Husky Women's Soccer Preview
Aug. 16, 2007
Rebuilding. Renovation. Restoration.
However you want to describe the process, the end result should be a much-improved Washington women's soccer team in 2007.
'Since our 2004 season we've been under construction, in a rebuilding mode. We clearly made some headway last year,' said Coach Lesle Gallimore, whose Huskies posted a 7-12-1 record last season. They finished eighth in the Pacific-10 Conference with a 2-6-1 mark.
That was a vast improvement from the 2005 season when the Huskies were winless following a 2004 campaign when they advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals.
Last season started in successful fashion as UW opened with wins in its first three games. The first two triumphs came on the road, over Hawaii and Oklahoma, securing the championship of the Ohana Hotels Tournament in Waikiki.
Some early season injuries to key players slowed the team's stellar start.
'We had some injuries and our depth wasn't where we needed it to be to be a contender in the conference last year,' Gallimore explained. 'I think if we had stayed healthy we would've been a contender in the conference and a contender for the tournament.'
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Washington returns eight starters from last year's team, including a quartet of players that started all 20 games. Katie Hall and Nikki Murray anchor a defense that limited 10 opponents to one goal or fewer.
The forward corps is led by junior Melissa Beal who led all Husky scorers in each of her first two seasons. Seniors Dani Bridges, Katy Dowling and Shuree Hyatt make this the most experienced unit on the team.
Hyatt was an explosive presence up front before she was lost for the season due to an injury in the eighth game. Bridges, who moves forward after starting every game as a midfielder during her first three seasons.
A cadre of newcomers will battle for playing time, including a talented nine-player freshman class. The incoming scholarship group was rated as the nation's 17th-best recruiting class by SoccerBuzz.com. That publication singled out Washington as one of four schools with a 'breakthrough 2007 signing class.'
'When you add the freshman class on top of it, the bulk of whom I expect to be competing for starting positions, it adds an element we haven't had for two years, which is competition within our team,' says Gallimore.
The offense will be bolstered by the addition of sophomore Alex Kirk, a transfer who tallied eight goals last season at Seattle Pacific.
'It's year two of the remodel and I think we're ready to move back in and get back to where we need to be,' Gallimore projects. 'We'll be young still and a little bit inexperienced, but I think talented enough to win a lot of games. That's our goal -- to win.'
Washington's shot stoppers have the luxury of training with Associate Head Coach Amy Griffin who was a goalkeeper on the U.S. National Team from 1987-91. She has groomed players who rank among the school's best at that position, including current U.S. World Cup net-minder Hope Solo.
Griffin was busy during the off-season working with the U.S. Under-16 and Under-17 national teams along with involvement selecting players for the U-14 squad.
She will continue that hectic schedule in the fall, preparing a new player for starting duty. There is a vacancy after the departure of Kelsey Rasmussen, who was UW's primary goalkeeper the last four seasons.
Three players will battle to fill the starting spot, led by sophomore Taylor Carr who participated in three games during 2006. An athletic presence, Taylor did not surrender a goal in 37 minutes.
'Taylor is probably top to bottom the best goalkeeper,' says Gallimore. 'She's battled injuries herself for two years. She comes up with some tremendous saves, she's athletic, she's quick, she does some really good things, but her fitness level and her presence and her leadership capability have to take a step up.'
'The best thing about our goalkeeping position is that Alex Phillips and Lizzy Showman have really stepped it up and will challenge Taylor Carr,' Gallimore says. 'As with every position on the field, it's huge for us to have people competing for their spots to get them to the top of their game.'
The hallmark of Gallimore-coached UW teams has been defense. The pieces are there to continue that stingy tradition.
'The most solid thing at the back for us right now is that Katie Hall and Nikki Murray have shown well as a tandem,' Gallimore describes. 'They're both tough tacklers, they're both good in the air, they're both competitors. I expect big things out of those two.'
Hall and Murray started all 20 games last fall, keying a defense that shut out five foes and limited six other opponents to only one goal. Murray was selected to the All-Pac-10 Freshman team.
Another incumbent starter, sophomore Lindsey Kasser, should assume one of the outside back positions. She may be joined on the other flank by junior Dana Stirn, a full-time starter in 2004 who was sidelined the last two seasons by injuries.
'We've always been a solid team defensively. If we can be solid defensively, be physical and mentally tough, we'll keep ourselves in games. It we can do that, I think goals will come for this team,' Gallimore remarks.
The team's deepest position is the midfield.
Robison started all 20 games alongside another regular, Bumbaugh.
Other veteran returnees are senior Katie Buser and junior Erin Foley, who missed two years to injury. They will battle for playing time with incoming freshmen Jane Mitchell, Sara Turcios and McKenna Waitley.
Scoring serves as UW's primary point of emphasis because the Huskies registered more than one goal in a game only four times last season. They were blanked nine times. There is convincing evidence to believe the Huskies will have a much-improved offense this season. If so, it should be parlayed into an enhanced record.
'We've got a good forward group. If our seniors come back with a little fire in their eyes, ready to make a big run in their last year, I think that Katy Dowling, Shuree Hyatt and Dani Bridges all can make some noise up front for us. They're all talented enough,' Gallimore says.
'And then you throw Melissa Beal in there, our leading scorer for the past two years. The best of her is yet to be seen. I think she's just going to be a breakout player for us for the next two seasons.'
Beal's five goals and three assists paced the offense in 2006. She will be aided by Bridges and Perez-Murillo, both dangerous players whose move from midfield enables them to use their talents closer to the goal.
The forward corps includes seniors Hyatt and Dowling. Hyatt recorded impressive early statistics before being felled by injury. Dowling is a veteran of three seasons who netted three goals last year.
'Scoring goals in soccer is what it's all about,' Gallimore states. 'Up front will be the most veteran part of our team.'
UW confronts a difficult 19-game schedule this fall that includes two of last year's elite eight qualifiers.
The Huskies are scheduled for 11 appearances against teams that qualified for last year's NCAA Tournament, including nine foes that posted at least one playoff victory.
'Our schedule is set up again so our RPI should be strong. Now it's a matter of getting wins over those teams in our non-conference games in particular,' Gallimore elaborates about her scheduling philosophy. 'If you don't play quality opponents and get wins against quality teams, you're always going to be on the bubble. Our intention is to not be on the bubble. It's to play good teams, beat good teams and therefore be the great team that we want to be.'