For years, the Arizona women's soccer team was a laughingstock, consistently languishing near the bottom of the Pacific 10 Conference standings.
That was until head coach Dan Tobias reloaded his defense with the recruiting class of 2004.
With sophomore goalie McCall Smith and second-year defenders Claire Bodiya and Kaity Heath playing nearly every minute last season, the Wildcats broke a slew of school records.
Arizona also tied for the school's first conference championship and nearly doubled the team's season-high win total with a 15-win campaign.
"They all came in with the right mentality," Tobias said. "They came in and said, 'If I show up prepared, I have a chance to be not only part of something special beginning with the 2004 season, but I have a chance to be a cornerstone for the team for the next four years.'"
While the Wildcat women had never won more than eight games in a season, winning was in the blood of these sophomore defenders.
Bodiya spent her final two high school seasons winning Arizona state championships for 5A Scottsdale powerhouse Horizon High School, while also winning the 2003 national championship with her club team, the Sereno 86 Golden Eagles.
Heath and sophomore midfielder Amanda Urtuzuastegui joined Bodiya on the Sereno squad that earned state championship honors from 1998-2004.
"I didn't come in thinking about (Arizona's) past because I know if I did, then it would change my attitude," Bodiya said. "I just came in expecting to be successful, expecting to have a winning team, and with the girls I came in with, all the freshmen, we all had that same attitude. It changed how the upperclassmen thought, and even any doubts that the freshmen had in their minds."
Smith enjoyed high school success as well, reaching the Utah state championship game her senior year.
"We came in with an expectation to do well, and we did that," Smith said. "We worked our butt off along with the rest of our team."
Despite their collegiate inexperience, Bodiya, Heath and Urtuzuastegui brought years of experience playing together with the Sereno dynasty.
"It's great playing with Kaity because I've played with her for a while, and I've played in the back with her for a while," Bodiya said. "It's really easy because ... it's hard to teach the fundamentals, and having her back there, it's just one less person to have to teach it to."
The sophomores brought stability to last year's defense, with Smith and Bodiya starting every game and Heath missing only one.
On the way they racked up multiple national honors: Smith earned Soccer Buzz first-team freshman All-America honors, along with NSCAA/Adidas All-West Region third-team and honorable mention All-Pac-10 selections, while Heath became a Soccer Buzz freshman All-America honorable mention.
Smith also set the Arizona single-season and career shutout records with 11, led the conference with a .893 save percentage and 92 total saves and ranked second in the conference with a 0.52 GAA. She allowed just 11 goals in 21 games, while playing against bigger, more experienced competition.
Fantastic Four: the UA's second-year defenders
"At first it was obviously a little intimidating coming in a little inexperienced," Smith said. "Now it's a responsibility knowing that we have to hold our own back there, knowing that we don't have the experience or the strength or speed of some of the other teams. But we've been doing that, and there's no doubt in my mind we'll continue to do that."
Having played so much, so early in their careers, these women may possess a major advantage in the coming years over opponents who spent this time on the bench or still in high school.
"What's awesome is they'll have something under their belt that no one can teach them. They'll have more experience," Tobias said. "By that time, you'll have quite a bit of leadership. That's one of the reasons we think that class is so strong - not just what they brought to the table in terms of what they've done individually and for the team, but the leadership potential that they have as a group is just something you can't measure as a coach. It's great that they have that."
Last season was a season to remember for Arizona women's soccer, recording numerous school firsts on the way to the NCAA College Cup.
But the work is not done. Still without any playoff victories, Arizona could depend on sophomores like Smith, Bodiya and Heath to build the program into a perennial winner.
"The thing that we talk to them about is, last season gave us a beginning point for a tradition of success," Tobias said. "It's sustaining that. It's using that as a reference point and saying, 'I've got the hunger, and I've got the drive. I want that to be our program every year.'"