By Michelle Smith
Hope Solo "absolutely hated" playing in goal by the time she got to the University of Washington back in 1998.
"I despised it," Solo confessed. "My college coaches had their hands full with me."
From that hostile start comes a remarkable ending.
Solo is the top goalkeeper in Women's Professional Soccer and the No. 1 goalkeeper on the U.S. women's national team, a mantle she's held since 2005. She won a gold medal in2008 with the U.S. team at the Beijing Olympics. Her 91 appearances with the national team are second-most in U.S. women's soccer history at the goalkeeper position.
"My experience at Washington set the stage for me to play on the national team," Solo said.
The same can be said of many members of the U.S. team. Eight members of the current roster were Pac-10 athletes.
Solo chose Washington over Santa Clara and Virginia following an outstanding high school career in which she was a two-time All-American as a field player (she scored 109 goals in high school) and led her high school team in Richland, Wash., to the state championship. She had been recruited not only as a soccer player, but also as a basketball player.
And she was set to head east, far from home, to Virginia. Solo nearly committed to Virginia, but changed her mind at the last moment and decided to stay in her home state.
"It was a last-minute decision, but the best decision I ever made," she admitted.
When she got to Seattle, she said she was overwhelmed by the large campus and new environment. And she did not have her heart set on playing in goal, even though that was the position she'd been recruited to play.
"I didn't believe in myself, and it was a struggle," Solo said. "I didn't find happiness until my junior year in college, and I have so my gratitude for my coaches for believing in me and showing me the intricacies of goal-keeping." Solo said she needed to learn to "respect the position."
"I needed to change my outlook on it," Solo said.
Clearly, she succeeded there.
Solo finished her career at Washington as the school's all-time leader in shutouts (18), saves and goals-against average. She was a four-time All-Pac-10 selection, a three-time All-American and a finalist for the national player of the year in her senior season.
The outspoken Solo has had both a distinctive and decorated career in international soccer. She was the object of national controversy in the 2007 World Cup when she was benched for the semifinal game against Brazil and was critical of then-U.S. coach Greg Ryan. She was removed from the roster before being reinstated by new (and current) U.S. team coach Pia Sundhage in 2008. She has talked openly about her complicated, but loving relationship with her father, a Vietnam veteran who lived on the streets of Seattle for years and passed away before the 2007 World Cup.
Solo has been welcomed back to the fold with the U.S. team and continues to play a large role in the team's success.
Solo, who will turn 30 in July, played for Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) team Atlanta Beat in 2010 and was named the league's top goal keeper. She is currently rehabbing after undergoing shoulder surgery in September. She is working to be ready in time for the 2011 Women's World Cup in Germany in June.
Solo looks back at her time at Washington as a "truly amazing experience."
"I wouldn't know where to start talking about it," Solo said. "It is a huge university and so easy to get lost, but there were people who took me under their wings and directed me to where I wanted to go. I had some individual struggles with family and outside pressures and the school and the coaches, I had so much support in that world.
"I found my niche."