On Top of Their Game

Sept. 9, 2001

By Dan Lepse

What can they do for an encore?

That question faces the Washington women's soccer team following a magical 2000 season in which they posted an 18-3 record, won their first Pacific-10 Conference championship, received the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the Sweet 16.

'In athletics you always want to try to gain momentum in your program and try to have things carry over, but we know the reality is that every season is a new year,' says Gallimore, whose Huskies are ranked No. 10 in the Soccer Buzz preseason poll.

Washington's six-player recruiting class was rated the nation's 10th-best by Soccer Buzz. Heading the list of newcomers is midfielder Clare Rustad who has collected 10 'caps' for international appearances with the Canadian National Team. She is one of three Huskies with international experience, as Solo has played in goal seven times for the U.S. National Team, while senior midfielder Caroline Putz scored a goal against Italy in her lone U.S. National appearance.

'The difference between the 2000 and 2001 seasons is that last year we knew what our starting lineup was going to be. That is going to be the big mystery this year for the coaching staff,' explains Gallimore.

There is no question who the starter will be at goalkeeper, as the nation's best wears a Washington jersey. Solo was critical in 2000, as eight of nine conference contests were decided by one-goal margins. She yielded only 0.76 goals-per-game, a school record.

'Her athletic ability, her stature and her shot-stopping ability are world class,' Gallimore says.

Solo's abilities will be put the test, as Washington lost two-time all-conference honoree Andrea Morelli to an ACL injury during the offseason, leaving the Huskies without their most experienced defender.

'Andrea is such a vital cog to our defense, that it is going to be a coaching challenge to groom someone for that spot,' Gallimore says.

In Morelli's absence, junior Vanessa Pierce will anchor the defense. A second-team All-Pac-10 pick in 2000, Pierce should provide a steadying influence to a defense that will have two new starters, including freshman Nicole Martinez, whom Gallimore called 'the best senior in the state' during the 2000 season. Junior Suzanne Culpepper started all but four games last season, improving so drastically that only a brief injury kept her out of the starting lineup in 2000.

'We are going to have to play solid team defense,' Gallimore says. 'Suzanne Culpepper has a great year under her belt. Our depth in the back has improved.'

The midfield was hit hard by the graduation of every-game starters Theresa Wagner and Malia Arrant, but will be headlined by senior Caroline Putz, a second-team All-Pac-10 selection. She has 10 career-game-winning assists, four more than any other player in Husky history, while her 21 career assists are just five shy of the school record and her 17 career goals ranks sixth on the UW charts.

'We certainly don't want to put all the weight on her shoulder but she's the most experienced goal-scorer and assist-getter,' Gallimore says. 'If she maintains her level and we have a couple other new people step up we should be okay.'

Sophomore Megan McKinstry started all but one game in 2000, and sophomore Jaime Carstensen is poised for a breakout season

'Jaime Carstensen has probably the most potential on our team of being a superstar. She's got a wicked shot with both feet, she's talented in the air and she's good on the dribble,' Gallimore says. 'I look from a balanced attack from our team. I don't think we are going to be the type of team where you can pick out one or two players and say this is how you stop them.'

Helping fill the void vacated by UW all-time leading scorer Tami Bennett is Tami's sister, sophomore Melissa Bennett, who registered five goals, including three game-winning tallies. Bennett amassed 166 career goals at Seattle Christian High School, topping the state record of 152 established by Tami. Seniors Gina Brewer, strong in the air, and Erin Otagaki , a skilled ball-handler, offer drastically different dimensions to the UW offense.

'We lost Tami, but we gained Melissa. I think she is going to have a tremendous next three years for us,' Gallimore says. 'We have a few different fast players coming in. We lose experience but we gain speed.'

This year's schedule includes seven opponents ranked among the national top 25, 11 teams that participated in the 2000 NCAA Tournament, and two 2000 Final Four participants - No. 2 UCLA and No. 3 Portland.

'The key to our 2001 season is going to be the core group of veterans that we have returning,' the coach says. 'They are going to have to use the experience of last season to teach the numerous inexperienced players that we have what being a Husky means.'

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