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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona soccer: Cali Crisler’s improvement key to Wildcats’ early success

Alex McIntyre
Arizona midfielder Cali Crisler (3) winds up for a pass against the San Francisco Dons on the second day of the Arizona Cats Classic at Murphey Field at Mulcahy Soccer Stadium in Tucson, Ariz. on Sunday, Sept.11, 2016. The Wildcats won against the Dons 1-0.

It was the first game of Cali Crisler’s sophomore season, and her name was etched in the Wildcats’ starting lineup.

A difficult freshman year was in the rearview mirror.

“Freshman year was hard,” Crisler recalled. “But I always told myself that I was going to keep working and hope that things got better.”

Crisler played sparingly in her first season in Tucson, appearing in just 11 of Arizona’s 21 games. More often than not, she was watching her team from the sideline, but a new season meant a new opportunity.

“[Not playing] is hard for a lot of people,” Crisler said. “A lot of the times it gets better if you work hard and keep doing what the coaches tell you to do, watch film with them and everything. As long as you’re staying connected to the team and working hard at practice and not separating yourself from everyone then it does continue to get better.”

Less than 15 minutes into Arizona’s season-opener against Abilene Christian, Crisler had already validated her spot in the starting 11.

As a free kick floated into the box, the midfielder rose above the defense and headed it into the back of the net for her first career goal.

It sounds like a story-book beginning, but she never got a chance to relish the moment.

“I just know that I went down during the goal and then I tried to jog back to the line for kickoff and I couldn’t do it,” said Crisler, who felt a shooting pain in her leg. “I thought it was a little injury and then my trainer said ‘if it bruises, it’s probably torn.’”

Sure enough, it bruised and Crisler had torn her hamstring on the play. The injury kept her out for the next eight games, while limiting her for several more.

She was back to watching games from the sideline.

“I didn’t think I’d be out for that long… It was really frustrating.” Crisler said. “Freshman year I didn’t play that much and it was the first game of sophomore year and I started and I was excited for the season and how everything was going to go after that, but then I got hurt.”

Crisler’s progression as a player was put on hold and when she returned to the field later in the season, her impact was minimal.

15 shots, three assists and the one goal — that was her final stat-line.

“That [injury] set me back,” Crisler said.

She never returned to form after the injury — well, that is until her junior season started.

Back in the starting lineup and fully recovered from the hamstring injury, the midfielder scored three goals in the Wildcats’ first five games of 2016, tripling her career total.

“We found and settled in with a role with her,” Arizona head coach Tony Amato said. “I’m really strength-oriented and I probably didn’t find her strengths quick enough and now that I have, we’re utilizing those and she’s feeding off it.”

Crisler has become a cog in Arizona’s high-powered offensive machine.

“She’s very good with her left foot, very good at getting [the ball] to her feet, very good at setting people up and she can finish when a chance comes her way,” Amato said. “Now we’re asking her to do the things that she can excel at and we’ve seen a big difference.”

The Wildcats have jumped out to a 5-1-1 record, one of the best starts in program history, and Crisler’s improvement has been paramount.

“There’s not enough time to talk about the leaps and bounds Cali’s come,” Amato said. “From year one to last year was big and then she got hurt, so it was a bit of a setback, but we’ve seen a massive change. Her confidence is changing, our confidence in her has changed and we think there’s a lot more in the tank moving forward.”

After hardly playing as a freshman and being sidetracked by a torn hamstring as a sophomore, it could have been easy for Crisler to succumb to the adversity she faced, but she didn’t and now she’s reaping the benefits in her third season with the Wildcats.

“It’s what we do this for,” Amato said. “Sometimes you mention the stressful part or the grind of it all, but when you see someone like Cali come that far, those moments are why we do this. She’ll look back in ten years and say ‘I’m glad I stuck with it.’”

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter

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