The Arizona soccer team is set to wrap up its regular season Friday afternoon in Tempe when it'll face ASU in an annual rivalry game.
The Wildcats (8-9-1 overall, 3-7 Pac-12) are coming off a 2-1 Senior Day win over No. 21 Cal on Sunday, while the Sun Devils (6-10-1 overall, 1-8-1 Pac-12) have lost six in a row.
Kickoff for that match is set for 3 p.m., and it will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.
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Stoian, DeGracie-Bailey return to their roots
ASU-UA rivalry games always mean a bit more than a typical Pac-12 contest, but it's especially true for midfielders Jaden DeGracie-Bailey and Gabi Stoian.
DeGracie-Bailey and Stoian grew up in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area, and had previous ties to ASU soccer before attending Arizona.
DeGracie-Bailey, from Gilbert, Arizona, used to attend ASU soccer games as a kid, while Stoian used to be a ballgirl at Sun Devil Soccer Stadium. Meanwhile, both have brothers that attended ASU.
“All throughout club [soccer] and when I was younger, if we ever wanted to watch a game, ASU’s right there and I grew up watching those girls play," DeGracie-Bailey said.
And yes, they both used to root for ASU, but that's certainly not the case anymore.
"Until I came here, that was the school was closest to me, but now it’s all about U of A,” Stoian said.
Added DeGracie-Bailey, "I always thought it’d be fun to play there, but it’s even better to play against them...My family’s actually more of a U of A family. My dad went here, my whole family has grown up around here, I have family in Tucson and around Christmas time we’re always in U of A gear. It was a no-brainer to choose to come here.”
DeGracie-Bailey, a senior, will be playing in her final match as a Wildcat Friday, fittingly ending her career just a short drive from where her soccer career started.
"I wouldn’t say that I like playing in their stadium more than our stadium, because [ours] is the best, but being close to home and playing the game I love with the girls I love, it couldn’t end better,” she said.
It will be DeGracie-Bailey's fourth and final match against the Sun Devils, and her favorite moment of her career transpired against ASU in 2013, when she scored her first career goal in 2-0 win in Tucson.
"It was amazing — one to score, but two to score against ASU," DeGracie-Bailey said. "That was awesome. Whenever somebody asks me for my favorite memory, that was it."
No need for extra motivation
It doesn't take much to get the Wildcats amped for a matchup against ASU. The rivalry between the two schools is well-documented.
“I’m not sure how long it takes to catch on," Arizona head coach Tony Amato said of the Territorial Cup rivalry. "I think I was was here for like 24 hours, walking through McKale (Center) when I had just taken the job (in 2013) and everybody was emphasizing 'just win the ASU game'. Even the new players hear that stuff pretty quickly and get it so they know it’s a big game and important for the department, the team, the program, everything, so I think they all get it.”
Freshman defender Samantha Falasco can attest to that.
“I learned about it very quickly when I came here on my visit," she said. "I remember my dad saying something about ASU and Tony [Amato] was like ‘we don’t talk about them, they’re our rivals’ and so I definitely caught on very quick."
All the newcomers did.
“We haven’t really told them [about the rivalry], I feel like they understand that it’s two of the biggest Arizona schools going against each other," Stoian said. "Our coach has talked to us about finishing our season strong and winning those last two games and then, of course, we know the past results against them and we want to change that this year.”
ASU has won five of the last six match-ups against the Wildcats, but Arizona will look to buck that trend Friday.
A different standard
Arizona will likely be missing the NCAA Tournament this season for the first time since 2013, but that doesn't mean it's been a poor season for what's traditionally been a losing program.
“If we win Friday, we can know that we finished strong and that would be a real positive," Amato said. "And we would have nine wins on the season, which before I got here, if I told Greg [Byrne] that I’d have nine wins on the season, he’d say ‘that’s a pretty good season.’"
But, understandably, UA's recent success has increased expectations for the program.
"It’s just the standard has totally changed now and I’m good with that," Amato said. "I’m glad nine (wins) is not considered a good season and not going to the NCAA Tournament [is too], but the positives would be if we can win, beat our rival, finish strong…and then know...that the standard is different.”
Amato also hopes that having a down year — at least according to the new standard — will make his team "hungrier" next season, especially the team's freshmen, some of which have gotten a sizable amount of playing time.
“Those players are getting some experience and hopefully the way the record is right now that only makes them hungrier for next year," Amato said. "Sometimes teams can settle into being a little too comfortable because we’ve gone to the tournament the last few years, and I think this can be good to get us hungry again and that’ll be important for those players.”
The final game of the 2016 season will get underway at 3 p.m. on Friday.
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