Room to Grow
by C.J. Bowles
When asked what playing soccer for the University of Washington means to him, Danny Waltman hesitates. How can you summarize a three-year, life-changing experience in a few mere phrases?
He has fired through all of the previous questions in a confident fashion similar to the way in which he minds the net for the Husky men. This one, though, has him speechless, and a long passes before he finally looks up, smiling.
'It's a growing experience,' he says.
A growing experience? From a man who has played soccer since he could walk, and certainly by now must know the game's ins and outs as well as anyone? Surprising, yes, but soccer means so much to Waltman that he is always seeking ways to further develop his own game, while wringing even more enjoyment from the sport he loves.
The senior from Gig Harbor, Wash., remembers vividly his first time playing between the goalposts.
'When I was six, I always played forward,' he recalls. 'Nobody wanted to play goalie, so everyone took their turn. When it was my turn, we lost something like 14-0, but I loved it! I've been doing it ever since.'
Waltman's passion for the position began to pay dividends during his high school career at Tacoma's Bellarmine Prep, where he began to build an impressive soccer resume. A four-time all-league honoree, Waltman led Bellarmine to four straight league titles with four consecutive undefeated regular seasons.
The modest Waltman admits to being surprised when colleges came calling, but didn't seriously consider the Huskies until visiting the campus and meeting the UW coaches and players.
'I never wanted to go to UW,' he admits. 'I'm from Gig Harbor, so I wanted to get as far away as possible. I never even considered the UW, but then I got a call. I came to check it out, and totally fell in love with this place. It has everything, and just felt right. This was the first place I looked at, and didn't even bother to look anywhere else.'
Waltman considers the chance to play collegiately at Washington to be the greatest reward imaginable for his years of hard work.
'My biggest accomplishment was coming here,' he says. 'I never thought I'd be here. Twenty years of playing and working to improve all finally paid off.'
The work has also paid off for the Huskies, for whom Waltman has started at keeper since the final three games of his sophomore season. That brief stretch included the team's first-round NCAA College Cup loss to Portland in 2001, a defeat that Waltman took personally.
'That was probably the worst day of my life,' he says. 'I had just gotten the starting spot. It's not like I lost the game, but I had another year, and those seniors didn't.'
Waltman took it upon himself to make every game count in 2002, but even as he started 12 games and earned a goals-against-average of just 1.62 goals per game, the team couldn't seem to put the pieces together, finishing with a 6-10-3 record and missing the NCAA College Cup for the first time since 1994.
'Last year, everything that could have gone wrong went wrong,' Waltman says. 'It was like we were working against forces that were more powerful than us.'
Although the season was a disappointment, for at least one game, the Huskies showed how good they potentially could be.
'The highlight of last year was beating UCLA,' Waltman says. 'They won the national championship, so that goes to show how good our team really was. Our record didn't reflect that as much, but we had the potential.'
Now, with his senior season ready to kick off, Waltman is ready.
'I've seen everything that can happen over the past three years, so there won't be any surprises,' he says.
Always looking towards the future, Waltman is beginning to ponder life after UW soccer.
'God-willing, I would love to play until I can't walk anymore, but if not, I'm majoring in business, so I'll probably do something in that field,' he says.
Of course, Waltman hopes to put the future off as long as possible with a deep run into the NCAA College Cup, a chance to extend the precious little time he has left with his teammates and friends.
'I'm going to miss my teammates the most,' he says. 'It's like I have 26 brothers. Some of the guys who I played with who have now graduated, I look back at them and wish I had spent more time with them. I don't know if I'll ever find a group of friends that tight ever again.'
It's been 16 years since Waltman first stepped between the pipes on a soccer field, but the senior has never stopped seeking a greater knowledge and understanding of soccer, and life - which for him are inextricably intertwined.
'They make a man out of you here at Washington,' he says. 'You find out what kind of man you really are and get pushed to the limits.'
Even for a talented, experienced player like Danny Waltman, ready to lead his team back to the NCAA College Cup, there's always room to grow.