Generally, expectations for incoming freshmen are tame.
Projecting how a player will transition from high school or club soccer to the collegiate level is often difficult.
Sometimes players who are expected to light it up from day one can take a year or two to get accustomed to college, and other times less heralded players can wind up making an immediate impact.
It’s an imperfect science, leading UA head coach Tony Amato to exhibit a wait-and-see approach with his team’s newcomers.
“We always have ideas [about how a player will transition],” Amato said in April, “but more and more it feels like you’re rolling the dice, so I’m done predicting with it.”
However, freshman defender Samantha Falasco has been an exception to rule.
Falasco, a three-year captain at Estancia High School in Costa Mesa, California, was in Arizona’s starting lineup from game one — just as her club coach anticipated.
“We had talked to her club coach, and he said ‘listen, she’ll be your starting center back for four years’ and we knew that was a role we needed to fill, and at that point you just hope they’re ready,” Amato said.
“And she was ready.”
Falasco started in all but one game she played in as a freshman (13 starts in total), helping the Wildcats replace former center back Sheaffer Skadsen, who was the team’s defensive anchor the past few seasons.
“She’s just a legit center back,” Amato said of Falasco. “She’s coachable, she reads the game well, works hard, can strike the ball out of the back…I wish she would have been healthy all year, but she showed that she can help us.”
That was Falasco’s lone setback this season — her health. A shin injury early in the season forced her to miss five games from late August to late September.
“It was definitely frustrating because I would sit and watch everyone train and I would really want to be out there playing,” Falasco said. “And I was out for a while…but it happens.”
The injury was only a temporary mishap.
After sitting out for a month, Falasco returned for the start of Pac-12 play, and played 40 minutes against USC in her first game back on Sept. 23, easing her way back into the swing of things.
A game later, she was back in the starting lineup, where she’d remain for the rest of the season.
Despite her club coach’s confidence in her, Falasco admitted that didn’t think she would play as early and often as she did.
“I didn’t at all, so I’m really happy and proud of myself to be doing this. It’s been such an amazing experience to be playing at such a high level.” she said. “I’ve thought I’ve done really well being a freshman and all, and I always have room to grow and be a better player, but overall I think I’ve done pretty well.”
The Wildcats finished with a 9-9-1 overall record in Falasco’s freshman season, and ended on a high note, winning three of their last four games, including a win against ASU to close out the season.
Falasco was the hero in that rivalry game, notching her first collegiate goal in what was a 1-0 victory. Fittingly, the heroics came after Falasco initially exited the game with an injury.
It was her season in a nutshell.
“I think it’s great for Samantha because she’s been hurt all year, she hasn’t been 100 percent healthy, showed huge potential and she showed right there what she’s made of,” Amato said after the ASU game. “She got hurt, came back, scored the goal. She’s going to be a really good player in this league for the next three years.”
A certain prediction rang true.
“Her club coach told us that she’ll play every game at center back for four years for us,” Amato said, “and he was right.”
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