Huskies Honoring A Senior Class Like No Other
Nov. 10, 2011
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - You know how the usual Senior Night home finale works. It's the ceremonial culmination of the four, sometimes five years; veteran players have spent together experiencing the highs and lows of college athletics and college life.
The guys share stories, pranks and inside jokes that go back to when they first arrived fresh out of high school.
Not this year. Not with this Huskies men's soccer team.
These Dawgs could almost be wearing name tags that say "Hello, my name is ..." at its home finale.
UW will honor seven seniors Friday night before 19th-ranked Washington (11-4-2, 6-3) hosts Oregon State at 7 p.m. in the final home game of the regular season at Husky Soccer Stadium (live game video/audio and GameTracker here at GoHuskies.com).
Only three of those seven seniors have played in the program for all four seasons of their college careers: leading scorer Brent Richards, third-leading scorer Casey McCool and defender Jamie Finch. And those three had to endure a coaching change before their final season, when Jamie Clark arrived from Creighton to replace long-time Huskies coach Dean Wurzberger.
"This is certainly a unique senior class," Clark said Thursday. "Almost every player arrived at senior day via a very different college route."
Jacob Hustedt, the Huskies' second-leading scorer with five goals and five assists in 17 games, transferred before this season from Cal Poly.
Abdul Aman was born in Ethiopia. He had been playing most of his collegiate career at community colleges, and then joined the team three weeks into his senior season this fall. He has two goals in 13 games, six starts, for the Huskies.
Nick James was a team most valuable player at Lake Washington High School in Kirkland, Wash., who transferred to UW following his freshman season at Seattle University in 2008.
And defender Tyler Klein, a part-time starter last season, hasn't played at all this season because of an injury.
These seniors -- even the few veterans of this remodeled program --are so unfamiliar with their new coach they still want to know the story behind Coach Clark's "ink."
"He's got this weird tattoo," McCool said. "It's barbed wire or something around his ankle.
"We all want to know, what's up with that?"
Clark just laughs when asked about that.
"We will call it a constant reminder to our boys that the choices they make at this age will be with them for the rest of their lives," Clark joked. "So make good decisions."
The new coach is smiling a lot these days. He has relied on this unusual, eclectic group of seniors to lead the Huskies, winners of six of their last seven matches, to the cusp of their first NCAA tournament appearance in four seasons.
A win Friday over Oregon State (5-10-2, 3-5-1) not only would help assure a postseason trip, it would be revenge. The Beavers upset Washington earlier this season in Corvallis in one of the Huskies' few subpar matches this fall.
"I feel like my college career wouldn't be complete without going to the NCAA tournament," said Finch, who is from the Seattle suburb of Bothell.
Richards, from Camas, Wash., still shakes his head over narrowly missing out on the tournament last season when UW went 11-6-1 and he was the team's offensive MVP.
"We thought we deserved to make it in last year after a good season," said Richards, who has fulfilled Clark's summer expectations of becoming a double-digit goal scorer this fall. "Not making the tournament for the third-straight year really hurt."
Clark credits the seniors for wiping away most of that pain. The coach says they have provided what it takes to not only get to the NCAAs - as Clark did while coaching Harvard in 2008 and '09 and Creighton last year - but to advance.
"We could look at the differences, but what is most important is something they all share. The common thread for this senior class is their drive and passion to succeed," Clark said. "They have welcomed in new players and come together as a group, understanding that this was the only way that we could rise to the top.
"As soon as a new player showed he was committed to the team and the group's goals, then the rest of the senior class would welcome him with open arms."
None were more welcomed than Hustedt. He turned down an offer to sign with a professional team in Europe and trained with developmental teams belonging to Real Salt Lake and the Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer this summer before joining the Huskies.
Hustedt played with Huskies junior Ben Fisk at Cal Poly. When Hustedt was at odds with the coaching situation there last year, he sought to return to Washington - he had lived in the Seattle suburb of Bothell until he was 10.
UW soccer's third transfer from Cal Poly formed an immediate partnership with Richards on the Huskies' attack this season.
"Brent is a fun player to play with," Hustedt said. "We read each other pretty well. We have really good chemistry on this team.
"Coach Clark's style is really good for me - as you can tell. He's the best coach I've had."
Clark thinks the pairing of Richards and Hustedt could send Washington a long way in the NCAAs.
"Jake and Brent are now one of the best forward combinations in the country," Clark said. "It took us a little while to pair them together, as Jake had played mostly wide midfield before coming to UW. Now that they are playing together opposing teams have to deal with a lethal one-two punch - one that can light up scoreboards and take us far in the NCAA tournament."
Aman explained in his accented English that he sought UW because of the tradition of NCAA tournament appearances for its program and for its strong academics.
"They welcomed me like a family," Aman said of the Huskies.
That was exactly what Clark had in mind when he brought in all the new seniors this summer.
"Good people and driven players know a successful team needs to be cohesive and together. All of our new additions have been quickly incorporated into the fabric our team," Clark said.
"Teams know they have to come together and gel if they are going to be successful. And this team has been forced to do this quickly."
McCool marvels at how Clark pulled off all the imports to form this potentially lethal team.
"The right pieces have fallen into place," the senior midfielder from Bend, Ore., said. "We've never had this kind of scoring team since I've been here."