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Rivalry game marks final match for Hope Hisey in an Arizona soccer uniform

Arizona goalkeeper Hope Hisey (0) makes a save against USC on Oct. 22, 2023
Arizona goalkeeper Hope Hisey (0) makes a save against USC on Oct. 22, 2023
Photo by Marison Bilagody / Arizona Athletics

Arizona soccer held its senior day ceremonies two weeks ago during its last homestand, but this week brings the real end for one of the most decorated players in program history. Fifth-year goalkeeper Hope Hisey will wear the block A for the final time as a member of the Wildcats.

“It’s definitely emotional, but I’m mostly just trying to enjoy every last day I have and kind of both excited and kind of—the best word is just emotional,” Hisey said, her eyes glistening with that emotion. “Like, closing this chapter, but I feel content about how things have played out.”

How they’ve played out for Hisey over her career and how they’ve played out for the team this season are different. Hisey is now the program’s leader in career saves (361) and games started (85). She is second in games played (86) behind Arizona’s career leader in goals scored, Jill Aguilera.

The team came into the year smarting from barely missing the NCAA Tournament last year with a season-ending loss to Arizona State. The Wildcats felt this could be the year they finally broke into the field for the first time under third-year head coach Becca Moros. Arizona last made the tourney in 2019, the next-to-last season under former head coach Tony Amato, who departed for an ill-fated year at Florida following the season held during the spring of 2021.

Instead, Arizona is destined for a losing record, currently sitting at 5-8-5 overall and 2-6-2 in the Pac-12. The Wildcats have kept going by focusing on the smaller goals they have set during the season. A big one concerned this final game.

“Once Pac-12 started, we set little game-by-game objectives for ourselves so that every week, no matter how the season was going, we would have different things to strive for,” Hisey said. “One of those goals is a rivalry win, so we still have a way to achieve that goal. And then different statistical objectives that we can still hit as far as goals that we score versus the goals that we give up. And so...every week, we’ve kind of adjusted how we see the new challenge that presents itself on both Thursday and Sunday and that’s kept us present...And so, the rivalry will just be another objective that we strive for all season.”

For players who aren’t playing their last game in cardinal and navy, the rivalry game has other importance. Ending the season on a high note could help them in the future. Junior midfielder Nyota Katembo is one of the players who will help lead Arizona into the post-Hisey future. She’s looking to take from both the negatives and positives of the season.

“I think we grew a lot this season,” Katembo said. “And there’s mistakes that we did that made us grow as a team, and we know that going forward we cannot repeat the same mistake. So I think there’s a lot of positivity and growth to take from this season. I think we had a hard time managing games this season. A lot of games that we were up 1-0 and then the other team would come back and then we either would tie or lose, but I feel like going like into this weekend even Utah, we kept the 1-0 and we finished strong.”

The Sun Devils will be formidable foes. While they were outscored 6-0 by Colorado and Utah last weekend, ASU has had a strong season that has only grown stronger as it progressed. Early in the year, they didn’t look great against Kent State, a team that Arizona beat 5-0. The Sun Devils tied the Golden Flashes 1-1. They also lost to Texas Tech in Tucson while Arizona tied the currently fourth-ranked Red Raiders 1-1.

The Sun Devils have continued to build since Pac-12 play started as they adapted to playing without big names like Nicole Douglas, who graduated last year as the program’s career leader in goals scored and first two-time All-American. Half of their 10 wins have come since conference play started.

“I think for them, they probably just had a little bit of a disappointing weekend for them, given that they’ve had a lot of great performances previously and gotten results,” Moros said. “I know they’re a hard-working team. They’ll grind out the results and defend well for 90 minutes to protect a lead or to keep themselves in the game to be able to get that last opportunity to score and win. So, I think they’ve done a really good job there as a team this season. And I think they have a well-rounded team with some good depth versus some of the superstars that they graduated last year. I don’t think they’ve found their replacements like-for-like yet, but they’ve made up for it as a team with quality play from a lot of different places.”

ASU fell out of the rankings after dropping both matches last week, but they are still the more highly regarded team by far. That doesn’t always matter in rivalry games, though. That was demonstrated two years ago when Aguilera played her last game as a Wildcat. The forward set the program record for career goals in Arizona’s upset of the 10-7-2 Sun Devils, knocking them out of postseason consideration.

“I’m expecting them to bounce back,” Hisey said. “They’ve had a great year, and they’re a solid team. And, obviously, it doesn’t matter who’s performing well at this moment in this season, every ASU game is a grind and it’s a battle. I remember my freshman year, it was kind of the reverse of it, where we were looking for high tournament seeding and we were playing a team at ASU that maybe hadn’t been performing to the level that they wanted to, and so to be on the reverse side of that it’s just going to be very competitive. But we have to respect what they’ve done throughout the season and put our best foot forward.”

Arizona State Sun Devils (10-5-4, 5-4-1) @ Arizona Wildcats (5-8-5, 2-6-2)

When: Friday, Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. MST

Where: Mulcahy Soccer Stadium in Tucson, Ariz.

TV: Pac-12 Arizona

Stats: Arizona Live Stats

Rankings: ASU fell out of the United Soccer Coaches poll after losing both games last week, but the Sun Devils are still receiving votes. They are No. 33 in the RPI. Arizona is No. 80 in the RPI.

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