Griffin Leads U.S. To Silver Medal

Nov. 19, 2008

Sunday was not the best day of Washington associate head coach Amy Griffin's career as she watched the seasons of two teams close to her heart end right before her eyes, one in person and one on the internet. But the journey for both teams was a success and the experiences along the way were much more important than the end result.

Griffin returned to Seattle Monday after a three-week journey to New Zealand with the Under-17 U.S. Women's National Team where they competed in the first-ever U-17 Women's World Cup. Griffin, the USA's goalkeeper coach, had to miss the last portion of UW's exciting season of redemption in which they advanced to the NCAA tournament of the first time since 2004.

Both teams made great runs, with the USA bouncing back from a 1-1-1 record in pool play to reach the gold medal game while UW rebounded from three-consecutive losing seasons to not only reach the NCAA Tournament but also win their First Round match over LSU, coming back from a 2-0 deficit with 30 minutes remaining to win, 3-2, in overtime. Both would fall just short within hours of each other however, with the USA falling, 2-1, in overtime to North Korea on Saturday evening (U.S. time) while UW fell to Texas A&M Sunday afternoon, 3-1.

Still, it was satisfying for Griffin to see both her pupils perform well, with UW freshman Kari Davidson coming into her own over the final weeks of the season and USA goalkeeper Taylor Vancil keeping the Red-White-and-Blue in so many matches, ultimately earning the Golden Glove Award as the event's best goalkeeper.

Griffin's pupil in New Zealand played every minute for the U.S. and withstood an onslaught of shots from North Korea in the Gold Medal match - 31 in all - but showed the poise of a veteran.

'Every coach thinks your players could have done better, but in the gold medal game she was busy,' Griffin said of Vancil. 'For a lot of players, the bigger the game the less likely they are to go for it and they tend to be tentative and afraid but she wasn't. She played aggressive and really dominated the box. I was scared to death for her the whole game but she made some big point-blank saves and did really well.'

Meanwhile, UW goalkeeper Kari Davidson was forced into a difficult situation herself, having to jump in and make her Pac-10 debut against two of the top teams in the country when Alex Phillips tore her ACL 20 minutes into the Huskies' match against No. 2 UCLA. Her next game then came against No. 5 Stanford, but after facing those two powerful offenses, Davidson settled down and was a major reason the Huskies finished the regular season on a six-game unbeaten streak.

'I got back from one camp with the U.S. team and that was when Alex got hurt and Lesle and Jim said, `well, we have a week to get her ready,'' Griffin said of Davidson. 'But that was definitely the turning point for her and for our team. We had been giving up a lot of goals having to play against UCLA and Stanford and then we played Cal and she really hung in there and came up with some good saves and that's all she needed. That is a really big thing for her as a freshman to have played so much and at such a crucial time. I don't even think Hope Solo played that much her freshman year. Kari really did a great job and just got better as the season went on.'

It was difficult for Griffin to not be there for her in person, but she was always online watching the team and sending them messages through her blog.

'It was tough to keep up because the way the internet works over there is you have to pay per megabyte so I'm over there watching the live streaming and it's $50 for 100 megabytes,' Griffin said. 'I was watching the Arizona State game one night and my time ran out just before the overtime. So I paid again and turned it back on and the overtime lasted 30 seconds. But it was worth it.'

Griffin's excitement for her team easily spread throughout the U.S.A. team.

'The best part is that everyone on the USA team are big Husky fans now because they kind of couldn't help it,' Griffin said. 'I'd be late for breakfast after watching a game and come sprinting down and say `WE WON!!' Our head coach was great, too, he let me miss a meeting or two to watch on the internet.

With her heart back in Seattle, Griffin's focus was still on the U.S.A. team, trying to continue their dominance in World Cup competition. Griffin was in goal when the U.S. won the first-ever women's World Cup in 1991 and the U-17 team was trying to keep up a streak of the U.S. winning the inaugural World Cup in every age group.

Despite finishing second, it was an amazing experience for Griffin and her players to see another part of the world and play against some of the best young players on the planet.

'New Zealand is a good place to take kids to view sports from a different perspective.' Griffin said. 'Their team went out in the first round but the stands were still packed. We scored first against North Korea and this big cheer went up and we thought we had the home crowd. But then North Korea scored and another big cheer went up so the fans really got into it. People recognized our girls in the shopping centers. For such a small country to have that event, it brought them together. It felt like we were on the big stage. I think it was tough to get that perspective when we were in Trinidad and Tobago and beating teams 7-0. We came out here and Japan took it to us. It was good for our players to see.'

Indeed, over 16,000 people showed up for the final against North Korea, who turned out to be too big and strong for the U.S. In the end, the teams from two vastly different cultures were able to come together despite their differences.

'When we saw the North Koreans for the first time, they were all taller than us and they're super fit and our girls thought they were kind of scary,' Griffin said. 'They had guards standing by the elevators on their floor of the hotel and they had all the TVs taken out of their rooms. But once we got on the field, all the differences were erased. At the banquet after it was all over, our team went in there with their tails between their legs but as the night when on they started mingling and playing all these hand games and were giggling with the Koreans. It was great to see them all come together after a hard-fought game like that.'

It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Griffin, but she couldn't wait to get back to her Huskies who had one of the most successful seasons in school history despite being one of the youngest teams out there.

'I'm so excited for next season,' Griffin said. 'I guess the other day Kate Deines and Kari were having withdrawals so they climbed the fence to our field to play around and Kate ripped her jeans. That's exciting when your young kids just finished a long season and they're that excited to get back out there.'

The Huskies return all but three players next season from a team that went 15-6-1, posting the third-most wins in school history. Deines and Davidson, both freshman, were a major part of the success. Deines was the second-leading scorer for UW with seven goals, the second-most all time by a freshman in UW history, and was named to the Pac-10 All Freshman Team and earned honorable mention All-Pac-10. Davidson, meanwhile, will have nearly a full season under her belt and will benefit from having Griffin around full time next season when the Huskies look to build on their magical run in 2008.

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