Who’s the best player in Arizona soccer history? There is an easy argument to make for Gabi Stoian, whose name is littered all over the record book.
The super-skilled forward finished her career second all-time in goals (29), assists (22), and points (80). Only Mallory Miller has more goals (32) and points (83), and only Jaden DeGracie has more assists (24).
When it comes to team accolades, Stoian’s résumé is unmatched. Her class (2014-17) was the first to reach the NCAA Tournament three times, the first to win seven or more Pac-12 games in a season, and the second to reach the Sweet Sixteen.
Stoian also received high marks in the classroom, thrice making the Pac-12 All-Academic Team. The Scottsdale native capped her college career by winning UA’s Ruby Award, which is given to the top female student-athlete.
I caught up with Stoian to discuss her UA career and see how she is handling life after Arizona soccer. Here is the Q&A, which has been lightly edited for clarity:
Ryan Kelapire: What have you been up to since graduating from Arizona?
Gabi Stoian: “Once I graduated I started working in the hospital as a nursing assistant, so I’m doing that right now while attending school full-time. I’m almost done with this semester, and then I’ll have another year left of nursing school (at Northern Arizona University), and I’ll start my career as a nurse.”
RK: How has your experience as a student-athlete helped you?
GS: “It definitely has in a lot of areas. Being organized, managing my time, prioritizing things, and interacting with people as well and growing as an individual when I was in college and it carried on.”
RK: What do you mean by interacting with people?
GS: “Everything from interviews to volunteering, speaking at different events. I’d probably be worse off as a person in general.”
RK: How was the transition to the non-student-athlete life?
GS: “That was definitely difficult. Everyone goes through that phase, some people longer than others. For me, I think it was a little easier. I just decided I didn’t want to play anymore because I knew what I wanted to do next. I had a plan that I wanted to go to nursing school and apply to that right away and start working in my field.”
RK: When you look back on your playing career, what do you think about it?
GS: “It’s definitely the greatest career I could have imagined. Being able to make history as a senior class, and coming in my freshman year I personally had a really good season, and as a team made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005, so it’s definitely been an experience I will never forget, and I miss it.”
RK: You had 13 goals and 7 assists as a freshman in 2014. What do you remember from that season? And why did things click the way that they did?
GS: “I think going in I was just hoping to make an impact on the team. And every single game, my confidence grew a little bit adjusting to the whole level of play and the speed of play, and my coaches and my teammates had confidence in me, so I think that helped a lot. And just taking it one game at a time, and knowing that we are winning games and doing well as a team and were getting close to making into the tournament. I think it just all played out well.”
RK: What was it like to reach the Sweet Sixteen in 2015? That’s still the last time the program has made it that far.
GS: “That was definitely another memory that I won’t forget. It’s a great feeling knowing as a class that we were able to keep building on what we were creating the year prior and working together as a team and getting even better every time we were out there together, and were the team that made the Sweet Sixteen. That will forever remain in history and that’s a cool feeling.”
RK: What was special about that team?
GS: “I think we clicked on and off the field. We were good friends off the field and had that chemistry, and that carried into the game. And on the field, I think we knew each other styles of play well by that time, and we were able to connect well and win games.”
RK: What do you think about the way your career ended (just short of some all-time records)? I know you missed some games and were limited by an injury as a senior.
GS: “Yeah, I think I had a couple injuries almost every year. Senior year, I was going for the most goals, assists, and points (in school history). But finishing second in those areas, I still know that I gave it my all. Sometimes stuff will slow you down, but you just have to make the most of the chances you get. So I’m happy where I finished and how it all played out. Of course you always want more, but yeah.”
RK: What was your favorite goal of your career?
GS: “I was talking to my dad about this, but freshman year at ASU (against Oklahoma State). It was a corner kick and it got deflected out, and I won the ball almost from the top of our box and then start dribbling. And I think I beat one girl and I was about to shoot it from the [centerline], and Tony (Amato) was like ‘no, keep dribbling!’ So I just kept going zig zag through the final third to score the goal. It might have been a game-winner. I’m not sure.”
(It was not. The goal put Arizona up 3-1 in the 90th minute. But Stoian did score the game-winner in the 86th minute, netting a free kick from the top of the box.)
RK: How much do you miss playing?
GS: “I definitely do. I still play in leagues once in a while and try to reconnect with people that played soccer, but it’s definitely difficult. You don’t have a set schedule that you’re gonna be on the field every day and see your teammates, so it’s just trying different ways to get soccer into your life and it’s definitely been an adjustment.”
RK: So when you play in those leagues, do you basically just run circles around people?
GS: “Yeah, pretty much (laughs). There’s some decent players out there, but there’s also ones that just play for fun, which is I guess what I’m doing now but more competitively than that. And there’s some people that have played soccer before that are on my team, so it makes it easy to have fun out there.”
RK: Have you ever scored a goal or put a move on somebody and then someone asks about your soccer past?
GS: “Yeah, and I usually wear my U of A gear and it does start a conversation and they’ll ask me about my career. It’s more unexpected now, but it’s kinda cool to have people come up to you and you’re like ‘yeah, I did play Division I.”
RK: What advice would you give someone who aspires to be a Division I soccer player?
GS: “Definitely be confident in your abilities going into your college career, and know that the speed of play does increase and you do have to figure yourself again once you get on that pitch in your first game, your first practices. But definitely come in fit, that’s a big one that Tony would stress all the time. Coaches want to see that you’re fit, you’re fast, and you’re ready to go. So start getting into shape early, start lifting and have that foundation going because the coaches will build on that.”
This article is part of an ongoing Q&A series that will highlight former UA student-athletes. The rest of the editions are linked below. If you are a former UA student-athlete and would like to participate, please email me at email@example.com or message me on Twitter at @RKelapire!