For four years now, Lainey Burdett has been a force on and off the soccer field for the Arizona Wildcats.
The senior goalkeeper has helped lead the program to two NCAA Tournaments during her college career. In her final season, she wants to do it again.
The Wildcats have a good chance: Friday’s 2-0 win over Boise State was Arizona’s fifth straight shutout and improved the team to 5-1 in nonconference play.
“Every game that you play in — they’re all big games,” Burdett said. “They’re all big weekends.”
Burdett and the Wildcats say they’ve been consistent ever since practice began in August. Assuming they keep improving, the program is poised to make its sixth NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats will host Baylor (4-2) on Sunday afternoon at Mulcahy Soccer Stadium in a regionally televised match. The UA will wrap up nonconference play against Cal State Fullerton next week, then open the Pac-12 season with a Sept. 21 match at Stanford.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” Burdett said of the upcoming Pac-12 matches. “But, I mean, those are the types of games you want to play … then it’s just that much sweeter getting the victory.”
The Las Vegas native has a portfolio of accomplishments under her belt since she began playing at UA: Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Week as a freshman, 2016 and 2017 Pac-12 All-Academic Honorable Mention awards, and a 2017 All-Pac-12 Second Team honor. Burdett played all 1,900 minutes during the Wildcats’ 2017 season.
Burdett credits the Wildcats’ defense for her success.
“When they do their job and help me defend the goal, it makes my job a lot easier,” Burdett said.
One of the other two seniors on the team, midfielder Kennedy Kieneker, has seen Burdett’s progression as a player. She posted a .754 save percentage as a freshman, a number that improved slightly to .756 a year later. Burdett was even better as a junior, stopping 83.3 percent of shots taken.
Burdett’s leadership on and off the field has been as impressive as her stats.
“She really is our voice, so much so that friends that come to our games always say they hear Lainey’s loud, raspy voice directing our team constantly throughout the entire game,” Kieneker said. “I wouldn’t want anyone else in our net besides Lainey.”
The Wildcats have improved as Burdett has improved. Now, the program is more competitive.
“My freshman and sophomore year, we did have a little bit of a different style of play, but with the bringing in of new personnel, it’s always evolving,” Burdett said.
Nonetheless, she credits coach Tony Amato for instilling a “grit and grind” that has been there since she enrolled early in January 2015. Amato became Arizona’s all-time wins leader among head coaches with Friday night’s win over Boise State. He has 59 victories — and counting — with the Wildcats.
“We’re constantly pressing,” Burdett said. “We’re just trying to get after it.”