High-scoring freshman leads UA soccer to big weekend

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                </div>  The University of Arizona soccer team scored five goals in two games over the weekend — and Gabi Stoian had her footprint on every one of them. Stoian, a […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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The University of Arizona soccer team scored five goals in two games over the weekend — and Gabi Stoian had her footprint on every one of them.

Stoian, a midfielder from Pinnacle High School in north Phoenix, scored three of those goals and assisted on the other two as the Wildcats played to a 2-2 tie with Texas A&M on Friday and and then beat Oklahoma State on Sunday, 3-1.  Both games were part of the Sun Devil Classic hosted by Arizona State in Tempe.

And, as you ponder her contributions, consider this: Stoian is a true freshman.  But she’s playing like a veteran.

Despite her deceptive size at just 5’5″, Stoian is putting up big numbers.  She ranks in the Pac-12 Conference top-10 in eight of the nine individual categories, averaging 3.2 shots a game to rank seventh in that category, and her nine points (two points for goals, one for assists) puts her in a tie for second place.  Her three goals this season also puts her in a tie for third among the top scorers in the conference.

Against Texas A&M, the No. 6-ranked team in the country, Stoian helped the Cats draw first blood with a shot into the upper corner of the goal at the 37:06 mark, and then in the second half was credited with the assist that enabled teammate Haley Estopare to punch a header past the Aggies goalkeeper and retake the lead.

It was also a busy game for the Wildcat keeper, senior Gabby Kaufman, who held off the Aggies’ first-half onslaught of 14 shots and finished the game with 11 saves.

In Sunday’s game with Oklahoma State, Stoian and the Cats didn’t get the offensive engine revved up until almost too late, as the Cowboys took an early 1-0 lead that they held until the final 10 minutes when Stoian set up teammate Lexe Selman, who scored from 25 yards out to even the score at the 83:58 mark.

Stoian added two more scores in quick succession, scoring from 20 yards out and then went the full length of the field before ramming through one last goal with just 18 seconds left to play.

For her efforts over the weekend, the Oregon native was recognized as the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week.

But Stoian didn’t just pop up from nowhere.  She is just living up to the expectations of a player who was named the Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior, the only player in the history of the Pinnacle High program to earn that honor.  She played just one season for the Pioneers, but led the team to the Division I state title and a No. 16 national ranking (Maxpreps).  In 26 games, she scored 24 goals and had nine assists.

So far, she’s helped the Wildcats to a 3-1-1 record and proved to be the equalizer against a ranked team.

And she hasn’t been intimidated by playing for a D-I program that includes six seniors, all of whom saw considerable playing time last year.  The Devils are loaded with experience, a tough challenge for a true freshman hoping to get playing time.  They return 20 student-athletes from 2013, 18 of whom were letterwinners.

ASU head coach Tony Amato likes what he has seen so far from this group.

“I thought coming into the weekend, we would learn about the team,” he said after the Oklahoma State and Texas A&M games.  “These two games resembled what a Pac-12 weekend will look like, good games against good players.  Our girls responded and got some positive results.

“That tells me that we’re going to be in a place where we can compete at the highest level in the Pac-12.”

The next test will be the University of Nevada Wolf Pack, who are also coming off a pair of wins.  The Friday game is part of the Arizona Cats Classic that the Wildcats will host this weekend.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)