Oct. 28, 2012
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
They are the Huskies' "Eclectic Eight."
And suddenly electric, too.
Somehow - through transfers, a regime change, and a move this summer to a more clamped-down style of play -- they have cobbled together a prime chance for Washington's first conference championship in a dozen years.
Among the eight members of Washington men's soccer's senior class, only forward Quinton Beasley has been a Husky for all four of his classes' years. Dylan Tucker-Gangnes, the surprise scoring dynamo and set-piece king from the back line this season, is been here five years thanks to a back injury and redshirt year in 2009.
Everyone else - Chris Brundage, Ben Fisk, Alex Klein, Patrick Pacheco, Nate Sackeyfio, and Abdul Aman- have transferred. Their journeys have brought them to UW from Western Washington, Cal Poly, Michigan, New Mexico, Denver, and Clarke University, respectively.
So, no, it's not accurate to say these surprising Huskies have come from out of nowhere.
"We've come from everywhere. It's crazy," Patrick Pacheco, a midfielder from New Mexico who transferred in this summer, said before he assisted on both goals in 24th-ranked Washington's shutout of San Diego State Friday night.
"With so many transfers and then for us to be doing so well, it's just been great."
These seniors seemed to have ensured the Huskies (11-3-3, 6-0-2 Pac-12) will be back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007. They have led UW on a nine-game unbeaten streak, Washington's longest since 1999, entering Monday's 7 p.m. showdown with UCLA (Pac-12 Networks television). A win would inch the Huskies closer to their first conference title since 2000.
It's been a mishmash reunion of Seattle-area youth- and select-league competitors that has turned around Washington's stalled program in less than two seasons under new coach -- and chief cobbler -- Jamie Clark.
Yet trying to glean from this class the traditional senior stories of pranks, jokes and their best off-the-field fun during their time at UW is as difficult as scoring a goal against them.
"It's more the on-the-field stuff for us," said Klein, a Seattle native who attended the city's private Bush School then came back home after one season and a redshirt year at Michigan.
"We haven't had a whole lot of time together off the field."
All the transfers except Pacheco, a native of Taos, N.M., left their native Western Washington to explore opportunities afar -- only to realize the best one was in their own backyard.
Throw in the fact the speedy, heady Aman was born in Ethiopia and wants to go back to Africa to work for the United Nations and help people there gain access to better lives, and these are the "Global Eight," too.
"What, we've got one traditional senior?" Clark said.
"What it says, though, is a lot of guys leave and want to come home to Washington," said Clark, who arrived with NCAA tournament pedigree from Creighton and Harvard to replace long-time UW coach Dean Wurzbergerbefore the 2011 season. "I think a lot of guys are happy they came home, which is a fantastic thing.
"Hopefully in the future now we don't lose them in the first place, and we have the chance to develop them for four years. Because I think some of these guys, with four years in the system - although they are very good right now--could be that much better."
Better? This isn't too shabby.
These seniors have shepherded the program through its first coaching change in three decades and then a realization that their best way to win consistently was to commit to a blue-collar style: Rugged defense and opportunistic offense. It's meant the Huskies are in every match they play.
Winning ugly? Washington went about halfway through this season before they scored its first goal in the run of play. Yet the Huskies piled up wins with stifling defense and goals exclusive off set pieces.
Through it all, the seniors have maintained the program's chemistry -- despite rolling out the welcome mat so often they should have been in bellhop uniforms as much as soccer kits.
This fall's team has soared to the top of the Pac-12 while integrating 14 newcomers. The Huskies might be ranked in the nation's top 10 were it not for a goal disallowed in regulation on what became a 1-0 loss in overtime on a free-kick at No. 4 Connecticut in September.
The two seniors who have been here the longest and endured the coaching change credit Clark for raising the competitiveness of the training, the practices, the games -- the entire organization.
"It's changed drastically," Beasley said. "The overall nature of the team is a lot more competitive, a lot more focused. Getting Jamie in here totally changed the atmosphere of the program.
"Now, all we think about is winning, competing as much as we can."
Tucker-Gangnes, from Bainbridge Island, Wash., has teamed with Fisk to form what has been a wall of defense this season. Washington is atop the Pac-12 because it entered the weekend first in the league with a .82 goals against average. The Huskies have surrendered just 14 goals in 16 games, or 1,537 minutes.
"These guys are just rocks," Clark said. "We give up nothing easy. It's almost a common-sense thing: You have to do something special to score on us."
Offensively, Tucker-Gangnes has been a demon on set plays, scoring seven goals over the first half of the season - until he sprained his ankle a few weeks ago. He can barely walk and has been limited to roughly half the games lately. But true to his team's rugged personality, he charges on.
Tucker-Gangnes, who about to earn a communications degree, said he "didn't fear the regime change. I was all for it at that point, to be honest."
"I was so excited for a breath of fresh air into the program," he said. "Everyone is here to achieve success, where in the past maybe it was more some guys were here because they wanted to wear a Washington soccer sweatshirt. Now, we're dedicated. We're serious fun.
"It's a good time."
This class was almost seven instead of eight. Beasley said a couple years ago, when Wurzberger was leaving and Clark was coming in as a huge unknown, he thought perhaps the UW program wasn't for him.
"I went through some things, talked to my parents. That was about the time that Jamie got introduced to the team. It came to the point where I was almost going to give it up," Beasley said.
"It was probably one of the best decisions I've ever made to not."
Now Beasley is a gritty forward trying to play with a partially torn medial collateral ligament in his knee. He sustained that injury last week at Stanford. He hopes to get back for Monday night's mega match against UCLA.
He's also on track to earn a political-science degree. He wants to go into soccer coaching, perhaps in the thriving youth program from which he came in southwest Washington.
Fisk, from the Seattle suburb of Federal Way and Bellarmine Prep High School in Tacoma, left after two seasons and two hip surgeries at Cal Poly. He wanted to come home to play in front of his friends and family.
"It's U-Dub. It's the best school to play for in the state and in the Northwest. That's what really attracted me," said Fisk, who will graduate this spring with a communications degree. "The regime change definitely effected my re-recruiting to U-Dub."
Pacheco, another midfielder, said "it's definitely been great coming here." That's saying something, since his former New Mexico Lobos are current ranked 10th and went to the NCAA tournament all three seasons he played for them.
When he got to UW Pacheco knew only Clark, whom he first met when Clark came out to help coach his Albuquerque youth league when Pacheco was 12.
That was enough.
"Coming here my senior year with these guys and going where not many of them have gone, some of them have never been ... I couldn't be happier, to be honest," Pacheco said.
Sackeyfio, from Ingraham High School and the ultra-competitive youth select programs around Seattle, played his first three college seasons at Denver before coming back home to the Huskies this season.
That's worked out pretty well, eh?
Two weeks ago the 6-foot-3 forward Washington didn't recruit four years ago was named national player of the week. He scored the game-winning goal against Stanford, after his first early goal in UW's win at then-No. 13 UCLA (5-1 in the league).
"It's kind of different to try to come into a program three years into it, kind of weird," said Sackeyfio, who because of the transfer will probably need another quarter beyond next spring to graduate with a marketing degree. "At the same time it was all right because I knew everyone on the team pretty much, because I'd grown up with them playing soccer."
Aman, who went to Seattle's Roosevelt High School after being born in Ethiopia, was set to graduate last year and perhaps pursue a professional career with the Seattle Sounders, the Major League Soccer team that had drafted him. But a family crisis sent him home from college to help his mother in Africa, and the NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility.
Aman is so fast he gets caught offside behind the opposing defense a half dozen times or so a game. He has offers to play with national teams in his native Ethiopia and in Kenya.
Oh, and he speaks six languages. He wants to be one of the first in his family to earn a degree, which he is on track to get this winter in African Ethic Studies.
"Yes, I was drafted by the Sounders, but they wanted to send me to (a developmental league. And I wanted to finish out my studies here," he said. "Plus, I knew this was a good group of guys to play with.
"Getting my degree is very important to me," he said, "because you never know when you might break your leg."
Then again, among this hardened, gritty, eclectic group of seniors, he probably would just play through that, anyway.