The End of the Beginning
Nov. 27, 2001
by Lanna Apisukh
Equipped with bag lunch and a backpack full of books, Husky senior defender Billy Sleeth trots away from his interview for a full day of geography classes. The 22-year-old Spokane native and UW geography major has no practice today, having just returned from a crushing loss at UCLA, but is ambitious to get back onto the field to prepare for the NCAA College Cup, the national championships of collegiate men's soccer.
The 2001 season marks the Huskies' seventh-consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. Sleeth has been to the tournament in each of his four years at Washington, and is determined to take on the challenge of advancing past the second round, which has stymied the Huskies for the past three years.
'We always choke at the second round at NCAAs but I think we can do it this year,' says a humbled Sleeth. 'We've been playing real well this year and have a strong team, with seven seniors.'
At the young age of five, Sleeth began playing soccer with a family friend from Iran, Manni Faridnia, who motivated him to play and influenced Sleeth throughout what is now his 17-year soccer career.
'Manni was like my second dad,' Sleeth explains. 'I grew up playing soccer with him and his son Abbas, whom I became best friends with when I was a kid.'
Most importantly, Sleeth says the greatest contribution to his success was the everlasting support from his parents, Mary Ann and Bill.
'My mom and Dad are responsible for my success,' he says. 'They have supported my soccer career for my whole life. They have traveled over from Spokane for every home game since my freshman year and have made many other road trips.'
With the encouraging support from his parents and motivation from Faridnia, Sleeth joined the Spokane Soccer Club, and went on to play midfield and defense for elite Ferris High School, ranked as high as ninth in the nation by the NSCAA.
After proving his talent at the prep and club levels, Sleeth's gift for the sport was recognized by Husky assistant coach Jim Gabriel, who convinced head coach Dean Wurzberger to offer the talented prepster a scholarship.
Sleeth has no trouble identifying the best part of being a Husky.
'The team,' he says with a smile. 'Everyone is close and it's fun to go to practice. Even though we are all very different, we all get along so well. They're life-long friends.'
This past summer, Sleeth and his Husky teammates traveled to England to match up against reserves from English Premier League squads. The team fared well, losing just one of the five games.
'That trip was inspiring, because we got to play against high-level teams in such a different environment,' he says. 'It was a great experience and we did real well. It was a real confidence booster to know that we could keep up with these teams that we see on T.V.'
Although this may be Sleeth's last year of eligibility in collegiate soccer, he plans to keep playing, and hopes to be drafted by a professional team.
'I want to play professionally. Growing up I liked to watch Roberto Carlos, who plays on Real Madrid. I try to play like him. He's my hero!' Sleeth says with a laugh.
According to Husky head coach Dean Wurzberger, Sleeth's future as a professional soccer player is no joke.
'Billy is unique in that he has been a starter for our program since he came in as a freshman back in 1998,' says the coach. 'Billy has grown as a player and a person with each passing year and his future in professional soccer is bright. Billy is possibly the top wide defender in the West Region and one of the best in the nation. We will miss his quiet leadership and defending expertise next season but he will always remain a Husky and we will enjoy watching his progress at the next level.'
Interestingly enough, should Sleeth make it to professional soccer, he'll be carrying on the family legacy of world-class athletes - not only did two of Sleeth's uncles play in the NFL, his grandfather held a national record in the pentathlon, and ran a leg of the 1996 Olympic torch relay.
Sleeth's Husky career, win or lose, will end in the NCAA Tournament this season. For Sleeth, it is not the beginning of the end, however, but rather simply the end of the beginning.