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Arizona soccer: Lainey Burdett’s return boosts Wildcats

Arizona goalkeeper Lainey Burdett (1) catches ball in the game against Northern Arizona on Aug. 12.
Arizona Athletics

Arizona goalkeeper Lainey Burdett (1) catches ball in the game against Northern Arizona on Aug. 12.

Lainey Burdett’s playing status was in question just days before the start of the Arizona soccer season. The starting goalkeeper’s tonsils swelled, forcing her to head to the doctor’s office.

“And when it happened, [the doctors] were like, ‘oh we might as well test you for [mononucleosis],’” Burdett said.

The tests concluded Burdett had indeed contracted the virus, which is known for causing fatigue, among other symptoms.

“I’d like to say it wasn’t that bad,” Burdett said of the illness. “The only reason I ended up going to the doctor’s [office] was because my tonsils get swollen every year.”

But doctors disagreed and Burdett was shut down for the time being.

“According to the doctors, it was pretty serious,” Burdett said. “I wasn’t able to be around my team because it was contagious.”

Burdett was able to re-join the team soon enough, but wasn’t cleared to take on a normal workload.

“It was definitely different,” Burdett said. “I just had school and then I’d do some things that didn’t require a lot of energy or contact at practice. It was just nice and easy trying to get back into it.”

As Burdett stayed behind to recover, her team departed to Malibu, California, for its season opener against Pepperdine, where freshman goalkeeper Meredith Reinhardt got the nod in Burdett’s place.

Related: Timing is everything for freshman Meredith Reinhardt’s journey to becoming a Wildcat.

But he combination of a young backline plus a goalkeeper making her first collegiate start didn’t bode well for the Wildcats, as they allowed three goals in a loss to the Waves.

“It’s different,” UA senior defender Laura Pimienta said. “Lainey—we’ve played with her. We know we can count on her. Meredith is very good, too, but Lainey talks more and, especially since there are freshmen in the back, they need someone to talk to them.”

Burdett’s leadership in net was missed and Pepperdine took advantage of a disjointed UA defense. And all she could do was watch it unfold.

“It’s frustrating because you see things that you’re like ‘oh I would have done this’ or ‘I would have done that,’” Burdett said. “But Meredith did a really good job stepping in.”

Reinhardt started the next two games for Arizona and they beat Utah Valley in their home opener then salvage a draw against a top-20 Texas Tech team on the road, pushing the team’s record to 1-1-1 through three games.

Reinhardt and the Wildcats had noticeably improved from the season-opening loss to Pepperdine, and a week later, the team elevated to an even higher level.

In the Sun Devil Desert Classic in Tempe, Arizona beat Denver and Columbia, outscoring them 5-0 and outshooting them 44-6 in the process.

The secret to the Wildcats’ domination?

“Lainey,” said UA forward Charlotte Brascia. “I think Meredith did a great job of covering for her when she was sick, but I think Lainey just holds our backline together and organizes [it] really well.”

Burdett returned and immediately made an impact, posting two shutouts in two games at Sun Devil Soccer Stadium.

“Being able to be back into the game and able to contribute, it’s been awesome,” Burdett said after the UA’s 3-0 win against Denver. “It was definitely different than having to sit on the sideline watching my team.”

It was just a change in net, but Burdett’s presence trickled down to the entire team. Her experience plus her ability to manage the defense couldn’t be overlooked.

“She came a semester early her freshman year, so she had that under her belt, and she had last season under her belt, so that experience makes a massive difference,” Arizona Head Coach Tony Amato said. “And you can kind of see that flow from where she is all through the team.”

The two victories in Tempe improved the Wildcats’ record to 3-1-1. They now have five of their next six games at home and, perhaps most importantly, Burdett back in the net for the foreseeable future.

In other words, the Wildcats have a great opportunity in front of them to extend their current two-game winning streak as Pac-12 Conference play draws near.

The season-opening loss to Pepperdine suddenly seems like a distant memory.

“I thought Meredith did a nice job, but it’s no secret that we have a lot of faith in Lainey,” Amato said. “When she’s healthy she gives us a great chance of winning.”


Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter.


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