Arizona soccer: Jaden DeGracie-Bailey is one assist away from making history
Arizona soccer player Jaden DeGracie-Bailey (left) high fives a fellow teammate. DeGracie-Bailey has 19 career assists, one shy of setting the school record.
Whether it’s an early Tuesday morning practice, the regular season opener, or a mid-season match on a scorching Arizona afternoon, Jaden DeGracie-Bailey's effort level never fluctuates.
It's always full-go for the midfielder — so much so that she often draws sympathy from her coaches.
“There are some times we feel bad for her,” Arizona soccer head coach Tony Amato joked. “She works so, so hard. She’s someone that we put on the field and … it’s hot and it’s the 15th game of the year on a Sunday and we think ‘man, she is grinding ... She’s just a hard-working, good kid.”
Exerting that much energy in the blistering Sonoran Desert heat sounds like an unforgiving endeavor, but you shouldn’t bad for DeGracie-Bailey — she’s on the verge of etching her name in the Arizona record books.
The senior from Gilbert, Arizona, has dished out 19 assists in three seasons at the UA, and if she can record one more in her final season as a Wildcat, she’ll graduate as Arizona soccer’s all-time assist leader.
“I take pride in how hard I work," DeGracie-Bailey said. "And to see these results is very nice.”
Many of DeGracie-Bailey’s assists come via the flip-throw — a throw-in where a player builds momentum by running, then plants the ball on the ground, flips over the ball and then flings it from the sideline into the field of play, ideally setting up a scoring chance for a teammate.
It looks as difficult — and draining — as it sounds, but DeGracie-Bailey has mastered it, and it’s become a focal point of Arizona’s offense.
“That thing is a weapon that she’s utilized,” Amato said. “We try to be pretty strength-oriented and that’s a strength of hers and she’s gotten quite a few assists of off those.”
The Wildcats’ offense has outshot opponents in all three years of DeGracie-Bailey’s career, and the women’s soccer program — which had a losing season each year from 2006-2012 — has compiled a 34-21-6 record, two NCAA Tournament berths and a Sweet Sixteen appearance in that same time frame.
DeGracie-Bailey has put the team first, sacrificing scoring goals — she has scored just three in her career — to set up her teammates for them, and the results have followed.
“Anytime you have a hard working player who’s all in on the program and all in on what you’re trying to do, you feel great about that, and she’s one of those players,” Amato said.
For some players, continually setting up others to score while rarely being on the receiving end of an assist could be frustrating, but not for DeGracie-Bailey.
“I pride myself in assisting,” she said. “I get just as happy for an assist as a goal. To see the joy on another teammate’s face when they score a goal is awesome.”
DeGracie-Bailey’s willingness and ability to assist is nothing new, either.
The two-time Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year recorded 48 assists in her senior season as the captain of the Highland High School soccer team.
At one point, DeGracie-Bailey was the nation’s assist leader, so the fact she’s about to become Arizona’s all-time assist leader isn't exactly a surprise.
After all, it was her plan all along.
“That was actually my goal coming here,” DeGracie-Bailey said. “This is what I wanted to do.”
DeGracie-Bailey doesn’t describe herself as a naturally-skilled distributor with the ability to pinpoint passes to spots where teammates can score or throw accurate flip-throws.
Rather, her ability to do those things is the result of her unrelenting work ethic — the same work ethic that makes her coaches feel sorry for her from time to time.
“You can’t control a lot of things in life, but you can control how hard you work,” DeGracie-Bailey said. “The one big quote my family has always said is ‘you can always control how you think and how you feel’ and your attitude towards how you step up and do things is way bigger than what the outcome is. If you can have a good attitude going and work hard, then good things will happen.”
It’s safe to say that several ‘good things’ have happened for DeGracie-Bailey because of her work ethic, positive attitude and unselfishness, as evidenced by the three winning seasons she's been a part of and the record-tying 19 assists she's recorded at the UA.
And if she can tally just one more, she’ll have accomplished what she set out to do from the beginning.
“That’s always what you’re striving for when you play,” DeGracie-Bailey said. “To make history."
"And to make it actually happen is surreal.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter