Editor’s note: The Star’s Zack Rosenblatt is counting down the 50 best athletes on the University of Arizona campus right now, with help from athletes, coaches and those close to the program.
No. 22: Lainey Burdett
The details: Lainey Burdett is a 5-foot-9 goalkeeper from Las Vegas entering her junior season with the Wildcats. Burdett started her UA career early in 2015, enrolling in the spring semester before her freshman season. That, she said, helped speed up the transition process and had Burdett ready to start as Arizona’s goalkeeper as a true freshman. She considered other schools, including Oregon, before committing to the Widlcats. But Burdett said she knew she wanted to play at the UA, in part because of the campus and college-town feel, but mostly because of Arizona’s coaching staff, namely head coach Tony Amato — hired before the 2013 season — and assistant Paul Nagy.
“I love the coaching staff,” Burdett said. “I love Paul, working with him. He’s definitely made me a better player. And I love Tony and how they (the staff) go about everything.”
The numbers: As a freshman, Burdett played in 16 games (over 1,250 minutes) and compiled a 1.22 goals-against average and a .754 save percentage with 52 saves. She improved her numbers across the board as a sophomore, participating again in 16 games (1,470 minutes) with a 1.16 goals-against average, .756 save percentage with 59 saves.
The value: Regardless of talent, the goalkeeper is one of the most important positions on the pitch. It helps that Burdett has talent, too. The Wildcats season ended without an NCAA Tournament bid last year after finishing with a 9-9-1 record (4-7 Pac-12), breaking a streak of making the postseason two straight years. The Wildcats will rely on Burdett’s performance to help get back to the postseason.
“As a goalkeeper, she sees the whole field and you need somebody you can trust back there as your last person,” said UA star midfielder Gabi Stoian. “It’s good that she can be vocal and she can be trusted back there and she comes up big for us.”
Why Burdett? Burdett missed Arizona’s first three games last season, sick with mononucleosis, and the Wildcats lost a game to Pepperdine 3-1 in that stretch. Upon her return, the Wildcats went 4-0-1 in the next five games and outscored opponents 10-2.
UA coach Tony Amato said she’s improved each year and has a real shot at All-Pac-12 honors this season.
“I definitely feel like having the experience now of two years under my belt gives me a lot more confidence going into this year,” Burdett said. “Then, hopefully, I’ll be able to keep getting better each year.”
Proof she’s good: As a freshman, Burdett had three shutouts. As a sophomore, that number jumped to seven, tied for the fourth-highest total in the Pac-12 and the third most in a season in UA history. Burdett allowed just two total goals in five non-conference games, and stood out against Washington State (zero goals on 18 shots, season-high eight saves) and Arizona State (zero goals on 12 shots, with five saves). Burdett is No. 3 all-time in career goals-against average (1.19), fourth in shutouts (10) and ninth in career saves (111).
What Burdett can accomplish: If Burdett keeps improving and can rise in the Pac-12 in terms of goals-against average and save percentage, she has a shot at being named an All-Conference selection. Plus, Burdett will continue to climb in the Arizona record books and could enter her senior season with the chance to become a career record holder in a few categories.
They said it: “She’s a character. She’s great to play with. She’s an amazing player on the field, she’s vocal, she conducts her back line, all the way to the front. She’s good at what she does on the fied and then off the field she makes jokes, she makes people laugh, it’s great being around her.” — Stoian
She said it: “The season didn’t go as we planned, but on a personal level I feel that I got better from my freshman year. So just the improvement along with that, I thought it was good. Obviously I hope this year goes a lot better. … Last year was definitely a huge bummer, but now we know it’s time to work and we know what we have to do in order to get there.” — Burdett