By Ryan Schneider
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Leaning back against a shady, blue tent at Wildcat Field last week, there stood a young woman with her arms outstretched, similar to a person paying homage to the sun at a beach. This person, however, was not worshipping anything at all. She was pleading with a trainer on the Arizona womenUs soccer team for practice to end.
RWhat time is it now?,S she asked, her forehead hidden from view because of the drenched washcloth draped across it.
RItUs almost two oUclock,S said the trainer, unsypmathetically. RThereUs still time.S
Truth is, there really isnUt much time for this brand-new soccer team, not with its historic season opener looming less than one week away against Stanford, a team that played in last seasonUs Division I championship game. Time has not been abundant for this fledgling program from Day One. Two weeks ago, Coach Lisa Fraser announced the names of 29 people who will become the first UA women to wear a Wildcat soccer jersey at the Division I level P ever.
After a week of two-a-day practices and after another week of two-hour, mid-afternoon practice sessions in the miserable Tucson heat, the importance of that Saturday night meeting has become paramount.
RWe had finally made all the cuts and we just sat down and talked about what it means to be a Wildcat,S Fraser said. RIt means that itUs a privilige to be part of an athletic program, especially one that is as good as U of AUs.S
The message was immediately taken to heart by the players. But it wasnUt like the seriousness of being partly responsible for beginning a new tradition had to be driven too hard into their heads.
Some players, like Stephanie Imig, never thought theyUd even be in a situation like this. Imig, a sophomore out of TucsonUs University High School, said the rumor of Arizona receiving a Division I womenUs soccer program had existed for about three years before FraserUs hiring in February.
RNobody took that rumor seriously until we heard about Lisa,S Imig said. RWhen I graduated, I didnUt expect to have anything to do with soccer. I just feel for- nate and excited to be playing soccer at a different level.”
Imig’s previous level of soccer expertise wasn’t too shabby. Imig and five other current UA players were part of last season’s national championship UA club team, but Imig said the comparison between club and Big Time soccer is astounding.
“With club, it’s just complete fun,” Imig said while icing a tendinitis-ridden left knee. “Here, you have to be serious a lot more than before. You have to be thinking about soccer even when you’re not playing it.”
And it’s much tougher when you’re a freshman and you’re still adjusting to life away from home. Jill Mewhirder, of Las Vegas, has found this out the hard way.
“With new classes and everything, it’s a whole new world,” she said. “It’s a lot tougher with everything going on in school now.”
Things are improving, Mewhirder said, and Natalie McDowell, the goalkeeper’s coach and assistant, has been able to offer a degree of stability for some of these players. McDowell was among the first class of players to play all four seasons under Fraser at Washington State, where Fraser had coached for the past five years. When Fraser accepted the coaching position at Arizona, McDowell had just finished her senior season with the Cougars.
“I was looking at schools with good graduate programs when Lisa came up to me one day and said, ‘Want to come to Arizona?’,” McDowell said with a shrug.
It has been a good move for both so far. While Fraser deals with building a team from the ground up – just as she did at Washington State five years ago, McDowell’s unique experience with her mentor has come in handy.
“I know what Lisa expects, I just did it all last year,” McDowell said. “When the girls have problems, I can relate a little bit on how they’re feeling. In that regard, I know I can be helpful.”
The stress associated with kicking off a Division I-level athletic team has kept Fraser from having a chance to realize all her work will soon come to fruition. All the rounds of tryouts, all the scheduling and hassling to find a practice field and a suitable field for home games (Pima Community College), will come together Saturday at 10 a.m. in Palo Alto, Calif.
“I know we have lots of work to do and I just realized we have seven practices left to deal with Stanford,” Fraser said. “That’s pretty intense.”
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