Big East – Cincinnati | DePaul | Pittsburgh | Seton Hall | Syracuse | Villanova
Big Ten – Indiana | Nebraska | Purdue
Pac-12 – Arizona State | Colorado | Oregon | Utah
SEC – Mississippi State
WCC – Gonzaga | Loyola Marymount | San Francisco
Going into 2011, odds were that Washington was going to have a tough time living up to a storybook run in the postseason of 2010. The Huskies were coming off a season in which they had flirted tempestuously with the bubble near the end of the regular season before making it into the tournament with the expectation that they probably weren’t going to create many waves. Three weeks later, UW fell short of the College Cup by just a single golden goal after a magical run to the Elite Eight. It had been another shining example of a Washington side coached by Lesle Gallimore overcoming overwhelming odds.
Gallimore has become a part of the furniture in Seattle, serving since 1994 and having gone through just about every type of season imaginable while in charge of the Huskies. UW were up in the top half of the Pac-10 for Gallimore’s first few seasons in charge and even made the Sweet Sixteen in 1994, her first season at the helm. After some middle of the road seasons, Washington would achieve glory in 2000, lifting the program’s only major trophy to date with the Pac-10 title. The side featuring future USWNT star Hope Solo would see their NCAA Tournament derailed at the Sweet Sixteen stage by Pacific Northwestern rivals Portland, a common theme throughout the years for the Huskies. In all, entering 2010, Washington had been knocked out by the Pilots in the Big Dance five times.
The next big moment in Washington soccer history would come in 2004 in the senior season of another great future pro, Tina Ellertson (nee Frimpong). The Huskies would finish in third in the Pac-10 but do a whole lot of damage in November, running all the way to the Elite Eight where they would finally fall to an upstart Princeton team. What happened next was incomprehensible. The Huskies were a young side in 2005, and some expected struggles, but nobody expected 0-17-3, quite probably the biggest drop-off in wins from year-to-year in college soccer history. The Huskies hadn’t exactly played a bunch of nobodies, with nine ranked teams on that schedule, but it was still mystifying, and was probably more than a lot of coaches could have survived.
But Gallimore’s Elite Eight the season before had bought her a lot of time, and slowly but surely, the Huskies would banish those memories. The freshmen of that fateful 2005 season would be rewarded duly in 2008 as the Huskies won fifteen matches (including one in the NCAA Tournament) and finished third in the league. It was a little more modest in 2009, with fifth in the league and another second round appearance in the Big Dance. Most expected more of the same steady sailing from Seattle in 2010, meaning a mid-table finish and perhaps a win in the NCAA Tournament.
After a regular season that wasn’t the most consistent but did show glimpses of Washington’s potential, they advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament to play rivals Portland after a hammering of Oklahoma. With the stakes high, three thousand in Portland would bear witness to one of the classic NCAA Tournament matches with one of the great all-time NCAA Tournament goalkeeping performances by Washington keeper Jorde Lafontaine-Kussman keeping the Huskies alive heading into penalties after thirteen saves. What followed was an unreal shootout, full of nerve shearing tension and perfectly taken penalties. It got to the point where every shooter on the list had gone and the score was still tied at 9-9, meaning they’d start over from the very beginning of the list. Lafontaine-Kussman would make one of the biggest saves in Washington Soccer history, sending her side to the Sweet Sixteen. There, they’d get more heroics, topping UC Irvine in extra time to advance to the program’s second Elite Eight against Boston College. This time, it’d be Washington’s turn to suffer sudden death heartbreak, falling 1-0 to the Eagles in extra time.
The big question after most of the euphoria of the 2010 postseason had died down was if the Huskies could push on from there, with the 2011 College Cup a common goal for a side now hungry after tasting that success. There’d be ominous signs from the start though, as Washington won just one of their first six matches in the new year. While a draw with BYU and defeat to Wisconsin looked reasonable at the time, in retrospect, they were signals that this Huskies team would have real problems reaching the heights of 2010. Defeat to Iowa State was an even more worrying result. The club got a morale boost with a draw at Portland in a rematch of the teams’ legendary NCAA Tournament encounter of a year ago, while a win against New Mexico was also impressive.
The league provided little solace for Gallimore’s side though, as they got an unimaginably tough opening draw of UCLA, Cal, and Stanford. They only took one point from nine and desperately needed wins against Colorado and Utah to keep themselves in with a chance of making it back to the NCAA Tournament. Odds were that Washington was going to need to rally in the second half of the league season, with hopes of such a strong run-in being fractured after a defeat to USC and a draw at Oregon. Washington would go on to win just one of their final six despite drawing in the season finale Apple Cup to Washington State.
It left the Huskies ninth in the league come the end of the season, a far cry from the high expectations UW brought into the 2011 campaign. The 7-8-5 season was the club’s first losing season since 2007 and also broke the team’s three season streak of NCAA Tournament appearances. While it may have been a disappointing season in Seattle, Gallimore has seen such years and worse and has always come back fighting. There’s little question that Washington will bounce back. Now it’s just a matter of seeing if the Huskies can bounce back high enough and fast enough to make it back to the NCAA Tournament after one down season.
The way forward isn’t necessarily going to be an easy one though despite a talented recruiting class coming in, as the club must replace two iconic players after graduation this season. Kate Deines was nothing short of phenomenal for the club through four seasons and was duly named as one of the club’s best ever players as the program celebrated it’s twentieth anniversary. The U.S. U23 international started eighty-six games in her UW career, finishing with twenty-one goals, a pretty impressive mark for someone who was never a forward for her club. That was about the only thing Deines wasn’t in her Husky career though, as the Issaquah native was capable in both midfield and defense in equal measure throughout her tenure in Seattle. Beyond the stat sheet, Deines was an incomparable leader on and off the pitch and leaves a massive hole to fill for Gallimore.
The hole in between the pipes is no less daunting for the Huskies, as they lose the imperious presence of Jorde LaFontaine-Kussmann from their ranks. After beating cancer and transferring from Cal, LaFontaine-Kussmann made her Washington debut in 2010 and quickly established herself as one of the nation’s best goalkeepers, with her performance against Portland in the NCAA Tournament bound to go down as one of the best in the history of the tournament. LaFontaine-Kussmann was no less excellent last season, posting another brilliant season, including yet another great performance against Portland.
Those two losses would be enough to stifle many a team, but Washington does look relatively well setup with some great young talent both returning and making their collegiate debuts, so a bounce back year certainly doesn’t look out of the question for UW this year.
Make no mistake about it, replacing LaFontaine-Kussmann isn’t going to be an easy task. The departed Washington keeper may have only played two seasons for the club, but they were two fantastic seasons, with the netminder likely going down in the pantheon as one of Washington’s best ever keepers. Realistically though, the Huskies aren’t in an awful situation going forward with some talented options at their disposal to pick up the slack.
Fifth-year senior Kari Davidson returns to the club for one final go of it after it was initially believed before the 2011 season that she’d skip over her final year of eligibility. She made the decision to return though and is no stranger to action between the pipes, with thirty-six starts at UW, though most came in 2008 and 2009. After missing most of 2010 injured, Davidson would start a pair of games last season in lieu of LaFontaine-Kussmann but was a clear #2 for the squad as a junior. She’s a steady, if unspectacular, set of hands in goal, and her experience should help out a backline which is still quite young.
Davidson’s not guaranteed of anything though, because the club has highly touted redshirt freshman Megan Kufeld in reserve as well. A U.S. U23 international as of January of this year despite not playing a minute in college so far, there’s no doubt that Kufeld is the club’s goalkeeper of the future. She might be the team’s goalkeeper of the present as well if she shows well early this year. Regardless of who starts in between the posts this season, Washington appear to be in good hands with one of the better goalkeeping situations in the Pac-12.
The Huskies will hope that last year’s growing pains can translate to some tangible gains on the pitch this year. Washington went into battle in 2011 with a very young defense, with just reserve Faustine Dufka an upperclassman. The group is still pretty young on the whole, with Dufka the only senior and everyone else set to return for the new season. The anchor of the club’s defense looks to be junior Stine Schoening, who was a big hit for the Huskies in 2011 after transferring in before the season from UNC Greensboro. Already a budding star with the Spartans as a rookie, Schoening showed a step up in class was not a problem, with the second-year player one of just two players to start every match in 2011 for the club.
Gallimore has plenty of options to choose from in picking partners for Schoening on the backline. Junior Molly Boyd claimed a starting spot in central defense towards the tail end of her rookie season and retained that spot for much of last season with eighteen starts and looks to be a fair bet to be in the first XI again this year. Classmate Lindsey Bos earned a call in to the U20 national team before last season after starting every match as a rookie and made fourteen starts at full-back last year for the club, earning an assist on a game tying goal against Portland.
Yet another junior, Annie Sittauer, was a reserve forward as a rookie, scoring a trio of goals, but was shifted successfully back to defense last season and made her mark with fourteen starts for the club and should be even better a year further removed from the transition. Despite not being one of the more heralded members of last year’s talented recruiting class, sophomore Sami Page did quite well for herself last season, making twelve starts and being a solid member of the defensive rotation. Dufka was injured most of last season but returns for one final season as a Husky and should provide depth at either full-back or winger for the Huskies.
The club adds to the mix the wonderfully nicknamed McKenzie “Jammer” Karas, a 5’11″ dynamo who was, crazily enough, used as a goalkeeper in the youth national setup, where she’s a current U18 international. Karas, a former Nevada Gatorade State Player of the Year, will probably be doing little of that at UW though, with Gallimore tabbing her as a center-back or defensive midfielder thanks to her size and strength. This group was about middle of the road last season in the Pac-12, and with everyone back from that young group, it’s not unreasonable to believe the Huskies could make a sizable leap forward defensively.
Losing Deines is a painful blow for the many reasons listed above but also hurts deeply, because the Huskies aren’t exactly overflowing in depth at the position either. Brianna Sweeney transferred to Humboldt State after the season, while Kellie Welch was forced to retire after a spate of injuries. While neither Sweeney nor Welch were starters, they still delivered reasonable minutes off the bench, and their loss cuts deeply into the club’s established depth.
Fortunately, Gallimore has a great centerpiece to hold it down in the midfield in junior Lindsay Elston. A U20 international with enormous potential coming into Seattle, Elston led the club in assists as a rookie and added a trio of goals as well. Elston would start every game last season and again showed how big of an impact she could have, with five goals and four assists from midfield, with four of those helpers coming in the league. Elston should continue to grow into one of the league’s best midfielders and certainly has the potential to finish her UW career as an All-American.
The questions come behind her. The club voted Christina Archer the Husky Rookie of the Year last season after she came in and impressed right off the bat, starting thirteen games as a rookie. Archer didn’t prove to be a presence offensively but still has time to develop in Seattle. Senior Kelsea Brajkovich was one of the club’s top reserves for her first two seasons but ended up missing her junior year through injury. Her presence and health could be absolutely necessary for a thin group that may have to rely on rookies for depth.
One of those rookies though is Isabel Farrell, one of the top recruits in the nation, and a player who could have an immediate impact in the midfield. A U18 international and the reigning Gatorade State Player of the Year in Washington, Farrell has been praised lavishly by Gallimore for her workrate and tactical awareness and could bring the playmaking skill to the table that could open up the UW offense. Elston and Farrell could be two of the league’s best midfielders in time and should be fun to watch this season, but depth is a concern in this area.
Gallimore did a whole lot of juggling between this group last season searching for the right combination, which helped get a lot of players starting experience, though that might be mitigated a little with the rather sizable losses suffered from the frontline. The biggest of those losses is of Sarah Martinez, the club’s leading scorer last season with seven goals and five assists despite missing four games. Martinez turned into a smashing success story for the club, as after two years spent as a reserve, she moved into the starting lineup and scored twelve goals in her final two seasons, including four in the league last year.
The club also finds itself without Kelli Stewart, who scored four goals as a sophomore but saw her offense dry up last year, finishing her career without a goal in ten starts, as well as Alex Webber, who had three game winning goals in 2010, but scored just once in her senior season, though it was the important goal in a 1-1 draw against rivals Portland. Also departing is freshman Morgan Swanson, another Husky who fell afoul of the injury bug in her UW tenure.
The club does return some experienced scoring options, but all have to step up to try and earn the distinction of being the club’s top shot in front of goal. 2011 Pac-12 All-Newcomer Team selection Jaclyn Softli could be headed for big things after a very impressive freshman season, mostly coming from off the bench. Softli would score four goals last season, including big winners against Utah and Arizona in the league, and the Sammamish native could push for a starting place this season. Junior Allie Beahan made an instant name for herself as a rookie with three goals in 2010, including the big winner against UC Irvine in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. Beahan wouldn’t quite fire as prolifically last year, scoring just once, but will be hoping for a rebound year to seal down a starting spot in the frontline.
Classmate Hillary Zevenbergen continues to show flashes of undeniable ability and is a load for defenders to handle at 6’1″. Zevenbergen is still a very raw product in many ways though and could be due a breakout season after four goals last season in nine starts. The club will also be hoping for more from sophomore Chelsea Archer, twin sister of Christina Archer, and another U20 international on this squad. Though she battled injuries at some points of the season, Archer still had a decent debut season, making six starts and netting two goals, including the game winner against San Francisco.
Added to the mix is Falon Miller, a club teammate of Karas who has impressed late in ECNL action this Summer. Despite some losses, including the influential Martinez, there’s decent depth here. Whether there’s a #1 striker in the ranks is up for debate though.
It’d be tempting to write the Huskies off as non-factors in the Pac-12 this season after the loss of the hugely influential Deines and LaFontaine-Kussmann, which would be a mistake given the amount of young talent Gallimore has at her fingertips through most of the squad. True, there are no real superstars as of yet on this roster, but that could change with Elston potentially making The Leap this year. Farrell and Karas are two undeniably gifted freshmen and could also substantially affect Washington’s fortunes for the better as well. The defense has the potential to be one of the league’s best with just about everyone coming back and a veteran in Davidson in between the pipes. The worries are with the depth in midfield and the lack of an out-and-out predator in front of goal.
There’s certainly potential there though, and if someone can really turn it on, this Washington side could be one of the surprises of the Pac-12 this season. As it stands, they should still be able to maneuver themselves into mid-table while making a run at an NCAA Tournament berth.