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The Daily Wildcat

 

Family Weekend: Kaitlyn Lopez follows bloodlines to Arizona

Kaitlyn+Lopez+streches+with+her+teammates+after+Arizonas+1-0+win+against+Oregon+on+Sunday+at+Murphey+Field+at+Mulcahy+Soccer+Stadium.+Lopez+is+a+third-generation+Wildcat+and+is+enjoying+a+breakout+season+during+her+third+year+in+the+program.
Rebecca Noble

Kaitlyn Lopez streches with her teammates after Arizona’s 1-0 win against Oregon on Sunday at Murphey Field at Mulcahy Soccer Stadium. Lopez is a third-generation Wildcat and is enjoying a breakout season during her third year in the program.

Go to any Arizona soccer game at Murphey Field at Mulcahy Soccer Stadium and you are bound to hear a few distinctive things.

For one, you will undoubtedly hear the drum and chants of FC Tucson’s supporter group, the Cactus Pricks, which has taken up Arizona soccer now that FC Tucson’s season has ended. Depending on how well the game is going for the Wildcats, you will also probably hear Arizona head coach Tony Amato’s shouts echoing from the field in either support or protest. And last but certainly not least is a tiny section of Arizona fans up near the press box who have Wildcat blood running through them — not to mention a Wildcat player running on the field, too.

This is the Lopez family, a group of Tucsonans who make their way to every Wildcat soccer home game to cheer on the team that they have a special connection to. Redshirt sophomore forward Kaitlyn Lopez is a third-generation Wildcat and one of the most important pieces of Amato’s suddenly surging squad.

The Lopez family has been something of a mainstay in Tucson when it comes to the UA.

Kaitlyn Lopez’s grandparents Ray and Connie Lopez attended the UA in the late 1950s and early 1960s and have been supporting various Arizona Athletics programs their entire lives. For Connie Lopez, seeing her granddaughter playing on such a big stage is hard to believe.

“When I was a freshman at the U of A, I remember watching a football game with one of my friends in my sorority and her boyfriend was playing on TV, and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, he must be really famous,’” she said. “Well, now it’s my granddaughter. We are really very proud of her.”

The family line of Wildcats does not stop there, as Ray and Connie’s son and Kaitlyn’s father, Shane Lopez, was at the UA from 1987 to 1991 and was even named Homecoming king in 1990. From an early age, Shane made sure Kaitlyn understood what it meant to be a Wildcat.

“I remember taking Kaitlyn to games literally in a baby carrier, because she was just an infant and that’s how that whole process started,” Shane Lopez said. “It’s been kind of fun to see her go from carrier to actually playing as a Wildcat.”

After a very successful high-school career at local high school Ironwood Ridge, where she was named First-Team All-State as a senior, Kaitlyn had offers from other colleges. But she decided at a young age that she was going to attend her hometown school.

“Honestly, I never really thought about going anywhere else,” Kaitlyn Lopez said. “I talked to other schools and stuff, but it was never really serious. Pretty much since I was in elementary school, I was thinking U of A.”

After sitting out her freshman season, Kaitlyn Lopez has been one of the Wildcats’ most productive players since Amato was hired before the 2013 season, scoring five goals last season and tallying two so far this year. She has been one of several key players leading the rebuilding process for Arizona soccer, a team that won only one Pac-12 Conference game in 2011.

“Kaitlyn is great,” Amato said. “She has been getting better and better every step of the way since we’ve been here. She is someone who is super athletic, has good pace and creates goal-scoring opportunities. We’re glad we have her, and we’re excited about her development. She’s getting better and better, and we think her best days are still ahead of her, which is always great as a college athlete.”

The Lopez family members have been huge fans of Wildcat football and basketball for decades, but as Kaitlyn Lopez began to take up soccer more seriously, Wildcat soccer started to become another sport for the Lopez family to cheer on.

“We’ve been huge football fans, huge basketball fans, and then as she began to play soccer, we began to go to all the soccer games and got to know some of the coaches,” Shane Lopez said. “So, we’ve been going to soccer games since she was probably in the fifth grade.”

Making the transition from fan to athlete is difficult to explain for Kaitlyn Lopez, especially considering how important Arizona Athletics is to her family.

“It’s weird,” she said. “I went to games with my family, and now I’m here every day as an athlete, and it’s just sort of surreal to put those two worlds together.”

For Shane Lopez, having a daughter who represents a school that he and his family is connected to means everything.

“I speak for myself,” Shane Lopez said, “and I know I speak for my folks as well, in the sense that the level of pride that we have to watch and have someone, in my case a daughter … with ‘Arizona’ on their jersey out here representing the U of A after all these years of being fans — it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.”

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Follow Brian Peel on Twitter.

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