Soccer Hosts UTEP Under Stadium Lights in Thursday's Season Opener
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona State Soccer team kicks off its long-awaited 2020-21 season against the University of Texas, El Paso, at Sun Devil Stadium on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. MST.
The Sun Devils are looking to pour their first glass of a "lemonade year" on a fresh and unfamiliar opponent, UTEP. The two programs have met on the pitch only once before Thursday's rendezvous, more than 20 years ago in 1996. The Miners cashed in on a 2-1 win at a neutral site.
To add excitement to the first battle of 2021, ASU will host the tilt in Arizona State's crown jewel, Sun Devil Stadium - host to Sun Devil Football.
Due to crossover schedules with Sun Devil Lacrosse, the Sun Devil Athletics administration agreed to the soccer program's use of Sun Devil Stadium (SDS) for opening weekend.
"We want to thank the administration for working with us to provide the best possible field and conditions for our home matches," Winkworth said. "Another thank you to Herm Edwards and the football program for sharing their home. It's very special to us, and we're very grateful."
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— Sun Devil Soccer (@SunDevilSoccer) February 3, 2021
"We took a walk-through of Sun Devil Stadium together as a team and they got to see what their home field will look like and they're very excited," Winkworth continued. "Playing in an empty stadium of that size, there's other things that happen, such as every time you strike a ball in an empty stadium, there's an echo that goes around the stadium. There's just a special magic feeling that is going to be an amazing experience for our student-athletes."
How Bout Those Sun Devils
More than a year has passed since fourth-year head coach Graham Winkworth, and company lined the benches and took to play after the opening whistle. The team that competed in 2019 is not the same team taking the turf at SDS, and many once-solid starting roles are now up for grabs with the addition of talented first-year students and transfers. Winkworth also expressed excitement for already rostered players who dramatically improved their fitness and technical skills to fight for starting roles.
Kiki Stewart, Lieske Carleer, Jess Hale, and Callie Darst are all familiar faces that fans can expect to see more in 2021. Freshmen internationals Lucy Johnson and Tahlia Herman-Watt are active contenders for significant playing time. Canadian national team player Jazmine Wilkinson brings the competitive spice and can be an impactful player in the midfield or up top.
Sun Devil staples - Nicole Douglas, Alexia Delgado, Eva van Deursen, Isabel Dehakiz - all enjoyed successful seasons in 2019. A year and a half later, Winkworth believes they can absolutely continue to get better and grow their game.
Junior transfer Vildan Kardesler brings electrifying pace and quickness to the top field and adds more national team experience to the forward position.
They're the Miners, But We're the Gold
The Miners ended last season with an overall record of 10-7-3 and an in-conference record of 5-4-2. Heading into the 2020-21 season, UTEP is led by first-year head coach Kathryn Ballogun.
UTEP is coming off an improved season, finishing above .500 in league play (C-USA) for the first time since 2014. It also returned a handful of key players, including sophomore Tess Carlin, who led the team in points (17) and assists. Junior Jojo Ngongo returns for UTEP and looks to build off of her 2019 scorebook: four goals and five assists for 13 total points. In net, consistent Miner starter, sophomore Emily Parrot could prove a challenge for Sun Devil goal-scorers. She allowed an average of 1.3 goals per game and gloved a seven-game shutout streak in 2019.
When: Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021 - 7:00 p.m. MST
Where: Sun Devil Stadium (No fans are allowed admittance per Pac-12 Conference regulations)
Watch: Live Stream Link TBD