By Tom Knauer
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, October 8, 2004
Tonight's match against Washington State will be a homecoming of sorts for Arizona soccer head coach Dan Tobias, even if he chooses not to acknowledge it.
2004 Season Opener
Washington State Cougars
"Honestly, I haven't thought about it," said Tobias, who coached the Cougars from 1998-2002 before taking the head post at Arizona. "We try to prepare for each game in the same manner and just make sure we're as prepared as we possibly can be."
The Wildcats (9-2) begin Pacific 10 Conference play this weekend with home matches against Washington State (7 p.m. today) and No. 5 Washington (1 p.m. Sunday) at Murphey Stadium.
These games will be a test for what is already the best team in Arizona soccer history.
Arizona has lost just two games - to Pepperdine and No. 20 West Virginia - that have cast doubt on whether the team can beat top-flight competition.
Not so, Tobias said.
"Sports are like anything else," he said. "If you don't show up and do your part and play your role as best you can, anybody is capable of beating anybody on any given day."
An explosive, grizzled Cougar squad come into Tucson this week coming off a scoreless, double-overtime tie against No. 13 Tennessee in September and losing 2-0 to No. 4 Portland on Sunday. Washington State (5-3-2) has outscored its competition 13-12 on the season. The Cougars hold a 6-2-1 edge over Arizona in the teams' all-time series, but the Wildcats won most recently, defeating the Cougars 2-1 in November.
Junior Alix Rustrum leads Washington State with four goals, while fellow junior Haley Miller and senior Cailan McCutchan have collected seven points each.
All of which adds up to a not-so-forgettable challenge.
"What's great is that the (Pac-10) is composed of 10 real high-quality teams," Tobias said. "We're excited to start off against a high-quality team like Washington State."
Washington presents another challenge altogether.
The Huskies (9-1-0) saw their eight-game winning streak snapped last weekend against San Diego and look to again defeat a team it has all but dominated. Washington enters with eight wins in nine games versus the Wildcats.
Senior midfielder Nikki Gamble has 12 points for the Huskies, and sophomore goalkeeper Kelsey Rasmussen has given up only six goals all year.
The schedule thickens for Arizona after the weekend. The team will play three of its final seven regular season games against ranked opponents, returning home only twice - against Southern California on Oct. 29 and No. 8 UCLA on Halloween - and concludes the Pac-10 schedule with road matches against Oregon State on Nov. 5 and Oregon on Nov. 7.
"We're going to keep building on what we have so far," said UA senior defender Lindsey Peeples. "I don't know how many wins - we're going to take it one game at a time - but it'll definitely be a bigger finish than last year."