She is feared. Imitated. And she can’t be denied.
Jaden DeGracie is the most dangerous girls soccer player in Arizona.
She impacts the game from anywhere on the field. DeGracie, a Gilbert Highland senior midfielder, is just as fast, her dribbling just as skilled, her right foot just as thunderous as any other player in the state.
But her influence has no boundaries. Literally.
DeGracie may be at her most dangerous when the ball goes out of bounds.
“Her flip throw is a very, very dangerous weapon,” Highland coach Jonathan Berzins said. “A lot of what we do is based on creating those opportunities.”
The “flip throw” allows the 5-foot-6 DeGracie, whose muscles make twigs jealous, to launch a ball as far as 45 yards from out of bounds. She takes the ball in her hands, gets a running start, leaps off of her left foot and into a front handspring. After the ball hits the ground and DeGracie swings back onto her feet, she launches it. The momentum and speed of DeGracie’s movement allows the ball to catapult toward the opposing team’s goal where her teammates are stacked in the penalty box, ready to pounce.
It creates something out of nothing. While some teams are just trying to restart play with a regular throw-in when the ball goes out of bounds, DeGracie can create a scoring opportunity anywhere within midfield.
She had 41 assists last year (with Berzins estimating 20 of those coming off of flip throws), earning Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year honors, and led Highland to a 22-3 record and the Division I championship.
“I’ve been doing it so long, it comes natural to me,” said DeGracie, who was a high-level gymnast when she was younger. “It’s kind of funny. In games when I do it a lot, sometimes after I throw it in, I can’t remember if I flipped or not.”
The flip throw has been around for years, though it’s been more novelty than the norm. But DeGracie isn’t the only one doing it in Arizona. There are several players, on boys and girls soccer teams, across the state who are utilizing the tactic.
It’s becoming a tradition for the Douglas boys soccer program. Coach Ken Cormier had a player on his 2009 team who did it and taught current player Francisco Orduna, a senior who is now teaching junior Leo Montano.
“They really took it upon themselves,” Cormier said. “When you first watch them, you think they’re going to break their necks or their backs. But when they start to get into a rhythm, they start making good long throws. We score an awful lot of goals off of them, catching teams by surprise. Both of them can throw it close to 50 yards.”
Gilbert Campo Verde junior Meg McDowell started going heels over head after seeing DeGracie do it.
“It was a reason (DeGracie’s team) beat my team when I was in seventh grade,” McDowell said. “I said ‘OK, I’m going to learn that because it’s such a weapon for them.’ I actually did gymnastics with (DeGracie) a long time ago.”
Campo Verde freshman Morgan Martinez decided to spend four hours at a park to learn and practice the skill so that the team will continue to have a flip-throw threat when McDowell graduates.
“We use the flip throw any time we’re in the attacking third really,” Campo Verde coach Rosanne Headley said. “We were in the (Mesa) Desert Ridge tournament last week, and we scored twice off of the flip throw. We treat it like a corner kick. We set up like it’s a corner kick and use it to our advantage.”
The throws aren’t random, either. Both McDowell and DeGracie said they plan the trajectory of each throw depending on the team they’re playing, the situation and the teammate they’re targeting.
To Highland teammate Paige Morris, DeGracie drives the ball in almost a straight line. Morris scored 13 goals last season, all but one off of DeGracie’s throw-ins. The last goal was the only one Highland scored in regulation in last season’s Division I title match.
“A majority of our goals come off of Jaden’s flip throw,” Morris said.