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Checking in with Arizona soccer in the offseason

On Iliana Hocking being the Wildcats’ first NWSL draftee ever, the departure of Angela Baron, the next group of new Wildcats, and more

arizona-wildcats-soccer-notebook-offseason-check-in-hocking-goerlinger-baron-recruiting Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

Arizona soccer narrowly missed getting to the NCAA Tournament in the second year of the Becca Moros era. It was a tough one to swallow, but there’s always next year to look forward to. What’s going on in the offseason?

Iliana Hocking becomes the first NWSL draftee in Arizona history

It was a huge moment in Arizona soccer history. The Wildcats have had some great players. They have even had players like Jill Aguilera and Lainey Burdett who have played in the NWSL. None had ever heard her name called on draft day before Iliana Hocking, though.

“I had no idea it was our first ever pick,” Moros said. “I’m happy about it. I think Iliana was a great selection. I think she’s viciously competitive in all the ways you want. Definitely we were thinking we were going to be missing her big time, so to be able to watch her play somewhere else is going to be really, really nice. And she’s just got a super amount of talent in there. They’re veteran midfielders that she’s going to get to be challenged by and have an opportunity to take her game to a new level, which I know she’ll relish that opportunity because she’s just such a passionate player.”

While the NJ/NY Gotham FC organization has changed a lot since Moros left there to take over at Arizona 18 months ago, the coach said she still knew some of the players there and that she had known general manager Yael Averbuch West since they were young. She was also impressed with what she saw from head coach Juan Carlos Amorós, who took over the team after she left the staff.

“I used to play with the current general manager,” Moros said. “We grew up—she’s from New Jersey, I’m from New York—overlapping in youth. She’s a wonderful person. Great business mind. Great leader. Was an excellent soccer player. So, I feel like the club is in good hands there. I really liked what Juan Carlos was doing in Houston. It looked like he was really doing some great stuff in a short period of time. So, I completely understand why they went after him in Gotham. So, I feel like they’re putting together a lot of good pieces and I think Iliana has got the right kind of mentality. She’s humble in all kinds of ways you want from a teammate and a player in your club and a representative of clubs, so I feel pretty good about it.”

Wildcats say goodbye to Madison Goerlinger

Hocking had exhausted her eligibility, but there were three players who could have returned to the Wildcats for the extra season granted by the NCAA due to the pandemic. Two of those—goalkeeper Hope Hisey and defender Mariah Dunn—opted to come back. That doesn’t mean that Arizona didn’t have big losses as some players decided to move on to the next stages of their lives.

Senior Madison Goerlinger could have come back for her fifth year. During the season she said that she didn’t know if she wanted to spend an entire extra year in school. Since she was set to graduate in December 2022, it wouldn’t be a commitment of just one more semester. She might be ready to move on.

It turns out that was the case. Goerlinger decided that life as a teacher was what she was ready for. Moros said that she already has a job as a preschool teacher.

“She’s already found her feet in the next phase, which is very, very Maddie,” Moros said. “She’s on brand.”

It’s a big loss of experience and versatility. After spending most of her Arizona career as a midfielder, Goerlinger was asked to play centerback last season. Her ability to keep the Wildcats’ back line organized was noted by coaches and teammates all season. Now, someone else needs to step in.

“As far as filling those shoes, they’re going to be big shoes to fill,” Moros said. “Obviously, Sarah Rice has a ton of experience there. Maia Brown’s coming off of an ACL and is working her way back into training. She’s also a very good and dynamic centerback, and we’ve got another centerback coming in next year, as well. So, I feel pretty good about it. We also have some stalwart defensive minded players who can slide in there, whether they have more experience, like a Trinity Dorsey or somebody like that… Maybe we’ll see Megan Chelf back there, too. She doesn’t know that yet. She was a defender once.”

The biggest role to fill might not be on the field, though. The intangibles that Goerlinger brought were just as important if not more.

“She was a wonderful leader for us,” Moros said. “Held some of the highest standards every single day for herself and the group, training mentality and things like that. We’re definitely looking for some people on the team to rise to the challenge of filling those leadership shoes, each in their own way.”

Angela Baron is a pro

One player who might have taken over the centerback role left empty by Goerlinger was the highly talented rising sophomore Angela Baron. That won’t be the case, though. Baron has also moved on to the next stage of her life. In her case that means life as a professional soccer player in Colombia.

Baron split her season between Arizona and the Colombian national team last year. When on the pitch for the Wildcats, her talent was obvious. However, she had to make a lot of decisions when the national team needed her for matches or camp. At several points, she was not in Tucson with her college team, making both NCAA sports and school more difficult.

With the Women’s World Cup coming in the summer and Colombia set to compete, being part of a professional organization was more advantageous for her. Moros noted last year that the professional leagues around the world understand the FIFA schedule and break when players are needed at home. However, the NCAA doesn’t pay attention to such things, making it more difficult for players to do both.

“She’s a wonderful player and person so we’ll miss her,” Moros said. “We’ll enjoy watching her hopefully in the World Cup this summer. So, I think it’s a good move for her. I think it’s something that was gonna come sooner or later either way. I would love to keep her for another year and have her have a fuller experience here and get to know kind of the Wildcat way, but it’s good timing given where she’s at and the hopes of competing in the World Cup in the summer.”

Looking to the future

The Wildcats now know who will return from last year’s squad and who won’t. The coaching staff almost has the spring schedule ready for release. The final thing will be getting the new freshmen on campus.

Arizona signed a class of seven in November, many of whom have connections to each other or current Wildcats. Moros commented on the class in early December.

Marissa Arnst is a 5-foot-8 defender out of Union City, Calif. in the East Bay. She plays her prep soccer for Moreau Catholic High School. On the club circuit, last year she played for Top Drawer Soccer and Soccerwire’s top-ranked club team, Bay Area Surf. She was also a member of the Girls Academy U18/U19 national championship squad in 2022. Prep Soccer ranks her as the No. 198 player in the country and Top Drawer Soccer rates her as a 3-star recruit.

“Marissa Arnst is coming in from Northern California as a fullback,” Moros said. “Very good on the ball. Gets herself forward into the attack well. Good defensive instincts. That’s a position that we’ve been thin at over the last two years. Getting less so now, but certainly haven’t been, so it’s nice to bring in a quality player there that can compete and have time to grow, too.”

Arnst’s highlights can be found on her YouTube channel.

Savannah Holley is a 5-foot-8 forward who plays for Villa Park (Calif.) High School. It’s a school known for producing Division I athletes in many sports, including current Arizona softball freshman pitcher Sydney Somerndike. In club play, she competes for So Cal Blues ECNL. She has also been invited to U.S. Soccer Camp. Her older sister Jayde plays for UC Davis. She is rated a 4-star recruit by Top Drawer Soccer.

Moros noted that she has “very good playmaking ability. Comes from a soccer family. Mom’s a coach. Two sisters play soccer. Very savvy player. She and [Arizona midfielder] Gianna Christiansen actually have known each other for a long time and rate each other very highly. Their families are friends. She’s kind of got that deft cleverness and she’s also very competitive.”

Jessica Ramirez is the second player hailing from Villa Park High School. The 5-foot-5 midfielder is team captain for both VPHS and her club team, Slammers HB Koge ECNL. She was honored as First Team All-Conference in the Century Conference as a sophomore and a junior, as well as being named All-Conference MVP as a junior and a member of the Southwest All-Region Team. Top Drawer Soccer rates her a 3-star recruit.

Shanti Weddington of Timberview High School in Irving, Tex. played for DKSC ENCL in Dallas, Tex. The 5-foot-5 midfielder was named ECNL All-Conference for the Texas Conference in both 2019 and 2020. She has also been a high school all-conference selection all four years of high school and was named her team’s MVP. In 2020, she led Timberview with 26 goals. Top Drawer Soccer rates her as a 3-star recruit while Prep Soccer has her as the No. 37 player in the country.

“Jessica Ramirez is another clever center midfielder out of California along with Shanti Weddington, also a clever midfielder out of Dallas, Texas,” Moros said. “Those are two sort of very critical central roles that we think that they’re going to fit in. Have a lot to learn from the players that we have here. Also come from very competitive clubs. Pedigree is very good and they’re going to be used to training hard all the time and kind of the intensity of this environment in the Pac-12.”

Ella Weathersby is a 5-foot-6 midfielder/forward who has earned numerous accolades and played for high stakes on the club circuit despite suffering two ACL tears during her high school career. She has been selected for the ECNL Texas conference team twice and played in the 2022 ECNL Final Four with DKSC ECNL alongside Weddington. At Highland Park High School, she was team MVP as a freshman. As a senior, she was named First Team All-District 13-5, Second Team All-Region 5A 11, and Defensive Midfielder of the Year District 13-5 in 2022. Top Drawer Soccer rates her as a 3-star recruit. Her highlights are available on her HUDL profile.

“Ella Weathersby is another very competitive player out of the same Dallas club that Angela’s from, Shanti’s from, and they do a really good job developing players, mentality wise, tactically, things like that,” Moros said. “And then she’s also just a real connector, like a great personality and teammate and always fighting. Maybe a little like Iliana in that way, so we’re excited to have her come in.”

Aranda Hurge is a 5-foot-7 centerback from Bethesda, Mary. She plays her prep soccer for Walter Johnson High School and her club soccer with Bethesda Soccer Club ECNL. She was honored as ECNL First Team All-Conference in the North Atlantic conference in both 2021 and 2022. She’s a multisport athlete, earning letters in both soccer and track and field at WJHS. Some of her highlights can be found on her HUDL profile. She is rated a 3-star recruit by Top Drawer Soccer.

“[She] comes from Trinity’s club, also a very big club, good pedigree, and she is a former striker who is playing at centerback in a three back for the most part,” Moros said. “So, she’s got experience in the three back, but she’s also played a little bit outside back. She’s dynamic. She’s good on the ball. Striker. So again, really good qualities for what we try to do in the back.”

Ciara Ulreich-Power may not be from Tucson, but she will give the Wildcats another Arizona kid in goal. The goalkeeper from Chaparral High in Scottsdale was part of the 6A State Championship team as a freshman. In club, she plays for the Utah Royals ECNL where she has had 31 shutouts over the past two years and has been part of the U16 Southwest Conference Championship team. Her highlights can be found on her YouTube channel.

“We’re excited about her,” Moros said. “She has really good qualities that we specifically look for in terms of her distribution, her cover, coming out in traffic, and playing through the air. She’s got good stature and she’s still got a lot of room to grow.”