Morgan McGarry graduated from the University of Arizona in May, became an aunt in June, will be getting married next July, and will wrap up her Wildcats career this fall as the last remnant of the 2015 recruiting class.
Meanwhile, seven of her teammates are just a couple months removed from high school.
“It makes me feel old,” said McGarry, a redshirt senior.
It doesn’t help that she occasionally gets called “Gram” (short for grandma) in the McKale Center weight room—a playful jab at how she’s seemingly been around forever—or that she basically serves as the de facto team mom by packing teammates into her Chevy Tahoe and hauling them to practice.
“If the freshmen need a ride they tend to just pile in,” McGarry laughed. “I’m always there to help.”
McGarry is a rare breed in women’s college soccer. Division I teams have to divvy up 14 scholarships among more than two dozen players, meaning full rides are uncommon. Thus, redshirting and paying tuition for a fifth year can be too costly for some.
Crazily, McGarry is Arizona’s first redshirt senior since 2010, despite the Wildcats having several players who could have taken a fifth year. McGarry didn’t always plan on using hers, but she knew early on that it was going to be an option.
The Danville, California native suffered an ACL injury in her senior year of high school, which hindered her fitness entering her first season at Arizona. Rather than trying to play in a limited capacity, she and head coach Tony Amato agreed it would be best to redshirt, retain a year of eligibility, and focus on returning to full strength.
Even still, McGarry was unsure about using a fifth year until after her second season. She only appeared in four games that year, losing even more time that, naturally as a competitor, she wanted to recoup.
So, McGarry transitioned to a five-year plan and became laser-focused on maximizing her last three seasons.
She’s done exactly that.
Heading into her redshirt sophomore season, McGarry elevated her fitness and switched positions, shifting from midfielder to outside back, where she has successfully combined her ability to defend with her best skill: initiating the offense, especially with crosses.
“There’s fantastic defenders on our team like Sam (Falasco) and Sabrina (Enciso) and Hallie (Pearson). They’re great one-v-one defenders, able to slide and block the ball, and I don’t see one-v-one defending as one of my specialties,” McGarry said. “I think that with my offensive skill set and mindset from playing attacking mid or outside mid my whole club career, and being able to bring another person to the attack and help from that backline, is one of my biggest strengths.”
McGarry was an all-conference player in 2017 and turned in a strong season in 2018, starting in all but one game. Both years the Wildcats finished in the top half of the ultra-competitive Pac-12 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“The first two years what I will remember is how I was able to improve my mental toughness and facing adversity. That helped me grow as a player and a person,” McGarry said. “But these last two years, and hopefully this season, will be the highlights of my playing career.”
McGarry has set the bar high for the 2019 campaign. She thinks the Wildcats have the potential to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2015, McGarry’s first season, “or even past that,” she said.
It’s a realistic goal. Arizona is returning eight starters while adding a top-25 recruiting class and two coveted transfers.
“I think right now our biggest challenge is just meshing again,” McGarry said. “We’re bringing in nine new people, so just making sure that they feel part of the team, they understand how we play, what we like to do, how we communicate on the field and stuff like that.”
McGarry isn’t the most vocal player, so she plans to lead her younger teammates by example. A couple years ago, during her breakout season, Amato said she embodies the program’s standards in that regard.
“She is the person who is solid as a rock,” he explained. “You need something done, she’ll get it done for you. You need her to set the example by how hard she trains, she’ll do that. You need her to be fit and run the fitness test and do really well, she’ll do that.”
The Wildcats don’t officially begin practicing until August, but some of the freshmen have already approached McGarry for advice, quelling some concerns that the age difference would make for a difficult connection.
“We ran ramps today and (they’re) like ‘what should we do? Do we sprint them?’ We’re just trying to introduce them to all the things that we’re doing, all the new workouts that they have to do,” McGarry said Wednesday. “And then ... today we have our first team-run practice. I’m sure there’ll be questions on that, based on playing style, and that kind of advice sort of kicks in once we hit preseason with the coaches and starting those double days.”
Currently enrolled in a one-year master’s program, McGarry earned an accounting degree from the Eller College of Management in May, and hopes to find a job in that field once she leaves the UA next spring.
McGarry is also open to playing soccer professionally if an opportunity arises—one pundit has pegged her as an NWSL draft candidate—but the super senior is starting to come to grips that her time on the pitch is almost over, even though for a while it felt like it was never going to end.
“It’s actually just hitting me that, wow, this is actually my last year, finally,” McGarry said. “So I’m gonna try to make the most of it.”