The girl with the flip throw-in.
It isn’t a new James Bond film or the unfinished fourth crime novel in the Millennium series. Nor is the title of a lost Vermeer masterpiece.
But it certainly is a stroke of genius that thrills and adds intrigue to a soccer match.
Many have tried the flip throw-in, just check out YouTube, but few have mastered it like Arizona Wildcats freshman Jaden DeGracie. Fans can get the latest look at the acrobatic grace of DeGracie when the UA plays Washington State at Murphey Stadium today at 2 p.m.
DeGracie’s skill can turn one of the least-threatening restarts of play into a goal-scoring opportunity.
She begins with the usual run-up to the touch-line but when the apex is reached and the ball is usually released, DeGracie dips her head down and continues her revolution. Using the ball as her support against the ground, she flips her 5-foot-8-inch frame, thus gaining more torque and speed. The result is a throw that goes farther. Call it the trebuchet of the soccer world.
The midfielder from Gilbert began trying the flip throw-in when she was 8. Already sporting a gymnastics background, she quickly got the hang of it.
“I was actually focusing more on gymnastics at the time,” DeGracie said at a UA practice this week. “Then, I started playing club (soccer). So I was doing both gymnastics and club soccer. My club coach showed me a YouTube video of somebody doing the flip throw-in and he said: ‘Can you do this?’ That night I got really excited. That night I picked up the ball and did it. And I’ve been doing it ever since.
“It just came naturally to me. Being upside down was my right-side up when I was little. So it was not like I was shocked by the flipping motion. I keep trying to perfect it as I mature as a player.”
First-year UA coach Tony Amato knows DeGracie’s flip throw-in earns more than style points.
“I’ve had players with long throws and flip throws before and they’re classified as flip throws and long throws, but they weren’t actually that long or effective. Jaden’s is different because the accuracy of it, the distance of it, the pace of it are different than any one that I have seen before, let alone had on my team before,” Amato said. “So that’s what makes it pretty unique. Not only that, but it’s super consistent. That helps the whole team know where to make their runs. A lot of times when people have a long throw it’s 5 yards this way or that way.”
The flip throw-in isn’t her only outstanding quality. You don’t get named the Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year twice in high school by just having a signature skill.
After a senior year at Gilbert Highland that netted 48 assists and eight goals, she was expecting to head to the Sunshine State for her college years.
“I was actually committed to the University of Miami,” DeGracie said. “On signing day, I decided that it wasn’t the place for me. That’s when Tony happened to be coming here. So then it fit perfectly, just like a puzzle. … I got really lucky.”
So did the Wildcats. DeGracie has netted five assists in 15 matches to help the UA to a 7-5-3 record. That’s one more win than Arizona had all last season.
“She’s got good speed,” Amato said. “She can jump. She’s won some headers this year that you can see her elevate. Obviously, she’s very athletic. If you can do a flip throw, you’re pretty athletic. … She can get behind people and deliver crosses in for us.”
Despite all of those skills, the most famous flip at the UA since quarterback Ortege Jenkins’ “Leap at the Lake” to beat Washington in 1998 definitely sets DeGracie apart.
“I get called ‘Flippy’ and ‘Flipper,’ ” DeGracie said. “Walking around McKale Center, people will ask ‘Oh, what position do you play?’ And I’ll say ‘I’m the girl that does the flip.’ They’ll say ‘Oh yeah, I’ve seen you.’ It’s pretty funny.
“The flip throw distinguishes me, but it’s not who I am. I like to be much more than the girl that flips.”
She certainly is that, both on and off the field. She maintained a 4.36 weighted GPA in high school and enjoys playing piano at retirement homes.
“It started out when my great-grandma was in a nursing home. She was blind. My brother and I would go to the nursing home and we would play the piano,” said DeGracie, who is majoring in chemistry and plans on becoming an orthodontist. “At the beginning, I played like ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ or something. It was nothing special. But as I got older I could play more and more pieces. I originally did it for her, but I noticed that other people enjoyed the music as well. So then, when she passed away, I decided to keep on going back.
“I’m not great or anything. It’s about giving something to people that’s a part of me that they don’t get all the time.”
You could say flip throw-ins fall into that category as well.