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Jill Aguilera looks to lead in rare fifth season with Arizona soccer

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

Jill Aguilera has always been willing to shuttle her teammates to and from practice, even though it wasn’t always the best idea. Her 2007 Mini Cooper has seen better days.

“Oh my God, I’ve had so many car problems, it’s insane,” she said. “Minis are basically BMWs, so they’re so expensive to fix.”

Aguilera hoped that car would survive her college career, but it conked out this spring. These days it sits in her driveway as she motors around in her new, roomier 2019 Volkswagen Jetta. She’s quick to point out that it has five seats instead of four.

“Now I can take more of the newcomers to practice this season,” she laughed.

If Aguilera sounds like a soccer mom, it’s because she basically is at this point.

She is entering her redshirt senior season with the Wildcats, putting her in rare company in Arizona soccer history. She is just the second player in the last decade to spend five seasons in the program.

With age comes great responsibility, so Aguilera is looking forward to mentoring her younger teammates in her final go-around.

There will be a lot of them.

The Wildcats are welcoming 13 freshmen in the fall, and some will need to make an immediate impact in order for Arizona to reach the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year.

Former UA midfielder Kelcey Cavarra, who was teammates with Aguilera for four seasons and part of the same recruiting class, thinks Aguilera is the perfect person to show them the ropes.

“Having Jill back will be huge,” she said. “She is just a hard worker that players look up to and is a great representation of the program. She takes soccer so seriously and you just know every minute she is in she’s going to give it everything she has. Off the field, she’s just a great person and teammate, especially with the little things like always helping with equipment pick up, offering rides, and looking out for everyone’s best interests.”

Aguilera has had the kind of career that every young player can learn from. An ACL tear forced her to miss her freshman season, but she recovered, grinded, and improved in each of the past three years.

A left-footed forward with a powerful shot, Aguilera scored two goals as a redshirt freshman, four as a redshirt sophomore and nine as a redshirt junior, the second-most on the team. She and Jada Talley now comprise one of the top scoring duos in the Pac-12.

Aguilera has also logged nine career assists, working closely with head coach Tony Amato, a former forward himself, to improve her composure around the box.

“When she was younger, in her first year or two with us, she was more likely to get rid of the ball quickly,” Amato said. “And now I felt like she really had the comfort of, ‘I’m going to receive it first and then play, then make a decision and get it on my left foot and hit the target with my left foot from there.”’

Aguilera’s success shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. She scored 105 goals in four years at Woodside High School in northern California, is very coachable and willing to line up anywhere on the field if it means a chance to play. She once played goalie in a spring match.

“Jill had a great season and she was all about her team,” Amato said. “She played different positions, she did different things I asked her to do, she came off the bench at times, she played forward, center-mid, left wing, left forward. Never was grumpy. Never moped. She was the quintessential teammate and that goes a really long way in terms of the example she sets for other players and how important that is for the coaching staff.”

So important that, in January, Amato met with Aguilera in his office to make sure she was still planning to return for a fifth season. There was no bad news to break.

“I wasn’t always 100 percent sure, but probably after my sophomore year was when I decided, ‘yeah, I really want to stay for another year,’” she said.

Aguilera hopes to go pro one day and knows the extra year will help her continue her development into a legitimate NWSL prospect. The draft just so happens to be in January, a month after she’ll earn her degree in sports and society. She only needs two more courses to graduate.

“I think that’ll be a good timeline,” she said.

Aguilera normally plays in the WPSL—the minor-league equivalent of the NWSL—in the summer to prepare for the college season, but the league was canceled this year over concerns of the coronavirus.

Aguilera has stayed in shape by doing the workouts strength and conditioning coach Jim Krumpos has assigned her, as well as training at local schools and parks with her boyfriend, who once played for Pima Community College and FC Tucson.

“We’ll do shooting drills, crossing drills, a lot of free kicks, just kind of messing around to get used to playing again,” Aguilera said. “I feel that’s really important.”

At this point, opponents are well aware that Aguilera is left-footed, so she works diligently on her right foot. She’s also been running a lot. She’s fast but can get fatigued.

“That’s just not my strong suit,” she said. “I’m not Kelcey. I’m not going to get a million on the beep test.”

Aguilera’s surgically-repaired left knee flares up every now and then too, but by now she knows her limits.

“Especially in the summer before season, it’s not worth getting hurt to where you can’t play at all. That’s what happened with me,” she said. “But some want to prove that they’re strong, that they can push themselves. That’s good, but it also hurts the team at the same time, so I think that’s something I want to emphasize to a lot of the newcomers.”

If Aguilera can continue her upward trend, she will become just the eighth player in Arizona soccer history to net 10 or more goals in a season.

Of course, she is more concerned about how many her team scores. The Wildcats notched a program-record 41 goals in 2019, a number she hopes they can top in 2020.

“I personally don’t really care who puts it in the back of the net as long as it happens,” she said. “I just want to make sure that we work well as a team and we all want to win games and do better and just go as far as we can.”