stillwater. The Wildcats came into the first round Tournament game having won just once in their previous 7 games, but a 78th minute goal from senior Alexandra Doller proved to be enough to advance into the second round. Arizona outshot OSU by a 19-12 margin in the game, and 'Cats netminder Gabby Kaufman made 7 saves to keep the clean sheet.
As mentioned, this game between A&M and Arizona is a rematch from a 2-2 draw back in September which required a very late goal by the Aggies to pull level. A&M twice had to come from behind to avoid a loss in that game, but it was probably one of the least impressive performances by the Aggies this season. Arizona's two goals came after the Aggies failed to clear the ball and from a set piece, and those were certainly two areas that A&M improved upon throughout the rest of the year. Bianca Brinson was responsible for both goals in that game, the second of which came with just 30 seconds left on the clock. The Aggies would come just inches away from stealing a win in the overtime period, hitting the woodwork but ultimately being forced to settle for the tie. It's worth mentioning that A&M goalkeeper Jordan Day, who has been excellent down the stretch this season for the Aggies, was recovering from injury back in September and did not play in that game.
Arizona saw true freshman Gabi Stoian have a breakout season to lead the team in both goals scored (13) and assists (7). Doller, who scored the winner last Friday against Oklahoma State, is the Wildcats' only other player with more than 2 goals on the year (she has 7). 'Keeper Gabby Kaufman has a 1.27 goals against average along with 85 saves, and the Wildcats have narrowly outscored their opponents 33-27 this season.
While this will undoubtedly be a tougher game than last Friday's, the Aggies will assuredly come into this weekend expecting to take care of business against the Wildcats. I'm very curious to see whether Janae Cousineau is recovered enough from injury to get back into the lineup in this game, although A&M has had very serviceable replacements in her absence with Malherbe and Ashlynn Harryman. The Aggies will want to put Arizona's back line under pressure with Annie Kunz up top, who only played 46 minutes (out of 110 thanks to overtime) in the game back in September, and Bianca Brinson will look to continue to find the net after scoring goals in 4 of the last 5 games.
Prior to the Aggies and Wildcats, #4 seed Notre Dame will take on Texas at 3pm at Ellis Field, with the winners of the two games advancing to the Sweet 16 on Sunday at 1:30pm. You can see what the other portion of this bracket looks like below, and Sunday's winner would play one of those teams in the Elite Eight sometime the following weekend.
Unlike last Friday, there are no conflicts on campus this Friday - basketball is in Puerto Rico and volleyball plays Sunday - and ALL Texas A&M students can get into this game FREE with just a student ID thanks to the Aggie Soccer Club. Spread the word and bring all your friends to Ellis Field at 7pm to help the Aggies advance again in the NCAA Tournament! BTHO Arizona!