Freshman forward Sophie Jones committed to the Arizona Wildcats in her sophomore year of high school, so joining the team this July felt like a dream come true.
“I’ve been waiting all these years to play here,” she said. “And finally being here is just an amazing feeling.”
Now the work begins. After a month of fitness testing, the Wildcats opened fall camp this week, which Jones said featured “a lot of adrenaline and intensity.”
“It’s definitely different from our club style of play,” she said. “It’s go, go, go. It’s definitely been fun getting to know the girls and just getting to work hard and get ready for the season.”
With the regular-season opener less than two weeks away, Jones and the rest of Arizona’s six freshmen don’t have much time to get up to game speed. Friday morning, they (along with transfers Ava McCray and Grace Santos) participated in a small group session in the Davis Center so the coaching staff could give them individual feedback and help expedite the process.
“We’re just trying to help them get more comfortable, but they’re listening, they’re coachable, they’re working hard, they’re doing a good job,” said UA head coach Tony Amato. “We just know there’s a lot to it, right? They’re having to move today into a different dorm room. And they’re away from home. And there’s all those things on top of getting ready soccer-wise.”
Jones said the biggest adjustment is learning her new teammates’ tendencies—both on and off the field—and being away from her parents. Defender Molly Shannon said it’s having their days planned for them.
“At home, I would have practice at night, once a day, and I would do physical training by myself,” she said. “This time it’s all scheduled for you, so it’s adjusting to that and adjusting to new people.”
There’s also the part that Amato says can be the most challenging: having to make their own meals and buy their own food. Team nutritionist Phil Lewis brought all the freshmen to the grocery store this summer to give them some tips about healthy eating.
“Through preseason, we’re able to help with that a lot, because we’re feeding them a lot ... but I think that’s the biggest thing to manage aside from just being away from home, and maybe you could get a little homesick,” Amato said. “But part of being homesick is that you’re really comfortable with your food situation at home when your parents are cooking for you.”
Arizona’s freshmen hail from all over—Shannon is from Ohio, fellow defender Sabrina Hillyer is from Texas—but Jones said they formed a strong bond during summer workouts, which, apparently, they killed.
“From what Jim (Krumpos) and Adam (Garmon) told me, they’re fit and we could do a lot with them,” Amato said. “There’s still some areas to grow in for some, some are more fit than others. But this is a competitive group that came in really fit and Jim got them even fitter in July, and we’re able to hit the ground running right now.”
Though that could change in a couple weeks when school starts.
“It can become a little overwhelming with your workload, but to be fair, all the freshmen had a summer class to kind of get their feet under them a little bit,” Amato said.
“But yeah, come September, you see who’s managing it well, who’s eating well, who’s getting sleep, who’s handling the workload of soccer and academics, because it’s definitely a little more intense than their high school years.”
Arizona’s freshman class was ranked in the top-25 nationally by TopDrawerSoccer and should help the program continue its upward trend, but Amato said it takes some time, at least a week, to determine what kind of impact they can make from day one.
Jones, who once had 23 goals during a high school season and has a powerful shot, hopes to provide a scoring punch. Shannon hopes to make an impact on the backline and earn a spot on the travel squad. Meanwhile, Hope Hisey is one of two players in the mix for the starting goalkeeping job, Madison Goerlinger is a versatile speedster, and Hillyer and Mariah Dunn are said to be tough defenders.
But the Wildcats return eight starters and some key subs, so the freshmen will likely come off the bench in 2019.
Or at least to start the season, anyway.
“Every player on our team is really important,” Amato said. “For the freshmen, they’ve got to learn and get comfortable and buy in and help what the older players are doing. But the older players really have to help them, and that’s where you see a lot of leadership and a lot of growth for the older players who mature through that process. And they’ll help bring the freshmen along so they can help us win games this year and in the future.”