Now that the non-conference schedule is in the books, the ASU soccer team (5-1-3) is preparing for its final Pac-12 season. With high expectations, the Sun Devils must step up their game to succeed in conference play.
Kicking off the season, ASU went 3-0-1 with two wins on the road through their first four games. During this stretch, the Sun Devils only allowed one goal thanks to their stingy defense and the success of sophomore goalkeeper Pauline Nelles, who was honored with a Pac-12 Keeper of the Week award.
During its next five games, ASU went 2-1-2 with matches in both the Sun Devil Classic and Arizona Classic. The team drew two games at home in the Sun Devil Classic while its only loss came against Texas Tech, its first loss against a non-Pac-12 team since 2021.
While this stretch was challenging, freshman forward Savannah Maley said the team has learned from their mistakes in these matches.
“We've been playing a lot of individual soccer,” Maley said. “If we play as more of a team and just like we play, we played very well against Texas Tech, in my opinion, we just couldn't capitalize on our chances.”
ASU's attack this season has scored 15 goals and 1.67 goals per game during its non-conference schedule, which is only 7th best in the Pac-12. While the offense hasn't been stellar, the Sun Devils still succeeded thanks to their defense, only allowing a Pac-12-best 0.33 goals per game.
This time last season, ASU got off to a similar start by posting a 4-0-2 record in non-conference play. However, after their fiery start, the Sun Devils ran into stiff competition in conference play and finished fifth in the Pac-12. ASU qualified for the NCAA Tournament but fell short in the first round against the University of Portland.
Now, nearly halfway through their final Pac-12 season, the Sun Devils are determined to improve their play and make a deeper run in the NCAA Tournament. With one last go at old conference rivals, ASU is loading up for challenging matchups against some of the best teams in collegiate soccer.
The first ranked team the Sun Devils face is No. 2 Stanford. The Cardinal are historically a powerhouse in collegiate soccer, and this year, they have lived up to expectations with an undefeated 7-0-1 non-conference record that includes a win over a top-15 team.
Even though this game will challenge the Sun Devils, freshman Ella Opkvitne and Maley are optimistic about their chances. They both said that if the team becomes more efficient and locks down their plays, they have a chance at taking down a top dog like Stanford.
In its most lopsided Pac-12 matchup, the Sun Devils will take on the Bruins in Tempe on Oct. 22. In 26 all-time meetings, ASU has only won two matches while drawing two others in over 25 years of facing UCLA.
Last season, UCLA finished second in the Pac-12 and won the NCAA Tournament. On the road to their second national title, the Bruins steamrolled past defenses by scoring 2.72 goals per game on average while allowing just 0.56 goals per game.
Impressively enough, UCLA retained graduate midfielder Sunshine Fontes and senior forward Reilyn Turner, its top two goal scorers from last season. So far this season, Fontes and Turner have returned to form as the Bruins’ one-two punch, scoring four and three goals, respectively.
To come away with a point, ASU must rely on its sturdy defense to shut down UCLA’s chances. Nelles and the team’s back line will need to play an almost perfect game to silence the Bruins’ formidable strikers. Looking forward to the matchup, graduate forward Florence Vaillancourt said she is ready to be tested against UCLA.
“Playing against the defending national champion, that’s always a good challenge,” Vaillancourt said. “We’re coming in as the underdog, but I’m excited to show them what we can do.”
As they near the end of a long season, the Sun Devils will have hit the road once more to face the University of Colorado on Oct. 29. With head coach Danny Sanchez at the helm; the Buffaloes have reached the NCAA Tournament six times during his 11-year tenure. However, Colorado has finished near the bottom of the Pac-12 and missed the tournament for the past two seasons.
Last season, after a terrific non-conference stretch, the Buffaloes collapsed in conference play and finished 10th in the Pac-12. While its offense generated 2.10 goals per game on average, Colorado’s goalkeeping duo posted a combined 1.75 goals against average and a mere .737 save percentage.
After their abysmal season, the Buffaloes seem to have improved due to a shakeup between the woodwork. This season, sophomore goalkeeper Jordan Nytes, a transfer from Oklahoma State, has posted a 0.44 GAA while earning five shutouts. If Nytes continues to shut down offenses, ASU’s forwards will have to be creative to walk out of Boulder with a point.
ASU’s final Pac-12 match is a showdown against UA in Tucson on November 3. While this year’s matchup seems to favor the Sun Devils, rivalry games are anything but predictable.
The rivalry between ASU and UA has been described as similar to another in-state rivalry by redshirt senior and Purdue transfer Hannah Lapeire, who is familiar with an intense in-state rival in Indiana.
“But I have to say the team down south here, the rivalry is just as strong," Lapeire said. "Everyone wants to beat them, and we had a pretty unbelievable game last year against UA at the end of the season, and we're looking to put a similar performance out there this year.”
Besides these crucial matches, ASU will face seven other Pac-12 teams this season. If they want to finish at the top of the conference, the Sun Devils will need to pick up their offensive production to give its defense much-needed relief.
Edited by Alfred Smith, Walker Smith and Shane Brennan