If Jill Aguilera were to have written a movie about her Arizona soccer career, even she wouldn’t have scripted a better ending than what the super senior delivered.
An overtime goal to beat your hated rival one last time and in doing so break the program scoring record? That just doesn’t happen.
Except it did Friday night.
Aguilera, Arizona’s standout sixth-year forward, struck an overtime penalty kick right down the center of the net to give the Wildcats a 2-1 victory over the Sun Devils, their seventh straight win in the rivalry. The goal was Aguilera’s second of the game and 33rd of her career, surpassing Mallory Miller (2002-2005) as UA’s all-time goals leader.
So how did it feel to end her career in storybook fashion?
“Oh, it’s awesome,” Aguilera said.
In a season when Arizona (5-13, 2-9 Pac-12) experienced far more lows than highs under first-year coach Becca Moros, Friday’s match against the Sun Devils had Mulcahy Stadium buzzing all night.
“The rivalry has always been alive,” Aguilera said. “I’ve never lost to ASU in all of my years here so that’s another feat that I’m really proud of (and) of my team as well.”
Aguilera and her teammates entered the evening well aware of the senior’s place in the UA record books. With Arizona eliminated from postseason contention, the match represented Aguilera’s last opportunity to tie or break the all-time scoring record.
It took Aguilera all of 12 minutes to tie the scoring mark on a free kick goal from 10 feet outside of the penalty box. Aguilera perfectly placed the shot into the upper right corner, out of the ASU goalkeeper’s reach.
The score gave the Wildcats a 1-0 lead that they held onto through much of the evening. In the 70th and 71st minutes, Aguilera and freshman forward Desiree Foster came painfully close to doubling Arizona’s score but couldn’t quite find the net.
Arizona’s offensive game plan most of the night centered around getting Aguilera the ball in good position, though not at the cost of scoring opportunities.
“They definitely wanted to get me that record, and I’m so grateful to have the team behind me to support me and get me to that point,” Aguilera said. “But I also made sure that they knew not to give up any of their own opportunities if it was better for them than it would be for me.”
Added Moros, “We call it feeding the beast, so Jill’s the beast. We wanted to make sure that we gave her every opportunity. She’s just unbelievable in front for us.”
Aguilera had nine of the Wildcats’ 15 shots on the night.
Arizona’s aggression contributed to some tired legs by the second half, according to Moros, allowing ASU to take control on offense in the latter part of regulation.
In the 82nd minute, the Sun Devils finally struck on a Nicole Douglas header, her NCAA-leading 19th goal.
Douglas’ goal was the only blemish against Arizona goalkeeper Hope Hisey, who had three saves on the night.
“We haven’t really been in that position that much this year, we haven’t scored first, we haven’t lost momentum, had to regain it, so I think it’s just things that we had to talk about and sort through,” Moros said.
Arizona and ASU traded possessions for the remainder of regulation and into the first five minutes of overtime, until a Sun Devils hand ball in their own penalty box led to the Aguilera penalty kick.
Calm as could be, Aguilera took three steps to the penalty spot before letting go on a left foot strike one last time in an Arizona uniform.
“It was such an amazing moment whether this would have been my last game or not,” Aguilera said. “It’s just a great atmosphere to be around these girls. We work so hard every single day and to be able to get a win is amazing.”