2002 Women's Soccer Preview
Aug. 20, 2002
'Why not us?'
That is the query posed by head coach Lesle Gallimore. She guided the Huskies into the NCAA Tournament during six of her eight previous seasons, including a Sweet 16 berth in 2000.
Washington has proven itself to be a perennial NCAA Tournament contender and mainstay of the national top-20 rankings. But in NCAA women's soccer there is a clear caste system led by the North Carolina dynasty, winner of 17 national titles. Last year's champion Santa Clara, an eight-time Final Four qualifier, is loaded again.Gallimore understands that those two are likely College Cup bound in 2002. Her desire is to secure one of the other two spots.
'Give North Carolina and Santa Clara a free pass to the Final Four. Both of those teams are a step above anyone else as far as depth, coaching longevity and tradition in their program,' Gallimore explains. 'The next team that always has a great shot is Portland. You look at everyone else, and if we can put ourselves in the top 20, our theme is 'Why not us.'
'Why can't we be one of those other teams to get there. It is just as realistic for us as it is for a team like Florida that got there last year or a team like Penn State that's been there before.'
The Huskies set the stage for a 2002 Final Four run with NCAA Tournament victories in each of the last two seasons. Washington won the Pacific-10 Conference championship in 2000, earned the No. 2 seed for the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the third round.
Washington returns 10 starters from last year's team that registered a 13-5-2 record and tied for second in the Pac-10 standings. UW blanked San Diego 2-0 in the first round of the playoffs before falling to eventual NCAA semifinalist Portland in the second round.
The toughest task in pursuit of a lengthy run through the NCAAs is to replace forward Caroline Putz, a three-time All-Pac-10 honoree. Putz leaves UW as the school's all-time leader in assists with 27 during her career.
Helping ease that loss is the return of three-year starter Andrea Morelli, the 1999 Pac-10 Defender of the Year who missed the entire 2001 season with a knee injury. Another returning player who was sidelined last season is red-shirt freshman Kim Taylor who was forecast for great offensive exploits before being felled by an injury.
With a complete cast of returning starters, the coaching staff won't be establishing a lineup as much as fine tuning it.
The most established position in the lineup is the goalkeeping spot as the nation's finest goalkeeper wears a Washington jersey. Hope Solo is the most decorated player in Husky history. Last season she was voted the Pac-10 Player of the Year by the league's coaches. She was a finalist for the Hermann Trophy.
Solo was credited with seven shutouts, a school single-season record 0.68 goals against average and 77 saves, all while having limited mobility due to a torn adductor muscle (groin) in her right leg. She suffered the injury while training with the U.S. National Team in Chicago in preparation for the Nike Cup.
'Her athletic ability, her stature and her shot-stopping ability are world class,' Gallimore says. 'Hope is quick off her line, great on breakaways and very good at organizing our defense. Hope will keep you in games.'
A sensational collegiate career ends following this season for Solo who then pursues a career with the U.S. National team and the WUSA.
'She's barely into what's going to hopefully be a long career for her. To make the roster for the 2002 World Cup is a great goal. To be the starter is a big dream. If she works hard she can be on the roster and clearly after that there is a huge future for her on the National Team and in the WUSA.'
By the time Solo completes her four-year collegiate career she will own every Washington goalkeeping record. She already boasts the best goals against average for a career (0.95) and is tied for the all-time shutout record (16). She is just one save shy of the UW-record total of 250.
A pair of players will battle for back-up duty, a spot that will be critical as Solo is expected to miss a few games due to commitments with the U.S. National Team. All three shot stoppers have the luxury of training with assistant coach Amy Griffin (formerly Allmann) who was a goalkeeper on the U.S. National Team (1987-1991).
Junior Lisa Brookens played one entire game last season and shut out Eastern Washington while making three saves. She hopes to hold off freshman Brittni Goodwin, enabling the talented rookie to red shirt. Goodwin was one of the premier prep goalies in the nation last season whose signing was a major coup for the UW staff.The goalkeepers are the last line in a defense that at times is impenetrable.
Defenders - 'The Defense Never Rests'
The Huskies feature a tireless 'Dream Team' of veteran defenders that surrendered only 12 goals last season. That is nine fewer goals than any previous UW unit allowed.'Defensively, as far as the number of goals we give up and how we give them up, I couldn't be more pleased with how we played the last two seasons,' explains Gallimore. 'If you can play well defensively against any given team you are going to give yourself a chance and that's what you need every game.'
The defense returns all four starters from last season's squad that compiled a stunning 0.58 goals against average. That quartet is joined by Morelli, a two-time all-conference performer who should resume her position in the middle of the defense now that she is completely healthy.
'We just look to see the old Morelli back on the field,' Gallimore remarks. 'She clearly is as fired up as anyone after having sat out a year. I feel sorry for the people that she plays against.'
'It was tough for Vanessa to play as all out as she likes to without Morelli next to her. She had to be a little bit more composed and more conservative last year and that's not how Vanessa likes to play. But, when she's got someone that she knows as well as Morelli playing next to her who's going to cover for her, she can go all out. We're going to see the less kinder, gentler Vanessa Pierce this year than we saw last year.'
Martinez filled in superbly in the center of the defense and now will be able to move to the outside, enabling her to push forward more often and utilize her many attacking skills.
The outside defender on the other side will likely come from the senior duo of Suzanne Culpepper and Cheryl Gies. The two former walk-ons have shared starting assignments at that position the last two seasons.
Also factoring into the mix on defense are junior Liz Taylor and freshman Sara Davis. One of only two freshmen on the team, Davis should give the veterans on the defensive unit a run for their money in the challenge for playing time.
Taylor is a versatile athlete who netted the game-winning goal against Gonzaga last year. She was impressive during spring workouts and will also see time in the midfield.
The midfield has a distinctly defensive flavor, led by senior Megan McKinstry who is a three-year starter as a defensive midfielder. She will be limited somewhat after undergoing off-season surgery on both feet.
'She is such a force in front of our defenders and behind our midfielders. Megan is coming off one of the most brutal surgeries a soccer player can have,' describes Gallimore. 'She has so much experience and leadership and has been such a mentally tough player for us that we need her to do everything she's physically capable of doing.'Sophomore Kelli Smith joins the midfield corps after serving as the primary starter on the outside of the defense last year. She is more suited to midfield chores, but filled a need last season.
While Coach Gallimore is pleased that the midfielders played a critical role in last season's stingy defense, she would like to see the group do a better job of parlaying defensive stops into offensive forays.
'We have some very talented midfield players, but we haven't seen somebody step up and be the personality in the center of the field that you need to be. We need to have the person in the middle of the field that is a general that links the forwards with the backs and kind of runs the show in there. We have the potential to have that player, but it's just a matter of whose going to step up and fill that role.'
The most likely candidate to serve as field general is junior Jaime Carstensen who seeks to maintain her impressive start of last year throughout an entire season. Carstensen amassed four goals and four assists in the first four games and added just two goals the rest of the year.
'We have to see goal production, assist production and playmaking production out of Jaime,' Gallimore says. 'She could be one of the best center midfielders in the Pac-10 this year.'
With a year of collegiate experience under her belt, sophomore Clare Rustad is expected to blossom this season. The supremely skilled Rustad will likely miss parts of the season while competing with the Canadian National Team in its preparations for the 2003 World Cup.
'Clare has to bring back to our team her skill, her determination and everything that makes her a great international player,' Gallimore comments, adding that, 'she definitely should be a player that is seeing a lot of time for us, contributing on the attack, scoring goals and being deadly on re-starts.'
One player who will be unavailable for midfield duty is sophomore Cassie Giles who tore her ACL during the spring session. Her anticipated increased contributions will be postponed one year while she red shirts during 2002.
A pair of juniors factor greatly into the midfield picture after gaining valuable experience during their previous two seasons. Dana Dibble showcased her athleticism and passing ability during the spring season and should parlay that effort into increased playing time during the fall.
Blair Ruport played all 20 games last season, drawing 10 starts after missing the end of the 2000 season with an injury. She may also play forward.
'Blair is so disruptive to other people's game as far as her defending. Her speed and tenacity give us a spark every time she's on the field.'
Those midfield players will be counted on to link the stingy defense with a potentially potent group of forwards.
'This is the best combination of speed, skill and finishing that we've ever had just on the forward line alone,' Gallimore exclaims.
The forward position boasts a cadre of skilled individuals who each offer unique contributions. The lone upperclassman in that foursome is junior Melissa Bennett who tallied three goals last season after netting five her freshman year.
'Melissa played well, but we still haven't seen the best out of her. Melissa is going to have a breakout year, I'm confident in it.'
The remaining three members of the quartet are second-year players who hope to build on their outstanding rookie campaigns.
Tina Frimpong burst onto the scene last fall with a team-leading seven goals, including a hat trick against Idaho. She was an always-dangerous presence despite missing an entire year of competition surrounding the birth of daughter MacKenzie in March of 2001. This year she begins the season with a much higher fitness level.
'She is, all-around, one of the most talented athletes I have ever coached between her endurance, her quickness, her flat-out speed, her speed with the ball, her ability to turn and shoot, her power, her strength in the air and difficulty to defend.'
Frimpong and red-shirt freshman Kim Taylor inject an element of speed up front the likes of which Washington has never had.
'We are always going to be in games defensively. It's just a matter of who is going to score that clutch goal at a clutch time. Kim Taylor is the kind of kid who can. Kim Taylor is someone who could really turn the tide for us when it comes to our attack.'
Kelley Schweighart's availability is uncertain as she is battling an injury. When healthy, she is a crafty player who is capable of both setting up teammates and finding the back of the net by herself. She started 11 games and registered a hat trick last season against Eastern Washington.
'Between Tina, Melissa, Kelley and Kim Taylor, those four are all lethal at any given time. All four are lethal in completely different ways. I've never had four more different forwards playing on a team. They all click very well and have a very good understanding of soccer. Being able to use those four players up front in any given combination is going to be a plus for us.'
This year's schedule won't be easy with 12 that participated in the 2001 NCAA Tournament, including two Final Four qualifiers and four teams from the Elite Eight. Washington travels to Chapel Hill to take on the powerful North Carolina squad and also plays NCAA semifinalist Portland on the road during non-conference action. Add to that conference games against five Pac-10 teams that earned 2001 NCAA berths.'Obviously, we're going to see the best of the best. We see North Carolina this year, we see Portland, Texas A&M, Texas, Cal, Stanford, UCLA, USC and tons of teams that are ranked in the top 10. We have a huge challenge on our schedule and I think that's when this team performs best.'
One particular non-conference road trip could prove to be as motivational as it is difficult. The Huskies visit Austin, Texas for a tournament during which they will meet national powers Texas and Texas A&M. Myers Stadium is also the site of the women's College Cup.
'They are going to see where the Final Four is hosted when we go to Austin in September. That's a little bit of a carrot in front of them to challenge themselves to try to get back in December.'
A fine line exists between a magical season like 2000 and one that is merely good like last year. The Pac-10 championship team had a remarkable 10-2 record in games decided by one goal en route to a Sweet 16 appearance. Conversely, the 2001 squad had a 6-4 mark in one-goal games.
'This season presents its challenges. A season that is supposed to be great could turn on many things,' projects Gallimore. 'It's one of those things that if we're not ready could end up being a disaster season as far as results are concerned. That's also the fun and excitement of it.'
The senior class will provide the impetus for this season. Six seniors are on the roster, five defenders along with Solo in goal. They are determined to make their final season a spectacular one.
'Our senior class know that this is their last go-around. In the past two years we have been a goal or two away from getting further than we ever have in the Tournament. These seniors want it so badly. I'm just excited to see them as a group get a chance to do some great things.'
Like reach the Final Four?
'Two years ago, and even last year, we got the taste of what it's like to see that bracket come up and look at the teams in front of us and know we had the potential to beat them, but we came up a little short. We were one goal or so away from being in the Final Four,' Gallimore concludes. 'It's a realistic goal for our team to think that we can get to the College Cup as easily as some of these other teams.'