Aiming for the Bull's Eye
Sept. 9, 2001
Eyes on the prize. That is the mantra that Husky coach Dean Wurzberger and his team will be reciting throughout the 2001 season. The target is a winning season, another Pac-10 championship and an invitation to postseason play. The bulls-eye - the grand prize - is winning the NCAA championship.
Washington, coming off its ninth-straight winning season and third-consecutive conference championship, has in the past hit the target without fail. The Huskies won the inaugural Pacific-10 title in 2000, its third conference championship in a row. Their trip to the NCAA tournament was the sixth in a row, a feat only nine other programs in the nation have accomplished. But, as in 1999, the Huskies again were knocked out early, in the second round versus Final Four participant Indiana.
'We're aiming for the bulls-eye this year,' says Wurzberger, who enters his 10th season as head coach at Washington. 'We've been hitting the target, the outer rings, we just have not hit the bulls-eye. We need to have our eyes focused on the big prize and not be satisfied with our regular-season accolades. The bulls-eye is winning it all, winning the NCAA Championship.'
Wurzberger has set the table for a championship run by the 2001 Huskies, combining a seven-player senior class, deep in experience, with a veteran squad and what Wurzberger calls 'perhaps the greatest recruiting class in the 34-year history of Washington soccer.'
Senior co-captains Bryn Ritchie and Ben Somoza highlight the large senior class that has been to the NCAA Tournament each of the last three years. The pair scored six goals apiece last year, making them the team's leading offensive threats in 2001. Ritchie, a three-year starting defender, was named to the All-Pac-10 First Team and earned second team all-America honors last season. Somoza, who should move onto the career assist chart this year, also earned Pac-10 First Team honors in 2000.
Add Jake Sagare, the 2000 team leader in shots with 47, offensive threats Zach Kingsley, Trevor Frobose and Greg Foisie and defender Billy Sleeth and the senior class is stacked, with 215 career starts among them.
'Our senior leadership is solid,' Wurzberger affirms. 'They certainly have the playing credentials to back it up. Out of the group, it's possible all seven could make their way into the starting lineup. You're looking at half a team of senior players, with all the benefits of experience and hopefully the drive to accomplish big things in their last year. It's an exciting prospect.'
The freshman class is exciting as well, for the first time featuring a pair of two-time Parade All-Americans who spent the summer as starters on the U-18 National Team, forward Brett Weisner (Brookfield, Wis.) and midfielder C.J. Klaas (Cherry Hill, Ill.). On a Washington roster stocked with regional talent, their arrival marks the first time a pair of players from the Midwest has joined the team.
'Brett should be right in our mix from the start,' says Wurzberger. 'He was considered one of the top, if not the top, forwards in the nation last year. His skill level will make him a threat in every game.'
Klaas also brings impressive credentials, as does Johnny Schefter, a midfielder from Yakima, Wash., who completes the freshman trio that could provide an immediate contribution.
'C.J. is skillful with the ball at his feet, has great touch and passing vision,' Wurzberger continues, 'and Johnny is an exciting, attacking player who has all the tools to succeed at the collegiate level.'
As is tradition, the Huskies boast one of the most difficult schedules in the nation as the second game of the year pits Washington against defending national champion Connecticut on its home field. Immediately following is a meeting with Final Four participant Indiana, the Huskies' nemesis, at the adidas Invitational in Portland. The pressure never lets up as the Huskies defend their Pac-10 title in a league that featured three teams consistently ranked in the top 10.
The Huskies' effort though, should be buoyed its preseason trip to England, Aug. 15-26, the first of its kind for a Washington soccer team, as well as a heightened home field advantage that gives the team a welcome reprieve from its rigorous road schedule. The debut of night-time soccer under the lights last year boosted home attendance to 1,305 fans per game, a mark that was 10th in the nation.
A veteran squad rich in experience, Wurzberger's continued grassroots emphasis on building his team with local talent while adding nationally-ranked recruits, and the opportunity to win a fourth-consecutive conference championship give Washington all the motivation it needs to keep its eyes on the prize.
'All indications are that we should be in for another record-setting season and certainly a fourth conference championship,' Wurzberger concluded. 'But we've got our sights firmly set on doing the one thing we haven't done, and that's a long run in postseason and, hopefully, winning it all. Our eyes are focused on the bulls eye.'