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Get to know Arizona soccer’s returners: Mariah Dunn

SB Nation logo SB Nation 6/26/2020 Ryan Kelapire
a woman holding a football ball © Photo by Ryan Kelapire

We will be profiling Arizona soccer’s returning players before they return to campus in July. The previous renditions can be found here. Next up: sophomore Mariah Dunn.

It’s hard to find someone who’s won more club soccer games than Mariah Dunn.

Before joining the Arizona Wildcats in 2019, she captured four ECNL national championships with the SoCal Blues, including 2017 when they posted a perfect 32-0 record.

Dunn was a defensive stalwart in that dynastic run, often lining up against the other team’s best attacker. Now, she has a chance to do it at the next level.

After only logging 50 minutes across six games as a freshman, Dunn is a strong candidate to start for Arizona in 2020, probably at right back, along a backline that has to replace three starters.

“She’s a very physical player. She brings that aggressiveness to the team and she’s always a teammate for others,” said sophomore defender Molly Shannon. “She comes every day to compete, she tries her best to earn a spot every single day at practice.”

Here’s a Q&A with Dunn, who was also a two-time team captain at Rancho Cucamonga High School in Southern California.

Ryan Kelapire: How would you evaluate your freshman season?

Mariah Dunn: “It was difficult for me because I came from a team where I got a lot of playing time, so I wasn’t used to that and it was frustrating. But towards the end (of the season) I understood why I wasn’t getting as much playing time as I expected. So that was a huge learning curve for me and I just think that this is something that I can apply for this year to make me grow as a player and help me get on the field.”

RK: What was the biggest thing you learned?

MD: “Definitely to do my best in practice. Be more of a practice player than a game player.”

RK: What are your strengths as a player?

MD: “I think my biggest strengths are definitely that I’m an aggressive player. And I feel like I read the ball really well. And I like getting into attack so I think this year that it’ll definitely help.”

RK: You did start in the UTEP spring game in February. What did you take away from that?

MD: “Playing my whole life as a defender, I think that it was a big change for me to start playing winger and just learn to move my body. Not only looking and facing forward during the game but being able to turn around and make sure I’m looking forward and backward. That was different.”

RK: What’s the next step for you as a player?

MD: “I have everything to prove. I’m just excited to get to showcase myself in a better way. I feel like I’m more prepared this year and going into it I know what to expect. So I think it’s just gonna be a better year overall. The players that we have coming back, I think that is a stronger bond than what we had before. I think the chemistry of the team and dynamic is getting a lot better. I think it’s important for us to help keep that dynamic strong and help build it even more, so that we as a team collectively can help each other get to the top.”

RK: What’s your outlook for the team as a whole?

MD: “I think that it’s definitely going to be a developmental year for us. With Paul (Nagy) leaving and half of us being returners and half freshmen, I think that it’s definitely going to be something new, something that we’re not used to. And I think that’s just a chance for us to make it what we can and make the best of it. And I’m excited because I get to play with one of my former teammates of seven years, Megan Chelf.”

(Chelf is an incoming freshman forward.)

RK: What’s been the best moment of your soccer career so far?

MD: “Definitely winning four national championships with my club team. But I think that the first one was probably the most special because we had to work so hard for it, and I think that competing in a top league is very important because it prepared me for college soccer. Winning that just shows that I’m able to compete at a high level.”

RK: What other schools recruited you and why did you pick Arizona?

MD: “I was recruited by UC Davis and UC Irvine, and I felt like Arizona was the best fit for me because it just felt like home. Like when I walked on campus, it felt like home. The coaches made me feel at home, the players made me feel at home. They welcomed me with open arms and I liked the style of play they play because I feel like it was similar to what I had played in club. I felt like it was easy to adjust to, and I also like that the players and the coaching staff look for your strengths and they didn’t just focus on your weaknesses.”

RK: How did you get into soccer?

MD: “Well, I used to do gymnastics and then after gymnastics I did motocross. And then I crashed my bike and my mom didn’t want me riding bikes anymore. And then my uncle (Cameron Dunn) who played professionally in MLS and also went to UC Irvine for men’s soccer, he started making me want to get into soccer more. He started teaching me about the game and I honestly just fell in love with it.”

RK: How did you get into motocross?

MD: “My dad was big in motocross. He worked in the industry. He bought me my first KTM 50 and I started riding it around the neighborhood and he took me to the track and I fell in love with that too.”

RK: What have you been doing to stay in shape during quarantine?

MD: “I’ve been hiking a lot and then I’ve also been surfing a lot. I go to the beach almost every day.”

RK: How does surfing help with soccer?

MD: “It helps with my agility and mobility.”

RK: What drives you as a player and person?

MD: “From a religious aspect, I’d say God. I feel like I get everything from Him, all my strengths and everything that I know. All my wisdom comes from Him, so I think that plays a huge aspect.”

RK: Your bio says you are a political science major and you want to pursue a career in criminal law. Why is that?

MD: “I’ve always been told that I’m good at arguing, so that was one of my main reasons (laughs). And then I do have a family member who works for a law firm and she’s a criminal defense lawyer. And I just think that I’ve always wanted to do that because I wanted to help people who are going through social injustices and help try to make that better.”

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