Kelcey Cavarra has been playing soccer for as long as she can remember.
“Since I was, like, 3 years old,” she estimated.
And in the countless times she’s laced up her cleats, there has been no shortage of accolades.
The Littleton, Colorado native and graduate of Columbine High School was an all-state player her sophomore and junior years, a team captain in her junior and senior years, and an all-conference player in all four years of her high school career.
From there, she signed on to play at Arizona, where she’s appeared in every game for the Wildcats in the 2016 season, developing in to a key player for Arizona's midfield in her initial season.
While those accomplishments are all noteworthy, there’s one moment of her seemingly life-long career that will always stick out from the rest: her first collegiate goal.
“Growing up playing soccer, it’s one of the moments you dream of and picture in your head a thousand times,” Cavarra said.
Cavarra thought endlessly about how that moment would unfold, when it would happen and who it would go against. But ironically, when it was actually happening, there wasn't time to think.
Arizona was trailing to a top-15 UCLA team 1-0 in the second half, and Cavarra found herself in a position to change the game.
After shifting the ball to teammate Charlotte Brascia, Cavarra took a few steps forward and Brascia dished the ball right back, delivering a pass between two defenders.
Cavarra—standing roughly 30 yards from the net—had space, but two UCLA defenders were closing in on her. Without any time to spare, Cavarra took a quick glance at the net, measured up the distance and drove her right foot forward, powerfully striking the ball.
Meanwhile, an oncoming defender collided with Cavarra during her follow-through, sending her tumbling to the ground. From there, all she could do is hope for the best as the ball soared through the air.
“I just remember taking a touch and I remember watching it from the ground, hoping that it would somehow get past the keeper,” Cavarra remembered.
The ball zipped toward the top-right corner of the net while the goalkeeper, diving to her left, managed to get her fingertips on it.
But it wasn’t enough to redirect Cavarra’s pinpoint shot, and her first collegiate goal was in the books.
“I never pictured it to be as cool as it was. It’s probably one of the best moments of my life,” Cavarra said, despite her team eventually losing 2-1 in double overtime. “That was awesome and I’m so happy.”
Congratulatory tweets and texts flooded Cavarra’s phone after the game, and she said she’s re-watched the play 100 times, recapturing the moment she’s dreamed of for so long.
It’s not just joy, excitement and a place in the spotlight that results from seeing the ball grace the back of the net for the first time, though. There’s also a sense of relief.
“The pressure that’s put on you [is the most difficult part],” Cavarra said about the transition from high school to college. “You want to get out there and perform and it’s a new standard even though you’ve been playing the same sport your whole entire life. ... “You’ve been playing against girls that are good your whole life and now it’s like you’re taking the best from each team and playing them.”
The high level of competition and talent in the Pac-12 Conference can be intimidating, but scoring against a ranked team like UCLA helps ease any uncertainty.
“Belief when you’re a young, inexperienced player can take some time and she’s fit, works hard and has been growing, growing and growing through the season,” Arizona head coach Tony Amato said. “Even as a coaching staff, you go ‘she did it against UCLA, so she can do it against others,’ and that can instill some confidence in us too.”
Confidence. While Cavarra has been contributing for the Wildcats throughout the season, notching a first career goal is the ultimate confidence boost.
“She’s the kind of player where maybe if you’re just a neutral watcher in the stands you may not notice what she does, the work she’s doing,” Amato said. “So, to pop up and get a goal on top of playing well in areas that maybe aren’t so recognizable, it can help her as a young player get better moving forward.”
Evidently it has.
Two games after her first goal, Cavarra was inserted into Arizona’s starting lineup for the first time, playing a career-high 80 minutes in a 3-0 win against Oregon State on Oct. 23.
Amato believes Cavarra is at the beginning of a long, productive career.
“I think she’s an honest, hard-working player, who with time has continued to get better in terms of experience and confidence,” Amato said. “She’s played in every game this year so she’s always been right there and about trying to help us win, and I think over the course of four years, she’ll have a good career.”
While Cavarra hasn’t scored since that memorable night against UCLA, Amato told her what his coach told him when he scored his first collegiate goal: “That’s one of many.”
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