The spring season is normally a time for freshmen to build on what they started in the fall. They hone their skills, they ramp up their conditioning, they get more familiar with their surroundings.
But for Arizona midfielder Jules Dominguez, the spring is all about restoring her confidence on the pitch.
“I think it’s more important for me than anybody just because I haven’t stepped on the field,” she said.
Dominguez is working her way back from an open ankle dislocation that sidelined her for the entire 2018 season.
If you’ve never heard of such an injury, you’re not alone.
“They said only .02 percent of ankle injuries are what I had,” Dominguez said.
It happened in training on Aug. 9, just two days before Arizona’s season opener. Dominguez describes it as a “freak accident.”
“Jada (Talley) was dribbling down the line and I was defending her and she went to cross it and I just stuck out my foot to block the ball and the ball kind of inverted my foot,” Dominguez remembers. “Then I landed and it just popped and came out.”
“At first, I screamed. I’ve had ankle injuries before and I knew it was different, so I was kind of freaked out. And then I was shocked. Everyone was just standing there.”
Dominguez underwent surgery the very same day. She was devastated when doctors told her it would be a six-month recovery. She had been looking forward to her freshman season ever since she committed to Arizona in her sophomore year of high school.
But just like that, it was over before it started.
“I’ve torn ligaments in my ankle and I was out for a month. I broke my hand and I was out for like two weeks. So being out six months was like, ‘wow, this sucks,’” Dominguez said.
Eventually her outlook changed when she realized she could redshirt and retain a year of eligibility. Dominguez pointed out that fellow freshman Brooke Wilson, who fractured her leg in September after playing in seven games, was not so fortunate.
“It was the best timing out of everything,” Dominguez said. “I have another year to play, I can kind of learn, listen to the coaches and the players and what’s going on and just kind of learn my position for when I can play.”
Injured players are still expected to contribute to the team in some fashion, so Dominguez, who was on crutches most of the season, embraced a cheerleading role.
“She was definitely one of the most positive people on the team,” said forward Jill Aguilera. “She would be the first to give up her seat when somebody gets subbed off so they could have a break, help them with water or whatever they needed. She was always cheerful on the sidelines. She always made sure that even if it’s just one random pass, she tells you that it was a good one, and that can go a long way.”
Even when Dominguez was away from the team (injured players don’t travel to road games), she stayed involved.
“She’d always be the first one to text us in our group chat, ‘good luck,’” said forward Brynn Moga.
Dominguez also turned her pain into gain. She was unable to do any soccer-related activities until December, but made up for it by pushing herself in the gym.
“As soon as I could walk I was able to do single-legged stuff and upper body, so I felt like I got pretty strong,” she said. “Basically the whole fall I was lifting every single day. In the spring, we’re really emphasizing strength and lifting, so I feel like I was prepared for that.”
UA head coach Tony Amato says Dominguez is now at the same fitness level she was before she dislocated her ankle.
“We feel comfortable now getting her in some games and working through that mental part of coming off an injury,” he said.
That meant Dominguez making her long-awaited debut last Saturday when Arizona opened its spring season against BYU.
“It was nerve-wracking,” Dominguez said, “but as soon as I touched the ball, I was like, ‘OK, it’s just like what I’ve done in the past.”
Dominguez has been playing soccer her whole life — “my mom sent me a video of me kicking a soccer ball when I was like two,” she said — including a decorated career at Mesa’s Red Mountain High School where she was first-team all-state and the Mesa Player of the Year.
Dominguez was also the captain of her club team, SC del Sol.
But she is new to the college game, so she still feels the need to prove herself to her Arizona teammates and coaches.
“They all know me as a person, and I think they respect me as a person, but as a player nobody knows who I am,” Dominguez said. “The coaches don’t even know who I am. So I just have to work hard every practice, not give an inch of anything.”
Being out with an injury can lead to self-doubt, so Dominguez started reading the book How Champions Think. Among other things, it taught her to have faith in her ability even when she couldn’t showcase it.
“They recruited me for a reason,” she’d tell herself.
That reason, Amato said, is because Dominguez is “tough, hard-working in the midfield and will help us link up some passes.”
She’s smart, too. Dominguez was a 4.0 student all four years of high school and won Red Mountain’s Academic Booster Club Scholarship.
“She’s really comfortable with the ball at her feet, knows the right balls to play, is technical enough to receive a ball and then knows where it should go,” Amato said.
“She doesn’t take a whole lot of risks, especially in her position, which makes a whole lot of sense,” added Aguilera. “When she goes negative with the ball, it’s smart, there’s no one pressing. I think that’s a really good quality to have in her first year here.”
While Dominguez is out to show she belongs at the Division I level, Amato is more concerned about building her confidence and keeping her healthy this spring.
“She doesn’t need to prove any of that yet,” he said.
But she already is. Not too long after she subbed in Saturday, she made a key play to set up an Arizona goal.
“She won the ball off the girl, played it to me, and I was able to play it to Brooke, who got it to Hannah (Clifford),” Aguilera said.
It’s a sequence Aguilera said she will never forget.
“(Dominguez) proved that she made an impact in her first game back,” Aguilera said, “and that she’ll be able to do the same next season.”