When the final whistle sounded, Samantha Falasco fell to her knees and buried her head in her hands as tears started streaming down her face.
That was the scene in Knoxville last November when Tennessee scored a last-minute goal to end Arizona’s season in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
It still stings.
“Losing in Tennessee was probably one of the worst feelings,” Falasco said, “knowing that we could have gone further.”
It also serves as motivation. Falasco has one more chance to lead the Wildcats past the second round for the first time since 2015, and she is not taking it lightly.
She and fellow senior Kelcey Cavarra have been commanding Arizona’s player-run practices this summer to help ensure the team is a well-oiled machine once the 2019 opener rolls around on Aug. 22.
PRPs, a blend of drills and scrimmages, are a critical stage of team-building in college soccer since the preseason is so short. Arizona’s first game is just two and a half weeks after its first official practice.
“It’s important for bonding and getting the freshmen acclimated, because it’s definitely a new game coming from high school or anything that is before college,” said Cavarra, whose team is welcoming eight newcomers. “It’s getting everyone comfortable playing with each other.”
When the dust settles, Falasco and Cavarra will be pivotal to Arizona’s success, just as they have been the last three years.
An intimidating centerback who strikes fear in forwards, Falasco has started nearly every game since 2016, stiffening an Arizona backline that perennially ranks in the top half of the Pac-12 in goals allowed.
She’s also a force on set pieces, knocking in six goals throughout her career, including a few game-winners.
“This girl will put her body in front of anything,” Cavarra said. “I’ve never seen a girl block more shots... and she is fearless going in on every tackle.”
It’s much of the same for Cavarra, a defensive center midfielder who epitomizes the grit the Wildcats pride themselves on. Her career stats—four goals, one assist—may not amount to much, but she wins balls in the air, makes tackles, and is unbelievably reliable, going her whole career without missing a match.
“Inside (your head), whenever you have the ball, you’re like freaking out,” Falasco said. “But she comes off as so calm.”
Neither Falasco nor Cavarra have ever received an all-conference honor—or even a mere honorable mention—but their contributions show in Arizona’s 24-11-6 record over the past two seasons.
“Both of our positions entail us doing a lot of the dirty work,” Cavarra said. “We win a ton of balls and play out and find feet, and that’s not something people keep track of. I think a lot of our work just goes under the radar, but our positions are important. I think it’s pretty easy to tell if one of us is pulled out of the game.”
Falasco knows she has to be a vocal leader this year too, as she is in charge of a defense that is breaking in a new goalkeeper for the first time in her career.
But above all else, Falasco and Cavarra want to ensure the underclassmen don’t take anything for granted, that they know success in the Pac-12 is hard to come by.
They certainly don’t want to re-experience the misery they felt as freshmen when the Wildcats missed the NCAA Tournament, the only time they have done so since 2013.
“We’re going to be the ones to remind them of just how bad it feels to not make it,” Cavarra said.
But if the Wildcats gel the way their senior leaders have, they won’t have to worry about that. Cavarra and Falasco are roommates and, by now, best friends.
Unlike Jada Talley and Sabrina Enciso who grew up together, Falasco, from Newport Beach, California, and Cavarra, from Littleton, Colorado, first met with they moved into their freshman dorms.
“It was July 10, it’s like 105 (degrees) out, and our moms would not stop talking to each other,” Cavarra laughed.
Cavarra and Falasco didn’t immediately hit it off the way their parents did, but that changed once the season started and they realized how much they have in common.
They both have “quirky, crazy and fun” personalities, are extremely self-critical, and like the same TV shows—America’s Next Top Model, Game of Thrones and Schitt’s Creek.
“Yeah, we just sit in our living room and watch TV...and just kind of do everything together,” Cavarra said before Falasco finished her sentence. “We do homework together, eat together.”
They each have five siblings, too. Falasco is the second-youngest in her family. Cavarra is the youngest. Taking lumps from their older brothers and sisters has given them the edge they share on the soccer field.
“She and I are just very similar in the way that we see things on the field and how our personalities are, and what we believe in, so that just kind of drew us together,” Falasco said.
When her Arizona career comes to a close, Cavarra, a sports and society major, hopes to go into coaching or sports administration. Falasco, a retail and consumer sciences major, yearns to be a fashion designer.
They admit it’s “scary” that their final season is upon them, that their days of playing the sport they love will be over in just a few months, but they have big plans for their last go-around.
“I want to make it past the second round so bad,” Cavarra said. “I want to get into the [Elite Eight] and further than that.”
And with Cavarra, Falasco, and six other starters returning, this year is as good as any to make it happen.
“I don’t know if there is a missing piece, I think it’s literally just luck,” Cavarra said. “I mean, this team is putting in work already, we’re super fit. I get a good consensus that everyone is buying into our core values. ... But I think for us to win, we’ve got to have everything on our side. That’s what it hasn’t been.”