Jill Aguilera: Arizona’s Golden Goal

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Jill Aguilera (14) celebrates with her teammates Ava McCray (3), Madison Goerlinger (18) and Quincy Bonds (11) on Nov. 5, 2021, in Tucson. Aguilera scored the winning goal in overtime to beat ASU 2-1. (Photo courtesy of Ary Frank / Arizona Athletics)

Jill Aguilera bent over and pulled up her socks as she patiently waited for the whistle to be blown for the penalty kick attempt that would break the 1-1 tie in overtime.

She looked at rival ASU’s goalkeeper Julia Ortega and knew exactly what she was going to do. The whistle blew, she lined up the shot to the left side of the net and fired the ball past ASU’s Ortega for her record-shattering 33rd career goal and final win with Arizona soccer. 

“Once I hit it, I knew that she had already leaned to the wrong side, and knew that she couldn't recover to get to that side,” Arizona forward Aguilera said.

Already one of the most prolific players in Arizona soccer history, breaking that record was just one moment in her storied career. 

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A Soccer Player from the Start: 

Raising her in Redwood, California, Julie Eshelman knew that her daughter had something special even when she began to play in elementary school

“I knew when she started to play that she could, she could go far because she had the speed and you can't teach speed,” Eshelman said, “And she would just blow past these kids and score.”

So they did, getting her involved with a local club named Juventus Zebre SC. Aguilera continued to improve and played for her high school, Woodside, where she also set the goal-scoring record with 105 goals. 

Committed to Her Teams:

When Tony Amato, Aguilera’s head coach throughout her collegiate career took a coaching job at the University of Florida, she put her name in the transfer portal. After a phone call with newly hired head coach Becca Moros, Aguilera decided to stay for her final season. 

“I kind of kick myself a little bit for even trying to leave or thinking that I should. It was very impulsive and I'm happy that I didn't go through with it,” Aguilera said.

Aguilera only left a team once in her career and it is not for the reason most would suspect. She quit an Olympic development team to be able to give her all to her club and high school teams before moving on to college.

A Less than Ideal Start: 

Her career did not start off as planned, tearing her ACL before her freshman season began. She tried to make as big of an impact as she could, screaming on the sidelines, and motivating teammates. She was inspired and ready to return to the field. 

“After she was done crying, she was like, “Okay, let's go. I want surgery. I want rehab. Let's go. I want to get back on the field.” Eshelman said.

Aguilera continued to work on her comeback, returning her sophomore season. She immediately made an impact, scoring 24 goals during Amato’s time as head coach. 

Amato’s strategy was that if Aguilera or teammate Jada Talley got the ball while running towards the goal it would give them the best opportunity to score

“As a result, they scored a crap ton of goals together.” Amato said. 

Not only did she score goals under Amato, but she was also often his plane buddy on trips to away games and helped him through the worries of traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“She was always super supportive, and she would bring extra wipes and hand sanitizer. When I was sitting next to her, she helped film a social media thing where we're wiping down the seats and stuff before we got in it during COVID,” Amato said. 

Super Senior Year: 

Even during a down year for the program, Aguilera was able to stay positive in her final year with the team.

“The whole team means a lot to me. This year was definitely one of the happiest times that I've had, even through all the losses. It's happiest I've ever been on a team,” Aguilera said. 

Aguilera’s scoring ability was showcased again for the wildcats in her final season, scoring another nine goals, her final being the golden goal against ASU. The final two coming against ASU to tie and break the scoring record held by Mallory Miller. 

Head coach Moros knew that Aguilera would give it her all even in a developmental year for the team. 

“She cares a ton about the program and the team. And I think she always led with that, regardless of what she was talking to, or what level of experience they had,” Moros said. 

While many focus on what Aguilera can do on the field, she is dedicated to her academics, teammates and family on and off the field. 

More than a Goal Scorer:

After earning multiple Pac-12 and CoSIDA academic awards, Aguilera graduated in 2020 with a degree in general studies with an emphasis in sports and society and is working towards her master’s degree in real estate development. 

“It's mainly being able to transform a house into like a home, turning it into something that the client or family really wants,” Aguilera said. 

Arizona goalkeeper Hope Hisey still has not had the idea that she will not be playing with Aguilera next year set in with her just yet. 

“You have teammates and then you have teammates who you know are going to be your lifelong friends. And she's that for me,” Hisey said. 

Not only is she known for being a diligent student and good friend, it is also known how important Aguilera’s family is to her, according to Hisey and her mom. Her grandmother taught Aguilera one of the most important life lessons she has learned. 

“To be laughing for as long as you possibly can. I honestly think that has extended her life because of how much she laughs and just enjoys life,” Aguilera said. 

A Goal Achieved:

Aguilera had her rights picked up by NWSL team the Chicago Red Stars in 2020 and is a member of the 2022 roster. She made her first official appearance with the club in their NWSL Challenge Cup match when she was subbed onto the field against the Houston Dash on Sunday, March 20. Chicago went on to win the game 3-1. As she prepares for the next step in her career, she can close her chapter with the University of Arizona with a sound mind. 

“It means the world because all I've ever wanted to do is make an impact on the team in any way, shape or form that I possibly can. I can't score without, somebody assisting or somebody assisting the assist,” Aguilera said, “And in from interviews since my freshman and sophomore year, I don't care who scores as long as somebody is scoring, and we're winning and being successful.”


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