By Ryan Schneider
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Despite having to board a 5:30 a.m. flight for Missoula, Mont., yesterday, Michelle Wickes still could have been a walking billboard for Delta Airlines Ä she loves to fly and it shows.
True, waking up before the sun was not a completely joyful experience, but that didn't matter much to Wickes or anyone else on the Arizona women's soccer team. At this point in the season, two weekend games mean twice as many opportunities to learn for this first-year program.
The Wildcats (0-1) will participate in the Lady Griz Inaugural Soccer Showdown and play Nebraska today at 2 p.m. and Montana at 10 a.m. Sunday. Nebraska and Montana are first-year programs as well.
For Wickes, a sophomore midfielder, being able to play the sport she loves while receiving a scholarship to do it cancels out the misery of taking a red-eye flight.
"It's so awesome that they're paying you to do this, to play soccer," said Wickes, who quickly added that a pre-dawn flight is torture nonetheless. "By the middle of the week when we're ready to travel, I'm so excited that I do my laundry early and set everything that I'm packing on the floor and just stare at it. This is so awesome."
Wickes has been especially giddy for this road trip because her family hails from Omaha, Neb. When Wickes steps onto the field this afternoon to face the Cornhuskers, there will be some impromptu reunions.
"I know half their team," said Wickes, who attended Omaha's Burke High School, the same school that UA basketball guard Jason Richey graduated from. "I know half of them from high school and half from growing up with these people.
"It's going to be a huge mental challenge. I mean, everyone on their team knows me."
But UA assistant coach Jill McCartney has known Wickes for some time as well. McCartney tried to recruit Wickes out of high school, when McCartney was coaching at Marquette, but Wickes opted for Wayne State and an academic scholarship. Wickes knew she eventually wanted to play college soccer, but taking a year off from the sport and getting some
ting someclasses out of the way was more important at that time.
While at Wayne State, Wickes kept her soccer skills sharp by joining a men's club team. Playing with the big boys was a jarring experience ... for the boys.
"Those guys totally treated me as if I was this little China doll," Wickes said. "So when I would knock them over, they would get mad. At first the whole situation was real cool, but once they realized that I was better than 90 percent of them, they didn't want to play with me."
Judging by the nickname of current Cornhusker Kim Ratliff, a former club teammate and friend of Wickes, it sounds like there were plenty of people in Omaha that didn't want to kick a soccer ball around with Wickes and Co.
"People called (Ratliff) 'Psycho Barbie,'" Wickes said with a giggle. "She was a cheerleader in high school and she is the most aggressive person that I have ever met in my whole life. She fools you, because she doesn't look like the type of person that bulldozes you."
Wickes' parents were initially going to make the trek to Montana for today's game, but decided instead to come to Tucson in November when Nebraska visits Arizona. That will make today's contest between the UA and the UN a little more awkward for Wickes.
"The problem is that I know a lot of people there, but they'll all be rooting against me, not for me," she said.
In such an environment, Wickes' allegiance to the cardinal and navy of Arizona will be tested. No need to worry, she said.
"I will always be a Cornhusker," Wickes admitted, "but I can be Ä I have been converted into a Wildcat fan."
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