Soccer: Seniors' last stand

By Amanda Branam
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, November 4, 2004

Record-setting soccer season sends senior quartet off on high note

Wildcat senior forward Kamaya Damwijk laughed as she spoke the time-tested cliché.

"Good things come to those who wait," she said.

For the No. 10 Arizona soccer team, no statement could be any more true.

Damwijk walked on to the team this season, but for the other three seniors on the Wildcat soccer team - forward Vanesha Bailey, defender Lindsey Peeples and forward Candice Wilks - the wait is over.

It's been a wait filled with three sub-.500 seasons, finishes in the bottom of the Pacific 10 Conference, negative comments from the media and a coaching change before last season.

As for the "good things," the rankings from Soccer America this week say it all. The UA is ranked No. 10, which means Arizona is on the same list as North Carolina, Santa Clara, Portland and Florida, schools that have been powerhouses since women's NCAA soccer came to be.

Who is No. 11? That would be UCLA, a team that has always been prominent nationally and has won at least a share of four Pac-10 titles in 10 years. It's a Bruin team that last week was ranked No. 5 and a team that the Wildcats were 0-10 against until Arizona beat the Bruins 1-0 on Sunday.

Three of Arizona's four seniors have seen the program go from being unable to win more than two Pac-10 games in a season to winning five thus far in 2004 and controlling their own destiny to win the Pac-10 conference.

"It's awesome. Just seeing it from my perspective, coming from freshman year to this year, it's a drastic change," Wilks said.

Wilks, Damwijk and Bailey have combined to score 14 of the team's 35 goals, and Damwijk and Wilks lead the team with six goals apiece.

But it's the UA defense - led by Peeples - that has a record-breaking 10 shutouts this season and has allowed just nine goals in 2004. The team's previous low was 31 in 1997.

All four seniors contribute a huge part of their success to the team chemistry this year. With 12 new players - all freshmen except Damwijk - the team seems to have found just the right mix, according to Peeples.

"The chemistry on this team is unreal," she said. "I've never been so close to like all the girls on my team and know each and every one of them individually and personality-wise. This team just feels like a family."

For second-year head coach Dan Tobias, the leadership of his four seniors has been crucial to the team's success, especially considering how young the rest of the team is.

"I think they've done a great job from the first day I've been here. They really made it clear to me that they wanted to have a successful program, and they were willing to do whatever it takes to get that done," he said.

"I just think it's great that all their work is paying off. I really do think that when you have a young team like we do and a young program, you've got to have some veteran leadership."

With a sweep at Oregon and Oregon State this weekend, the Wildcats will win their first Pac-10 title outright. If they split, but Stanford loses at least one game this weekend against the Washington schools, they will still have a share.

Oregon State and Oregon currently fill the bottom two spots of the Pac-10 standings.

In order to win the program's first championship, Arizona will have to defeat two teams that sit looking up from the same place the UA looked up from last year.

"I think this is the way to end your last year playing," Damwijk said. "Hopefully, we're going to win both games. I just think it's been such an accomplishment so far; it's such a high to end your last college soccer year on."

It's a high that could get higher this weekend, but for now, they will just have to wait and see.

Good things have come to these seniors, who have waited for a season like this for three years.

But they will have to wait until this weekend to get the "good things" they want most - a conference title and berth to the postseason.

Bailey said it makes her a little sad that the team has become so successful in her last year, but she doesn't think about it too much.

"It's also exciting that we do get to experience it. It's our last year, and at least we get to go out with a bang and get to experience something that we've never experienced before," she said.