Sabrina Enciso has rarely shown up on the scoreboard during her Arizona soccer career, tallying just one goal and four assists in five seasons.
The one time she did score, against Houston Baptist in 2018, she laughed and said, “I thought this day would never come.”
Make no mistake about it, though—if you were to rank the most valuable players on the roster, Enciso is near the top.
“Sabrina is essential,” head coach Becca Moros said. “She’s for sure one of the best couple players on the team.”
Enciso earned a starting spot as a freshman in 2017 and has anchored Arizona’s backline ever since. The Moreno Valley, California native has appeared in 79 games, started in 77 of them, and logged thousands of minutes in a Wildcat uniform.
Not coincidentally, Arizona has been extremely successful in Enciso’s career, going 48-26-8 with three NCAA Tournament appearances. She may not score goals, but she sure does prevent them.
“Her ability to defend in big space is unbelievable,” Moros said. “I think she has a career after college and any of the NWSL teams would be very wise to pick her up. She has tremendous defensive instincts. You can try to convert players to defense, you can do all kinds of things. But a player with defensive instincts is going to be faster than other people and clean up mistakes for other people quicker.”
Prior to this season, Enciso mostly played outside back for the Wildcats, a position that combined her defensive mettle with her on-ball skills. She played forward as a kid before making the switch to defender in her late teens when she was starring for the SoCal Blues, one of the best club teams in the country.
Senior forward Jill Aguilera compared Enciso to Marcelo, the famous Brazilian footballer, because of her ability to deliver accurate crosses with both feet. Enciso is known for her long throw-ins, too. And she certainly has the competitive edge that all dominant defenders need.
“She’s an animal,” Moros said. “She’s a teammate you’d want to have, and she’s been great for us.”
Enciso has played a different role under Moros, moving inside to center back in Arizona’s new possession-oriented system. It happened partly because the Wildcats lacked depth at that position, but also because Moros believes it’s in Enciso’s best interest as a player.
“She’s learning to organize the game and understand what’s needed from another perspective on the field,” Moros said. “She’s got great attacking qualities that we can’t fully utilize as a center back, but we’re going to teach how to be a better playmaker and passer from the inside of the field, which will make her a better fullback as well.”
Knowing Moros played and coached in the NWSL, Enciso has taken the position change in stride.
“She just told me that my possession just needs to get a little better, which I 100 percent agree with because I haven’t played possession-style since club days,” Enciso said. “So it is a little hard getting back into it...and she’s an amazing coach. She is a genius. If anyone ever wants to go to the next level, I think Becca is like the first person to talk to on how to get there and what to do.”
Going pro is certainly on Enciso’s mind. It’s one of the reasons she returned to the UA for a fifth season even though she graduated in May.
“I felt like I was kind of cheated out of my last year with COVID,” she said. “And the new coaching staff...it’s a different style of play that I think is really going to get me ready for the next level. I’m so happy I came back. And I love Tucson. Even outside of soccer I’m gonna miss this place when I leave.”
Blazing her own trail
In addition to her excellence on the field, Enciso is the first member of her family to graduate from college. She earned a degree in Health, Care and Society, and hopes to be a counselor for deaf students when her soccer career is over.
“My parents couldn’t be happier,” Enciso said. “Like everybody in my family, they think I’m like a god or something. I’m like, ‘no it’s just a diploma.’”
Still, Enciso knows how important her degree is and what it represents. She is proud to be a role model for younger members of her family.
“My nieces and cousins, they want to go the extra mile and be a student-athlete,” she said. “And that makes me really happy.”
Enciso said she has always been a good student, but wasn’t really pushed to go to college until she got deep into club soccer and her coaches presented it as a possibility.
“From there, [my parents] took it very seriously,” she said. “I would drive like an hour and a half three times a week to go to practice because I didn’t have a good club team in my area.”
That meant Enciso often missed dances and birthday parties as a kid. She wouldn’t change a thing.
“It was all for a good cause,” she said.