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Healthy and improved Hope Hisey ready for first big test when Arizona soccer hosts No. 4 UCLA

arizona-soccer-pac-12-utah-altitude-crowd-hisey-saves-record Photo by Mike Christy/Arizona Athletics

Hope Hisey has had it easy so far. Arizona soccer had a soft non-conference schedule and dominated the ball in four lopsided wins. They allowed just nine shots on goal and Hisey—their sophomore goalkeeper—saved eight of them, most without breaking a sweat.

That will change in a big way Friday when the Wildcats host No. 4 UCLA. The Bruins (3-0) have a prolific attack that led them to the Final Four last season. Hisey will have to stop shots left and right. She won’t have a roaring crowd to cheer her on—only a few family members—but she’s already amped for the challenge.

“Yeah, it’s definitely a lot of excitement because I’m gonna have to step up for the team, I’m going to be engaged through the whole game and these are the type of games that you live for,” Hisey said Tuesday. “And so I’m really excited and I’m curious to see how we respond.”

Hisey made four saves in a 3-0 upset of UCLA at Mulcahy Stadium last season, but a lot has changed since that signature win. Back then, she was a freshman goalkeeper surrounded by experienced defenders. The opposite is true this season.

Hisey is experienced but her backline, for the most part, is not. The Wildcats started three freshmen in Saturday’s win over NAU. And that’s just on the backline. They have 13 freshmen in total, the most in program history.

All that youth has forced Hisey to step out of her comfort zone. She’s not the most vocal goalkeeper but has to be in order for Arizona to avoid defensive lapses.

“This year, I have to pay it forward and help them learn and grow, so it’s just helped me be a better leader, and kind of show my experience,” she said. “I can see the whole field, so obviously words of encouragement are huge. And then also helping them directionally, systematically and tactically. When to tuck in, when to play wide, when to just clear it out, where to be on set pieces and stuff like that, and constantly being in their ear.”

Hisey said new volunteer assistant coach Katie Coleman—Hisey’s “hype woman”—has helped her find her voice. The two also worked together when Hisey, a Canyon del Oro alum, played for FC Tucson’s WPSL team.

“I’ve just learned to take pride in the position and not be afraid to get on people,” Hisey said. “I know that’s something she’s encouraged me a lot to do, is to take initiative of the backline and the team and be a vocal leader. Because last year it was hard as a freshman to try and lead but also respect my position as the younger player.”

Hisey is only a sophomore, but she considers herself to be a third-year player since the 2020-21 season was postponed by six months. She’s also pretty established in the Pac-12 already, earning all-conference freshman honors last season.

A tall, athletic keeper, Hisey showed a penchant for making the big save but also that she still needed to master the mental side of the game. Like bouncing back from mistakes and understanding tactics, such as how to build a wall on free kicks.

Head coach Tony Amato said Hisey has made strides in those areas.

“‘Who do we want in the wall?’ is a question she’s asking the staff,” he said. “‘Who do we want to set it on?’ ‘How do we want to communicate to get that set up?’ I mean, that’s very different than a year ago where it’s like, ‘how many do we want in the wall?’ Like very different scenarios that she now knows what it should look like and her questions are how to get it there, versus like not even knowing what to ask, really.”

Amato has also spoken in the past about Hisey needing to dominate the 18-yard box.

“It’s just about making clear decisions,” Hisey said. “Like, do I come for the ball? Do I let my defenders handle it? Do I not? And positioning as well. That helps me make decisions. So it’s just reading the ball, reading the game a lot better than in my freshman year and that just comes with experience and confidence in it, because I feel like I dominate my six really well, especially on corners and stuff like that. But then reading it in the game and being able to be that presence in there to help my team and relieve some pressure from the backline. That’s been something that I think I’ve grown a lot in the past year and I’m going to continue to grow.”

Hisey’s development was sidetracked in early November when she caught the coronavirus. She was kept away from her team for the rest of the fall semester and missed the team’s Red-Blue scrimmage later that month, their first game-like action in nine months.

Hisey said she was in the best shape of her life before falling ill. She battled headaches, congestion, and a sore throat. She lost her sense of taste and smell too. To this day it’s still messed up.

“I think the fatigue was one of the worse things as well,” she said. “I just felt so tired.”

Hisey emerged from quarantine a couple weeks later and worked hard to regain her fitness level. By December, she felt more like her usual self. From a physical standpoint, anyway. Her time away from the field gave her a new perspective on life.

“I was so mad that I couldn’t practice, but that was really the extent of the sacrifice that I had to make,” she said. “You know, there are people who have lost their lives, lost their jobs, lost family members in this pandemic. And so it made me extremely grateful for what I have. And it made me not overthink the little things in life that have maybe tripped me up in the past.”

Like placing too much importance on soccer. At one point, Hisey was uncomfortable suiting up this season. Her mother Faith works on the frontlines in an ICU, so she knows how serious the pandemic is.

“I hear these stories that she’s telling me every day,” Hope said. “You know, I had a bad day at practice. Well, if you had a bad day at work, it’s completely different relative to everything going on. So I was like, ‘is it worth it?’”

Hisey found her answer when Arizona opened at GCU on Feb. 4.

“Stepping out on that field at our first game and competing the way that we did and having just the energy that I felt out there, that’s when I was like, ‘okay, it’s worth it,’” she said.

Under several conditions.

“I think as long as we as players and student-athletes appreciate the privilege that we have, and the opportunity we’ve been given to play in a pandemic, and we don’t squander it, and we don’t take it for granted, and we continue to follow protocol, and we continue to be good members of society in that way, then I think that it’s very much worth it,” Hisey said.

That and winning as many games as possible are Hisey’s goals for this unique spring season. The two go hand in hand.

“Other sports, their games have been canceled, they’ve had to have people miss games,” she said. “We can’t really afford to do that in a limited season where not as many teams make the (NCAA) tournament. And I think obviously with as young of a team as we have, my team is going to rely on me and need me to step up.”