Chabala: Out Of The Darkness
Sept. 22, 2005
By Benton Strong
Senior Mike Chabala has seen it all during his tenure in the Washington soccer program.
There were dark days -- such as just about every day of Chabala's freshman season of 2002, when the team posted its worst record since 1968, going 6-10-3 and snapping a string of seven-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
There have also been bright days -- witness the team's 13-5-2 record in 2003, and a run all the way to the NCAA Sweet 16.
Chabala says that these days, though, are the best days, with Washington's men's soccer team riding high, and the promise of a bright season ahead.
"I want to leave saying that this is the best soccer team that has ever been through UW," he says. "I have a goal to pursue excellence."
That goal was a driving force for Chabala during the 2002 offseason, as he committed himself to helping turn Washington's fortunes around the following season. "That offseason was probably the hardest work I've ever done," he says. "But you've got to fail to succeed. If we didn't have that season when I was a freshman, we wouldn't have done so well the following year."
Under what Chabala calls the tremendous leadership of a talented group of seniors, the Huskies ran off an eight-game unbeaten streak to open the 2003 season, and closed with an NCAA Tournament second-round win over Portland, before a 3-2 overtime defeat at Saint Louis.
That hard work paid off not only for the team, but for Chabala as an individual as well. The 6-foot, 170-pound midfielder started every game of his sophomore campaign, notching two assists and earning All-Pac-10 honorable mention.
In 2003, Chabala led the Huskies back to the NCAA Tournament again with a career-best three goals and seven assists, earning All-Pac-10 second team honors, and has already notched two goals and three assists while leading UW to wins in four of its first five games this season.
Chabala credits much of increased scoring presence to a stint with the Under-23 U.S. Amateur National Team, with whom he practiced and played this summer. Success against high-level competition, he says, has boosted his confidence this season, which has in turn shone through in his outstanding play to open 2005.
"I'm just a better player than I was," he says. "I know where I'm at now; I'm confident."
Chabala has been confident from the moment he arrived at Washington, setting up an academic plan that would allow him to graduate after this fall quarter -- two quarters early -- so that he could begin playing professionally in January 2006. Three calendar years later, the Fresno, Calif., native remains on track to earn his degree in economics, but says that the University means much more to him than just a stepping stone to soccer stardom.
"The friendships and the memories, that's what's important to me," he says. "I never used to think of this as home, but now I know this is where I belong. I can say that I bleed purple, and that's for real."
Chabala came to UW with big goals -- become the best player possible, earn a degree, and continue the winning tradition of Washington soccer.
Three years later, those goals have been accomplished -- the senior is the top scorer on a top-25, has twice led UW to the NCAA Tournament, and is less than three months away from completing his college coursework six months ahead of schedule. His personal successes, though, are not the measuring stick by which Chabala wants to be remembered -- instead, he says, he hopes Husky fans think of him as a hard worker who showed respect for the opportunities he has been given by giving his best in every aspect of his life.
"Not many people have had the experiences of the chances that I've had," he says. "I can't have asked for more."
Nor could anyone ask for more from Chabala.