The 2019-20 academic year is almost here, so we will be looking at some of the Arizona Wildcats you need to know about for the upcoming sports season.
First up, the freshmen.
Men’s basketball — Zeke Nnaji
It’s no secret that McDonald’s All-Americans Nico Mannion and Josh Green are the headliners of Arizona’s 2019 recruiting class and will form one of the better backcourt tandems in the country.
But for Arizona to be an elite team, others will have to contribute at a high level around them. Four-star recruit Zeke Nnaji is certainly an intriguing player to watch. The 6-foot-11 forward is mobile, long, and rapidly improving his jump shot, allowing him to play both frontcourt spots.
If Nnaji has a strong freshman campaign and the rest of Arizona’s big men can accent what Green and Mannion do on the perimeter, the Wildcats will be a deep, balanced team with very few weaknesses.
Also: Nnaji isn’t a surefire one-and-done like Mannion and Green, so he could be an extremely important piece for the future of the program, not just the 2019-20 season.
Football — Jalen ‘Boobie’ Curry
Arizona lost its top four wide receivers from last season, so someone will need to step up and fill that void in the passing game. Why not Curry, who’s likely the most talented receiver on the roster?
The former four-star recruit had 153 catches for 1,946 yards and 21 touchdowns in just 17 career games at St. Pius X in Houston, Texas.
At 6-2, 206 pounds, Curry certainly has the physical tools to play right away. Plus, he enrolled early in January and participated in spring practice, so he should have a strong grasp of the playbook by the time Arizona opens the season at Hawaii.
Women’s basketball — Helena Pueyo
3-point shooting was one of Arizona’s glaring weaknesses last season, but Spanish freshman Helena Pueyo should help remedy that. The versatile, 6-foot guard made 53 of her 143 3-point attempts (37 percent) for Segle XXI last season in Spain’s second-best women’s league, where she averaged roughly 13 points per game.
Pueyo is believed to be the best of the five international recruits the Wildcats added.
“Helena is special,” head coach Adia Barnes said in April. “Her size, shooting ability, the way she sees the floor and her versatility makes her elite. She is going to add so much to our team on and off of the court. For us to land the best 2019 Spanish guard and one of the top guards in Europe is a huge boost for our young program. The future is bright and she will be a star in the Pac-12.”
Baseball — Dawson Netz
Arizona baseball had one of the top offenses in the country in 2019, but struggled mightily on the mound, compiling a 6.21 ERA, the second-worst mark in the Pac-12.
The Wildcats desperately need to improve in that area if they want to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season, and freshman right-hander Dawson Netz has the pedigree to be an immediate contributor.
The Southern Californian is ranked as the No. 71 recruit in the country by Perfect Game and posted a 0.49 ERA and 99 strikeouts in 65.2 innings at Maranatha High School last season.
“Medium athletic build with some present strength and room for more,” reads his Perfect Game profile. “Good pace to his delivery, cross body delivery with some acceleration to release and spin off to the first base side, 3/4’s arm slot with a quick arm circle, ball comes out of his hand pretty easily with plus arm speed coming through. Low 90’s fastball, topped out at 94 mph, mostly straight with angle to the plate and thrown to spots. Mid-70’s curveball has tight spin and good depth and changes hitter’s bat speed and eye level. Maintains arm speed on his change up well and is mostly straight. Starter’s athleticism and three-pitch arsenal. Quality two-way player who runs a 6.9 sixty and shows a smooth right handed swing with some bat speed. Excellent student.”
Softball — Bella Dayton
Arizona only signed three freshmen on National Signing Day so there aren’t many names to pick from. But left field was one of UA’s few weak spots last season, and Dayton could help shore it up.
The Wylie, Texas native hit .579 in her senior season with six homers, eight doubles and seven triples. Extra Inning Softball ranked Dayton as the No. 23 recruit in the country, saying she is “the prototype leadoff hitter with great bat control and the ability to slap, bunt or hit with power. She’s a lefty slapper with 2.6-2.7 home-to-first speed.”
Another freshman to watch is catcher Sharlize Palacios if senior All-American Dejah Mulipola makes the U.S. Olympic Team and has to miss the 2020 season. Palacios hit .556 with 11 homers and eight doubles as a senior at Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, California.
Volleyball — Simone Overbeck
Arizona lost top outside hitter Kendra Dahlke to graduation so, naturally, top-100 recruit Simone Overbeck, a 6-foot outside hitter from Newbury Park, California, is the name to watch here.
“Simone Overbeck is a terrific athlete. She’s quick, fast, long and has elite first-step movement skills,” said UA head coach Dave Rubio. “She can leap and swing her arm. We think she can train to be a six-rotation left side hitter. Also, because she’s so versatile athletically, we believe she could offer depth even as a right side player and be an outstanding second-tempo attacker. She is someone who has a foundation of athletic skill that’s conducive to being a six-rotation outside hitter in our system. She comes from the same mold of a lot of the players we have on the team now that came in as elite athletes but haven’t had the same exposure to the sport that a lot of other players have. She’s excited to be here and comes from an athletic family; her sister is a Pac-12 basketball player. So Simone has the right competitive make-up and knows what it takes to excel, both athletically and academically at this level.”
Soccer — Hope Hisey
For the first time in four years, all-time shutouts leader Lainey Burdett will not be manning the net for the Wildcats.
Instead, Arizona will have to lean on two inexperienced sets of hands in sophomore Kendyll Humphreys and freshman Hope Hisey. The two will compete for the starting job this August and their performance will go a long way toward determining if Arizona will reach the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in six years, seeing that the Wildcats are returning eight of 10 starters in the field.
Hisey, whose father Jason played baseball at the UA, attended Canyon del Oro High School and rose through the club ranks with FC Tucson.
Humphreys is likely the frontrunner to be the starter—she has already been in the program for a year and got starting reps during the spring season—but Hisey will make it a competitive race if nothing else.
“We knew years ago that we’re going to need a goalkeeper to come in this year, and we started identifying, and it was unbelievable that we found (Hisey) right here close to home,” UA coach Tony Amato said in December. “She is super athletic, dedicated, wants to be a successful athlete and I promise you...that if Hope walked into the room you’d know that she’s a goalkeeper. She looks the part, and being close to home here, we’ve seen her train a bunch. She’s been to our camps, we’ve gotten to know her, she’s a super smart student, and has the potential to be a really good goalkeeper.”
Another freshman to know: Taeya Schueppert, a left-footed attacking midfielder who can help Arizona replace the production it lost when leading assister Amanda Porter transferred to Texas Tech.
Schueppert has trained with the U.S. Women’s National Team and helped lead Real Colorado to a U.S. Development Academy national championship.