Husky Soccer: Building A Program

By Karissa Fogel

"Growing up, just give me a soccer ball. I was the happiest on the field," said Melanie (Brennan) Jackson, who was one of the top defenders at the University of Washington during the 1991-94 seasons. Jackson helped to build the foundation of what has now become a competitive program that has certainly made a name for itself.

Jackson was second-team All-America in 1993 and made the All-West team in 1994.

In 1994, Washington was ranked No. 18. During the NCAA tournament, UW beat No. 15 Oregon 3-0 in the West Regional first round. UW then went on to play No. 3 Stanford in the West Regional semifinal, a game that finished at 0-0, but Stanford won on a 6-5 penalty kick shootout decision.

The program has grown since Jackson's time at Washington.

"It's really changed tremendously. We didn't have a home field," she said. "The first game was played at Everett High School. On good occasions there would be [approximately] 800-1,000 fans, and as a freshman going to football games [where] there were 60,000 fans, our games were like crickets compared to [the crowd at] football games, but it was such a pleasure."

The following year, Jackson and her teammates had to face the challenges of having their home field relocated.

"My sophomore year we played at 60 Acres (Park) in Redmond and had to fight terrible traffic just to get to our home games," she said. "I'm not complaining though, because we had tremendous support from the athletic department. Going to games now the crowd there is amazing, watching local kids on the team and seeing them have a home, it has been a process."

Prior to Lesle Gallimore, the current coach for the Huskies, Dang Pibulvech coached the early teams of this program and made sure that UW was a team to be taken seriously.

"We had massive 14-day road trips. Our coach at the time, Dang Pibulvech, would set us up with these games," Jackson said. "To be the best, you had to play the best which included games against the elite teams of U Conn and Stanford."

When asked if Jackson and her teammates knew how strong the Huskies were going to become she replied, "Of course not but you want the program to reach those heights; Dang [was the one] who got us on the map. We were ranked eighth and played No. 2 Duke and No. 1 North Carolina, and beat Duke and lost to UNC 2-0 but it was 0-0 at half. And this was the time where I was fortunate enough to share the field with Mia Hamm. It was a building experience, we knew we left it all on the field but wasn't quite there yet."

The following year the Huskies had to adapt to coaching changes.

"When Dang left and Lesle Gallimore took over, we were initially devastated but here's a lady who did amazing things at San Diego State," Jackson said. "We picked up from where Dang left off and continued that momentum."

Education and the coaches were of utmost importance to Jackson and major factors in choosing to go to Washington and a program with no track record.

"Education is obviously important to me. [My decision] was heavily placed on the coaches," she said. "Initially I decided to go to Colorado College where Dang [was originally] coaching, but when he told me that he was transferring to UW, I called him back and the six of us [teammates] decided to visit UW on February 20, 1991."

Jackson immediately fell in love with Seattle, despite being a California native and not being used to the weather.

"I committed to (Dang) and the Huskies before I got off the plane," she said.

Melanie Jackson's soccer career has led her to work for ESPN.com and she has been the women's basketball editor since 1999. Through her job, she has been able to cover the World Cup and the Rose Bowl.

"Soccer has taught me leadership and passion. I learned everything on the soccer field, and I have applied this knowledge to being a mother, wife and working for ESPN. I am so fortunate to call so many women my teammates; they are an amazing group of women," she said. "All the credit goes to every woman who has worn a UW jersey and has represented UW and the Husky Nation--this camaraderie is rare and special."

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