By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – These Huskies were already storybook. They were already record setters and conference champions.
Now coach Jamie Clark's unrelenting gang of history makers are, for the first time, truly Elite.
"It's been a great year," Clark said Sunday night. "And it's not over."
Battling a wind that played tricks with his lofts all evening, senior Michael Harris sent another of his remarkable, trademark flip throws deep into the penalty area in the 84th minute of this NCAA tournament third-round match. The soaring throw sliced through the gusts and found teammate Ian Lange. The sophomore eyed the back post and headed the ball in the net for the only goal in the Huskies' 1-0 victory over stunned Stanford Sunday night, thrilling 2,690 screaming fans at Husky Soccer Stadium.
"His flip throw? It's pretty astonishing every time you see the ball fly 60 yards," said Lange, who didn't even start Sunday and wasn't even sure if he'd play in this tournament following in-season knee surgery that cost him eight games.
"It feels pretty great to be back during this time," he said of UW's history-making run.
It was his fourth goal of the season, and Harris' latest gem was his Pac-12-leading 10th assist. It sends Washington (16-1-4) into the first Elite Eight appearance of an NCAA tournament in the 50 years of UW men's soccer. The Huskies, the nation's No. 2 seed, will face attacking, seventh-seeded New Mexico (13-5-2) at Husky Soccer Stadium Saturday at 5 p.m.
The winner advances to the NCAA national semifinals Dec. 13 in Philadelphia -- another place UW soccer has never been.The Lobos, the program in which Clark got his coaching start as an assistant a dozen years ago, beat Penn State at home 2-0 earlier Sunday to earn the match in Seattle against the Huskies.
"Oh, we're ecstatic," Lange said. "I mean, the team morale lately has just been phenomenal. ... Jamie has done a tremendous job this year. He's gotten us this far.
"And I think he's got a few more wins in us."
Harris' decisive throw off another of his gymnastic-like somersaults before a body-whip catapult of the ball created one of only two shots on goal all night for Washington. Stanford's defense, its midfielders and even its forwards packed into the penalty area in front of the net in a concerted effort to keep the game scoreless and force sudden-death overtime or even more of a crapshoot, game-deciding penalty kicks.
"I wasn't looking for Ian. I was looking to just keep it away from their goalie (Drew Hutchins)," Harris said. "He did a great job of coming up, punching balls away, making it tough for us to get any attack off of it.
"And then Ian just came in at the perfect time to head it in."The inartisic game was full of cautious kicks out of bounds and the few long balls getting redirected by a whipping, winter crosswind blowing off Lake Washington. The game's first accurate shot on goal didn't come untilabout 50 minutes in when the Huskies finally got one there.
"We kind of knew going in they were going to come out and kind of play for the tie," Harris said of Stanford, the Pac-12 rival whom Clark called the most rugged team UW has played all season. "We had to keep pressing, not give one up, and hopefully we'd get one sooner or later, that was our mentality."The Huskies and Cardinal combined for five shots in the start-and-stop first half. All were wide of the net.
Mason Robertson gave the Huskies one of their best opportunities in the 62nd minute. He won possession on a throw-in and took a shot that just missed high and right of the net.
Then the Huskies got an outstanding save from keeper Ryan Herman in the 69th minute. Stanford’s Bobby Edwards dribbled up the right side and took a shot across the front of the goal. But Herman, the redshirt sophomore who has been remarkable filling in for injured senior star Spencer Richey since September, made a full-extension drive to his right to grab the ball before it reached the goal line.
"A 1-0 game is pretty crucial," Lange deadpanned. "Shout out to Ryan Herman for the shutout."
And shout out to Harris for yet another, circus-like ending that extends UW's magical, circus-like season.
"Not only his throw in. I mean, he's just a tremendous leader," Lange said. "At practice he's always out there first, warming us up, never late, always on time, setting a prime example for all the freshmen. Even for us to the seniors and captains for next year.
"He's a pretty amazing person."
The entire Huskies coaching staff has a history with New Mexico. Clark was an assistant with the Lobos from 2002-2005, under current UNM coach Jeremy Fishbein. Washington assistant coach Jeff Rowland is one of the most decorated men’s soccer players in New Mexico history, ranking second in career goals with 45 and third in career points with 104.
The Huskies last faced New Mexico on Sept. 21, 2008, when the Huskies defeated the Lobos, 3-2, in overtime. Now the former protege meets one of his coaching mentors for a shot at -- get this -- potentially meeting Clark's dad Bobby, the coach at Notre Dame, in the Final Four.
"It's going to be a grudge match. That's where I cut my teeth in coaching," Clark said. "And my mentor -- other than my father -- in coaching is their coach.
"So it shapes up to be a pretty fun game."
If it's any more fun that the season-long ride the Huskies keep extending, it will be epic.
It's already historic.
"We're having fun, each and every game. We'll see who we've got next, and we'll plan it that way," Harris said. "We're not thinking about, 'Oh, we've got to beat this record, we've got to beat this record.' At the start of the year we had the longest unbeaten streak in our history (15 games), and we hardly noticed that, to be honest.
"Our team's just moving forward now."