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Underclassmen take on big roles for Arizona soccer

Gianna Christiansen (2) is introduced before Arizona’s match against Pepperdine on Sept. 11, 2022.
Photo by Madison Farwell / Arizona Athletics

As Arizona soccer heads into its Pac-12 home opener against Stanford, it's a sure thing that the Cardinal will see a lot of new faces on the pitch for the Wildcats. So far this season, 16 players have made at least one start for Arizona. Nine of those players are either new to the program or played in less than half of the approximately 1630 minutes of play the team contested last season.

Those players are spread across classes, but the bulk of them are freshmen and sophomores. There are only 10 upperclassmen on the Arizona roster compared to nine freshmen and 10 sophomores. Two of the sophomores are in their first season at Arizona after transferring in during the offseason.

The construction of the roster necessitates playing a lot of underclassmen. There might be even more of them playing if not for injuries.

“The sophomores played a lot last year, but this year, a lot of them are not healthy,” Moros said. “That class was pretty robust and healthy last year. It is frustrating...They were kind of like the happy heart at the team last year, really positive, enthusiastic. Anytime you have a class where you’ve got three-quarters of [it] injured at a time, it’s just tough for them because no players like being injured. The freshman class is an energetic and close-knit class as well. And I think they’re not getting quite as much time as the freshmen did last year just by the nature of it, but there are a lot of them getting significant minutes, starting, and having a big impact.”

It’s not just the underclassmen who are seeing the field more than might be expected. There are juniors and seniors who have taken on bigger roles this year, as well. They are having to juggle the numerous roles that are generally filled by upperclassmen.

“We have a number of juniors who are playing significant minutes for the first time in their career,” Moros said. “So, they’re emerging as leaders at the same time that they’re playing significant minutes for the first time, whether that’s because of injuries or other things. And so it’s been a big ask for them to both lead at the same time that they’re getting comfortable in the field.”

One of the new faces is freshman Sami Baytosh. The midfielder leads the Wildcats in goals scored (2) and points (6) and is tied for the team lead in assists (2). She is already making connections with her teammates.

Sophomore Gianna Christiansen and Baytosh almost connected on two goals in the Pac-12 opener against Utah. While the first was called offsides, the freshman assisted her sophomore teammate on the goal that briefly put Arizona ahead. It was the first regular-season goal of Christiansen’s career.

“It didn’t feel real at first,” Christiansen said. “I just kind of like looked back at my team and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh!’ I felt really good though. I’m glad that I was able to get that one in for my team and kind of hopefully open the gates for the rest of the season.”

As for the connection with Baytosh and the other freshmen, Christiansen likes the way so many of them have already made their presence known.

“When the freshmen came in, I feel like they did an amazing job of...fighting for spots on the field,” Christiansen said. “And that created a very competitive environment, which allowed us to kind of connect as a team on the field, no matter what the class was. Yes, they are still learning things, but I think that if you’re a good enough player, then you can come in and still make an impact, just as Sami and some of the other freshmen are doing on the field.”

Christiansen would know about making an immediate impact. Although just in her second year with the program, she already has 23 starts after starting all 18 games last season and five more this year.

The amount of time she got on the pitch last season has allowed Christiansen to be prepared for play in the competitive Pac-12. She and her teammates are hoping to get their first win in conference play this weekend when they host Stanford and California.

The Golden Bears are of special interest to the Wildcats because the two teams played a very close match last season. At the end of regulation, they were tied at 0-0. Cal eventually took the win in the 96th minute of play on a goal by Karlie Lema.

“That game was neck-and-neck,” Christiansen said. “I feel like it could have gone either way, and they just got the luck of it. They’re an amazing team, but I think that we are also an amazing team. I think that kind of feeling that we could have won that last year is almost going to bring even more energy to us knowing that we could have had them.”

Stanford Cardinal (7-2-1, 0-1 Pac-12) @ Arizona Wildcats (3-3-2, 0-1 Pac-12)

When: The game kicks off at 7 p.m. MST on Thursday, Sept. 29.

Where: The game will be held at Mulcahy Soccer Stadium in Tucson, Ariz.

TV: The game will be aired on Pac-12 Arizona.

Stats: In-game stats will be available on Arizona Live Stats.

Rankings: The Cardinal are receiving votes in the United Soccer Coaches poll. They are ranked No. 51 in the RPI. Arizona is No. 88 in RPI.

California Golden Bears (5-2-3, 0-1 Pac-12) @ Arizona Wildcats (3-3-2, 0-1 Pac-12)

When: The game kicks off at 12 p.m. MST on Sunday, Oct. 2.

Where: The game will be held at Mulcahy Soccer Stadium in Tucson, Ariz.

TV: The game will be aired on Pac-12 Arizona.

Stats: In-game stats will be available on Arizona Live Stats.

Rankings: The Golden Bears are ranked No. 49 in the RPI. Arizona is No. 88 in RPI.