We will be profiling Arizona soccer’s returning players before they return to campus in July. The previous renditions can be found here. Next up: junior Grace Santos
When Grace Santos transferred to Arizona in 2019, she instantly expanded the program’s footprint. The Scottsville, Virginia native became UA’s first soccer player from the East Coast since 2016 and just the second of the Tony Amato era.
Santos originally began her career close to home at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, where she burst onto the scene. She was named to the All-Colonial Athletic Rookie Team after appearing in all 17 games, making seven starts and tallying a goal in a 2-1 win over Elon.
But, like fellow transfer Ava McCray, Santos yearned to play at a higher level, which meant a move out west.
Santos was a quiet contributor in Arizona’s midfield in 2019, appearing in all 20 games, including a pair of starts. The seminal moment of her season came in the second round of the NCAA Tournament when she collected a cross at the top of the box and saw her deflected shot trickle into the back of the net to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead in the 38th minute.
38' - Grace Santos scores the first of the game after sneaking the ball past the keeper!— Arizona Soccer (@ArizonaSoccer) November 23, 2019
Arizona 1, Penn State 0 pic.twitter.com/j7sTmakOI3
Santos is expected to have a bigger role in her second year with the Cats, on and off the field. Amato has described her as a traditional center midfielder, capable of attacking, defending and distributing.
An Arsenal fan, Santos is known for her high soccer IQ. Amato says she’s the kind of player you can break down film with. She matches that brain with brawn.
“I think anyone that has trained with her or been around her knows she has this grit that she will not back down for anything, like in the weight room, on the field, she will bring it,” McCray said. “You know what you’re gonna get from Grace. She’s just a relaxed person and someone if I was like, ‘hey, what’s up?’ We could just chat and it’s so chill, never any stress.”
Here’s a Q&A with Santos, whose answers have been lightly edited for clarity.
Ryan Kelapire: What did you learn in your first season at Arizona?
Grace Santos: “I think the number one thing would be the style of play and learning how to play with my teammates would be the biggest thing I learned from last season that I’m trying to take into this season. Just figure out how I can contribute within that.”
RK: What’s so different about the style of play?
GS: “I think we have a really big emphasis on defending at Arizona and particularly pressing and so I think that takes a little bit to adjust to. Everybody needs to be tuned in all the time because in the press if even one person isn’t in sync, then the entire thing breaks down.”
RK: What’s different about the Pac-12?
GS: “There’s not a weak team in the Pac-12. Every game you have to be ready for a fight.”
RK: What’s the next step for you as a player?
GS: “I think we’re really excited heading into the season. We’re really excited about the players that we have remaining and the players coming in. It’s going to be exciting to come back to a place instead of going and transitioning to a new one like I did last year. I know personally I’m just really excited to finally get a second year in the same place and really kind of start to make my mark.”
RK: How have you been staying in shape during quarantine?
GS: “A group of us have been training together. It’s nice here in Charlottesville, we’ve got the UVA (University of Virginia) girls, so I’ve been out with them. We go in the mornings and then I have a couple of summer classes that I’m taking, so after that I come home work on them. Oh, also, I come home and my little brother is not very little anymore (he’s 16) so we go out in the afternoon and he beats me up.” (laughs).
RK: What kinds of things have you been working on?
GS: “I’ve been working on a lot. Mainly, I’d say that this season I’m trying to contribute both as a returner and on the field, if that makes sense. We have so many new people coming in and finally I’m someone who’s been there before and knows how things go, so I’m hoping to help the incoming people as well as obviously contribute on the field.”
RK: What does it mean to you to be the only returning player from the East Coast?
GS: “It’s funny. It’s been an adjustment a little bit for me going to the West Coast because I lived out there when I was really little but not since then. But it’s funny what people think automatically. Like, my teammates will be like, ‘Oh, I bet you listen to country music.’ Just things like that. Which is true, fair enough, but it’s been fun. It’s been a new experience, new people.”
RK: So what is the biggest difference?
GS: “There’s not a huge difference, to be honest. We all came to the school for the same reason. We love soccer, we want to play at a high level, and so that pretty much bonds us together.”
RK: When did you start playing soccer?
GS: “I started playing soccer when I was 7, I think, because it was really the only sport offered in my little town. But I didn’t really take it seriously until I was about 15. So there was a long time in there where I just kinda looked forward to it in the fall and didn’t play any other time. But by the time I was early high school, I started to want to take it more seriously. And by the time I was 15, 16, I was all in for it.”
RK: What made you want to take it more seriously?
GS: “Like I said, I just always really looked forward to it when it was going on, and my parents also really drove me. And they didn’t push me to do it, but my dad I remember specifically would say, ‘yeah, you’re alright at it, but if you want to be really good, then you could practice a little bit on your own.’ And then I started practicing on my own and I got better and I got all excited and it’s just never really stopped since then.”
RK: You mentioned your small town. What should people know about Scottsville, Virginia?
GS: “Well, we have the best Fourth of July parade in Virginia, probably. So if you’re on here for the Fourth of July, Scottsville main street is the place to be.”
RK: What’s so special about it?
GS: “Oh, we go all out. There’s a parade that lasts for probably about four hours in the 90-degree heat and humidity, and everybody throws so much candy. You get way more candy on the Fourth of July than you do Halloween. And then afterwards everybody goes home for a couple hours, then we all go back for fireworks, for like an hour-long firework show.”
(Scottsville is about 20 miles south of Charlottesville and 130 miles southwest of Washington D.C.. It has a population of 615. You can watch an informational video about it HERE.)
Arizona midfielder Grace Santos started playing soccer because it was the only sport offered in her tiny town of Scottsville, Virginia, which apparently has the best 4th of July parade in the state.— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) June 23, 2020
"Oh, we go all out." pic.twitter.com/hioYyZOiqF
RK: What’s been your favorite moment of your soccer career?
GS: “I’d say probably either my first college goal or the goal against Penn State last season.”
RK: Yeah, I was going to ask you about the Penn State goal. Obviously that game didn’t end how you wanted it to, but what was it like to score your first goal as a Wildcat in the biggest game of the season?
GS: “Yeah, I was really excited, especially because it was the opener. I felt like we had been working really hard up until that point. It was what, 10 minutes before halftime? Everybody had been working really hard, so it felt really good to get one before we went in for the break. And unfortunately, like you said, it didn’t end how we wanted but that moment was a good memory.”
RK: What drives you as a player and person?
GS: “This is gonna sound really corny, but I think as a player and I guess as a person too, I just want to see how good I can be. It applies to fitness tests or performance in the games, all that stuff. Just kind of always working against my personal best is what keeps me going.”
RK: What is something unique or interesting about you that people should know about you?
GS: “Usually the fun fact I use is that I’m already an aunt. I have three nieces and three nephews.” (Another fun fact: Santos was homeschooled.)
RK: What do you want to do after college?
GS: “I’m majoring in finance, so I hope to go the business route after college. I’m not sure exactly what that looks like. Maybe in some sort of financial analysis or consulting.”