Lainey Burdett earned starting goalkeeping duties as a freshman and never looked back.
The soon-to-be senior will become a four-year starter once the 2018 season kicks off in August, and has developed into one of the best players in the country.
Proof? Top Drawer Soccer recently listed her as a top-10 goalkeeper in the NCAA.
“Lainey’s gotten to a point where she can make the big save and is so consistent in other areas where she’s just really reliable,” UA head coach Tony Amato said.
That Burdett is on that list is no surprise.
The 2017 campaign was her best season to date. She played every minute of every match and was named a member of the All-Pac-12 Second Team, after tallying 85 saves and seven shutouts. She had the third-best save percentage in the Pac-12, which helped Arizona win a program-record seven conference games.
Burdett’s signature performance came against No. 2 Stanford when she was peppered with 32 shots, but logged 11 saves and held the eventual-national champion Cardinal to just one goal on their home turf.
The very next weekend, Burdett made an acrobatic save on a penalty kick to preserve a draw against No. 1 UCLA.
“That was the most amazing save I think I’ve ever seen,” UA forward Hannah Clifford said after that game. “She’s the best goalkeeper. ... She saves our butts all the time. Every single game.”
Burdett’s penchant for making the big save is why she won the starting job as a freshman, but she has evolved into a well-rounded player devoid of any real weaknesses.
“Early on it would’ve been, ‘well she makes a big save, but there are some other things that aren’t as consistent’,” Amato said.
“And now, oh man, she has grown so much where her kicking is more consistent, just handling crosses and the routine save is more consistent. Her hands have gotten better, her decision-making has gotten better, which you would expect with experience playing at this level. And she’s done all that in addition to being able to make the big save. You put all that together, that’s why she’s in the conversation as the best goalkeeper of the [Pac-12].”
Burdett is four shutouts away from owning the school record, and will likely break it barring an injury or illness. (She missed several matches early in her career because of those things.)
Amato said Burdett still has room to grow as a senior, but he expects her to be the best goalkeeper in the Pac-12 and hopefully play professionally after she graduates.
“She’s already a really good goalkeeper, but to be a pro goalkeeper is the next step,” Amato said. “So just continuing to increase her fitness base and strength base and working to improve her distribution, knowledge of the game, continuing to grow tactically, those are things that you have to be good at to be a pro.”
Burdett said she plans to enter the NWSL Draft after the 2018 season. Five goalkeepers were drafted last January, including three from the Pac-12, so she has a real shot of being selected.
“I definitely want to (enter the draft) ... because I want to see exactly where I can go,” she said. “So yeah, I’m looking forward to that.”
Arizona does not have a history of producing pro players. Zero Wildcats have been drafted, and only one — Renae Cuellar, who finished her career at Oklahoma — has played in the NWSL.
But at least one of Burdett’s former teammates thinks teams would be crazy to pass her up.
“If she doesn’t get drafted,” said former UA forward Charlotte Brascia, “then I don’t know soccer.”