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Get to know Arizona soccer’s returners: Sabrina Hillyer

Photo by Ryan Kelapire

We will be profiling Arizona soccer’s returning players before they return to campus. The previous renditions can be found here. Next up: redshirt freshman Sabrina Hillyer.

The Everything is Bigger in Texas mantra doesn’t apply to Sabrina Hillyer.

Listed at 5-foot-3, the redshirt freshman defender is the shortest player on Arizona’s roster, though she’ll tell you that she’s taller than Mariah Dunn, who’s listed at 5-foot-4.

“We measured one practice,” Hillyer said.

Either way, her height hasn’t held her back.

Hillyer, who also goes by “Beans”, is the all-time leading scorer at St. John XXIII High School in Katy, Texas where she netted 64 goals in four years. She was also a four-time all-district selection and two-time all-state, and ran the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash and the 300-meter hurdles.

At the club level, Hillyer played for Albion Hurricanes FC, where she starred along the backline. Whether Hillyer plays there or in the midfield for the Wildcats in 2020, she has a chance to crack the rotation after redshirting in 2019.

“Beans is definitely somebody who does not give up on the ball and that’s surprisingly hard to find in a player,” said senior forward Jill Aguilera. “She’s very tough on the ball. She might be, you know, on average shorter than everybody, but she doesn’t let that affect her play. So I think that’s definitely something that a lot of people will underestimate.”

Here’s a Q&A with Hillyer, whose answers have been lightly edited for clarity.

Ryan Kelapire: First things first, can you explain why your nickname is Beans?

Sabrina Hillyer: “It kind of started in high school. One of our players was always one of those funny players that wanted to nickname everyone. And I dislike beans so much, so she would taunt me with them and just started calling me that. And it kind of came from one of my old nicknames when I was younger, which was Bina. And then obviously I got to Arizona and there was already a Sabrina (Enciso), and (strength coach) Jim (Krumpos) was like, ‘No, you need a different name.’ I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve kinda been called Beans’ and he just took that and ran with it and it just stuck.”

RK: What did you make of your freshman season? Obviously you didn’t play but it was still your first time going through college practices and things like that.

SH: “Since I redshirted it was kind of nice to know every time going into the game that I wasn’t going to play, so I could learn and watch from everyone. I got to work on speed and fitness and got stronger because I was able to do extra workouts in the week or double up on some of the days since I wasn’t preparing for a game.”

RK: What did you learn from watching?

SH: “When we did have home games, I got to see the whole field from a different perspective. Most of us all played all the time in club, so I’ve never really been on the sidelines that much. So watching from that perspective and listening to what the coaches are telling all the players I think definitely has helped me, and I think it’s going to help me this season just knowing what to expect, what they want from each position on the field. Wherever I end up playing I’ll kind of have their voices in the back of my head. Like, oh, they told her to do that last time, I’ll make sure I do something similar to that.”

RK: When did redshirting become an option for you?

SH: “We talked about it before going to San Diego (on Aug. 16), and then we played San Diego University and [the coaching staff] gave me a week to decide and talk it over with my parents. Basically they just kind of said that you’re not going to get much playing time or just here and there, and it was just a better opportunity for me to take that fifth year and get my master’s in something. But I’m glad I took it because I think it was good learning experience.”

RK: It seems like you had different roles in high school and club. In high school you scored a lot and in club I remember Tony Amato once said something like you were a player who did the dirty work but didn’t always show up on the stat sheet. Is that accurate?

SH: “I definitely did play two different roles. In high school, I played more of an attacking midfield position and in club I always played in the backline. Our high school team wasn’t that good, like we weren’t some state championship winners, so I kind of wanted to be in the midfield so I could develop those different skill sets and see the field from a different perspective. I learned how to play with my feet skills, getting forward, and all that. And then in club I definitely did do the dirty work. I would just run in attack and defend and just connect those balls out of the back. I’m pretty fast, so it kind of helped with being able to catch up to the forwards or even running from the midfield to the forward line and scoring. And since I’ve played a lot of different positions I’m now able to see the game from all different perspectives.”

RK: What’s the next step for you as a player?

SH: “I’ve been working pretty hard over quarantine and I have a lot to prove since I didn’t play a lot, so I’m hoping to prove myself on the field. And wherever I choose to play or wherever he (Amato) puts me, I want to make sure I’m able to adjust to that fast, easy and contribute to the team anywhere that I can—and make sure I’m always coming with a positive attitude and finishing strong. One of the biggest things is making sure my body language is good and when I go to practice I need to make sure I’m working hard every single day to show Tony and the coaches that I can be that player on the field that can contribute wherever it is, midfield or backline. I think what I definitely will be able to contribute is combination play and accurate passes, making the game go smoother.”

RK: What does it mean to you to be the shortest player on the team?

SH: “I’ve never been the tall one on a team or out of my friend group or anything. I’ve always been the short one, and I’ve definitely learned to use that to my advantage. Yeah, some people might be like, ‘Oh, she’s short. She’s not going to be able to do that or do this.’ And I think that motivates me. The negativity makes me want to prove you wrong. I’m going to work hard to show you I can do this. Obviously height is a factor for winning balls in the air and stuff, but all spring I was in the jumping group and we worked on jumping like three times a week on the VertiMax. So I’m hoping that kind of shows off and I’m gonna be able to jump just as high as someone else that’s taller than me.”

RK: When did you start playing soccer?

SH: “I started when I was probably 5 or 6, and then my parents signed me up for a kick-and-chase league, and it kind of just stuck from there. And I tried a few other sports on the way like gymnastics and basketball and lacrosse, but they never lasted more than a few months and soccer was always there, so I always went back to that.”

RK: What do you like about soccer?

SH: “It’s a fast-moving game. Like in basketball there’s so many stops. I like the ball at my feet. I like running and chasing after things. And then there’s different things you can do with it. Yes, there’s rules, but it’s very open. And you watch different teams, like men’s league, boys’ league, professional, whatever, and everyone plays a different type of soccer.”

RK: What’s been the most memorable moment of your soccer career?

SH: “My junior year overall. My whole junior year was just a lot going on. I committed to Arizona, my club team did really well, we got like first or second in our league, my high school team was super fun, we were second in our league. It was just a lot of excitement going on there and it was a really fun year.”

RK: Who else recruited you, and why did you pick Arizona?

SH: “I was looking at some smaller schools in California like Saint Mary’s, and then in Texas I got recruited by Baylor. And ever since I moved to Texas, I never wanted to stay in Texas. I always wanted to get out, and one of the coaches at my club team knew Paul (Nagy) and Tony from when they used to coach at [Stephen F. Austin]. So they were like, ‘Oh, you should check this out.’ We’d go to Phoenix showcases a lot, so I invited them to my game, they watched me play, and we kind of just went on from there. And then I went on my unofficial visit and I really liked the school, the campus, the coaches were super invested in the program, and I wanted to be a part of that.”

RK: Where did you live before Texas?

SH: “I lived in California, Oregon, Boston and Michigan before that. ... My dad works in the car dealership business, so we kind of just moved to different states with different dealerships. This is the longest I’ve ever lived somewhere.”

RK: You’re the only player on the roster from Texas, so is there anything stereotypically Texas about you? Do you like Whataburger? Do you like to go to HEB?

SH: “Well, when I first got here I did not want to say ‘y’all.’ And I feel like I just can’t even stop myself from saying it now. I won’t even notice that I say it. And then I’ll go to the rodeo every year, and that’s definitely a new environment for a lot of (people). I mean, Arizona has one too. I didn’t even know they had one until this year, but that’s pretty cool. I don’t really like Whataburger, though. I think In-N-Out is better.”

(Editor’s note: That’s correct. In-N-Out is better.)

RK: How have you been keeping in shape during quarantine?

SH: “I don’t have a gym at my house, but gyms here have been open for a month and a half now, so I’ve been able to get in there a lot. And then the WPSL team that I played for (AHFC Royals), actually did training. We weren’t playing in games, it was kind of just voluntary training, so I was able to do that for the past month and a half too. At the start of quarantine I just used what we have for bodyweight.”

RK: Other than soccer what do you like to do for fun?

SH: “Well, I used to ride a unicycle in a club. And then now I’ve started picking up the guitar, so I kind of just play that on my downtime for the most part.”

RK: Madison (Goerlinger) also knows how to ride a unicycle and ran track like you. Have you and her ever talked about how similar you are?

SH: “Oh, she does ride a unicycle too, doesn’t she? I forgot about that, actually. Yeah, we’ve talked about that a few times. We actually ran some of the same events too, so that’s pretty funny. And I mean, we’re pretty close. We’re living next year together, so that’ll be fun.”

RK: How do you get into unicycling?

SH: “My elementary school actually has a unicycle club. It was a before-school club, and I started in first grade. So first grade through third grade, I was in a club and we’d ride. It was in Oregon, Oregon’s weird, and we’d ride in the Rose Parade and we’d practice before school every morning. Everyone did it, all my friends did it, so it wasn’t that weird back then. It was something fun and different. And it’s like riding a bike, you still can do it today.”

RK: So when was the last time you rode a unicycle?

SH: “I actually rode it in my high school talent show, like two years ago, so pretty recently.”

RK: What do you want to do after college?

SH: “I’m majoring in public health, and I’m going to minor in business. So I’m not sure exactly what I want to do, but I definitely want to be able to go work in the public health field and kind of just educate people on health and hopefully be able to travel and work with different vaccines and infections and all that stuff.”