The Washington women's soccer team has an aversion to telephones. Despite the fact a phone call delivered good news the last three seasons, the Huskies don't want to be around the telephone on November 11.
That is the day the NCAA Tournament bracket is announced. Each of the past three seasons, the Huskies have been a bubble team. They gathered in a room, surrounding a telephone, awaiting word from the selection committee on their postseason fate.
Fourth-year Coach Lesle Gallimore wants to avoid the nail-biting, nerve-wracking period anticipating a phone call.
"We really want to win the conference championship," Gallimore states. "It won't be easy by any means, but we really think that it's feasible. We'd like to be sitting there at the end of conference play knowing that we're going to the playoffs and not having to wait for the call."
Gallimore's charges earned NCAA Tournament bids each of her first three seasons at Washington. The Huskies advanced to the second round in 1994 before losing on penalty kicks at Stanford. The UW defeated UCLA to open the 1995 tournament before a 1-0 loss at Portland. They suffered a 1-0 first round setback at Portland in 1996.
Last season, Washington registered a 12-8 record against a schedule rated the third most difficult in the nation. Nine UW opponents were among the 32-team NCAA field. Seven of the eight defeats came against teams ranked in the top-20 at the time, including five against teams that finished among the national top-15. The Huskies tied for second in the Pacific-10 Conference standings with a 5-2 record.
Things don't get any easier during the 1997 campaign as six of 10 non-conference opponents competed in the NCAA Tournament last fall. The first three foes were Final Four qualifiers last season.
Difficult schedules have become a way of life for Gallimore-coached Husky teams which have come to view the strenuous slates as a mission -- and not an impossible one.
"We want to be competitive against all the teams we play, particularly the top-five, top-10 opponents," she explains. "Our team is still on a mission to upset somebody. We don't really feel like we've had a big upset. We've played a tough schedule, been consistent, played well in conference, been in the top two or three in our conference the last three years. But, winning the conference championship and upsetting a couple people that are ranked ahead of us needs to happen."
Enabling the Huskies to even consider such lofty goals is their recent success. Three straight NCAA Tournament invitations and a combined 9-5 record in two years of Pac-10 play. The team boasts a 37-22-2 record in three seasons under Gallimore.
"The best thing about our success the last three years is that it has given our team confidence. Win, lose or draw, there is not an opponent we face that our team honestly doesn't believe we can play well against and beat," says Gallimore. "The good thing going into this year is that confidence is really apparent in our younger class because it is the only thing they have known. The older players have seen the struggle. The younger players just think this is the way it is supposed to be."
Sophomore Gretchen Mensinger (Kennewick, Wash./Kennewick HS) gained four games of experience last year and did not yield a goal in 149 minutes. She had eight saves and was credited with one shutout.
"It's going to be tough without Tina this year," Gallimore says. "But, you can't argue with a freshman stepping into four important games last year and having four shutouts. Gretchen did really well."
Mensinger will be pushed this fall by freshman Leslie Weeks (San Ramon, Calif./Carondelet HS), one of the premier prep goalkeepers in the nation. Though standing only 5-foot-6, Weeks posted a stunning 0.02 goals against average as a senior.
Both players have the luxury of training under assistant coach Amy Allmann, a goalkeeper on the 1991 U.S. World Cup championship team.
"It helps Leslie knowing that Amy has achieved a great deal at 5-foot-4," Gallimore says. "She understands the limitations, she understands what parts of your game you have to be better at to compensate for being smaller. What an ideal situation for Gretchen and Leslie to have a coach of Amy's caliber.
"Leslie and Gretchen are going to battle it out. There has been a lot of talk about Leslie stepping in right away and playing every minute of every game, but that's just not true. We have two very good goalkeepers that have almost the exact opposite strengths and weaknesses. That's a good thing. We want that competition on a daily basis to challenge us to pick the best keeper for any given game."
"Natalie Campbell stepped in as a freshman and matured quickly. Having someone like Natalie who played at the back every game last season is going to be absolutely invaluable to us this year with the games we have on our schedule. Natalie is a finesse player. She is a great passer and a good leader."
Campbell will be flanked on one side by senior Adrienne Sellers (Redmond, Wash./Redmond HS). Sellers is a veteran of 30 starts in 37 career games.
"Adrienne's soccer skills have developed to the point where she is able to play under pressure at this level a lot better than a couple years ago."
The other defensive position is open for competition with sophomores Dana Kimble (Woodinville, Wash./Woodinville HS) and Kristin Shaw (Clayton, Calif./Clayton Valley HS) having the inside track.
Kimble joins the Huskies after one year at Montana during which she tallied two goals in 16 starts.
Shaw walked on to the team last fall and was an imposing presence along the back line during her five outings.
"Dana Kimble is lightning fast. Being able to play in the spring with us helped her a lot. Kristin Shaw did very well in the spring also. She and Dana are very physical at the back and that is something we need."
Sophomore Auna van Blommestein (Tacoma, Wash./Washington HS) and red-shirt freshman Erin Ash (Tacoma, Wash./Bellarmine Prep HS) each have a year of collegiate experience to build upon, experience which could give them an edge on playing time over a pair of freshmen defenders.
Freshman Katie Goodeve (Redmond, Wash./Eastlake HS) is slated at an outside back on the depth chart. Dee Behler (Woodinville, Wash./Woodinville HS) is another member of the fine freshman class who may play defender.
"Dee Behler is a freshman who may be an outside back or outside midfielder who can also play up front. She is kind of a utility player for us, we're not sure where she is going to fit in, but she's got the ability to fit in somewhere."
A talented freshmen class dramatically helped the Huskies last season. Katey Ward (Tacoma, Wash./Bellarmine Prep HS) tied for team-high honors with seven goals while Jana Wilson (Port Orchard, Wash./South Kitsap HS) chipped in four to rank fourth on the team. Campbell was one of only five players to start every game while forward Anna Biddle (Bellevue, Wash./Bellevue HS) drew seven starts.
Gallimore looks for similar results during 1997 from the current freshmen crop.
"There is no doubt that there are kids in there that will contribute right away. We have 17 underclassmen on our roster. Fortunately for us last year there were three freshmen in particular who stepped up huge. Our freshmen were very prepared, they understood the level from being from a competitive background.
"We're banking on some of the freshman, depending on how they play in the preseason. If you look at our depth chart, positionally there are going to be some of them we're going to need, especially starting with that many games in that many days against those type of opponents. I really think we are at the point where our depth is much better this year than it has been in the past."
"Jeannie Rein basically played way out of position for two years for us. I can't say enough about how much she has done what we've asked of her. She should benefit from playing in the midfield all last year."
Rein started every game last season as the team's playmaker, tying for team-high honors with six assists.
Complementing Rein in the midfield are a bevy of returning starters, including Ward. Now a sophomore, Ward was named to numerous national all-freshmen teams. She tallied seven goals and two assists while starting all but two games. She participated with the under-20 national team during the spring.
"Katey is one of those who is going to be a hallmark player here at Washington. In their first time at a national camp, everyone is going to struggle a little bit just getting used to the level. But, the U-20 coach had some good things to say about Katey and she's still eligible for that age group."
Last season, Gallimore realigned the team's formation to create more offense. She enlarged the midfield corps from three to four and sometimes five starters, dropping one forward and one defender at times.
"Actually, the reason we went to wide midfielders was to fit our system to the player personnel we have. Last year, we gained speed and flank ability in Jana and Katey. Angie Crivello (Edmonds, Wash./Mariner HS) improved out there quite a bit as far as her technical ability and holding the ball. Erin Bailey (Huntington Beach, Calif./Edison HS) was able to play finally last year. We have personnel now who can play wide."
Crivello improved dramatically each season. Now a senior, she started 12 games last fall as an outside midfielder, totalling two goals and two assists.
Bailey, a junior, transferred from USC before missing the 1995 season and half of 1996 with injuries.
"Erin is healthy and ready to go. Her biggest thing last year was getting back into playing shape. She is a good server of the ball and has such good moves as far as taking people on one-on-one."
Lindsay Light (Mission Viejo, Calif./Capistrano Valley HS) quietly started all 20 games for the Huskies last season. The transfer from California, now a junior, was a steady performer, but attempted only 20 shots.
"She should be scoring goals, but doesn't look to. She can hit a shot and has tremendous attacking ability. Lindsay is one of those players who blends into the woodwork, but she works hard and she knows the game. She can defend and she is a good passer. Statistically Lindsay definitely needs to get into the attack more."
Carolyn Jenkins (Redmond, Wash./Redmond HS) scored the team's first two goals last season, both against Gonzaga. She is capable of playing nearly any field position.
"Carolyn walked on as a freshman and has worked extremely hard to be on this team and to get minutes. Her minutes and her positions have been inconsistent. She has really played a lot of roles for us. She has always been a great athlete and she has now become a much better soccer player."
Walk-on sophomore Stacy Merlitti (Portland, Ore./Lincoln HS) appears poised to challenge for playing time in the midfield after gleaning seven games of experience last year.
Adding depth to the midfield corps are freshmen Tami Bennett (Kent, Wash./Seattle Christian HS) and Malia Arrant (Milwaukie, Ore./Clackamas HS). Both are tall, strong players. Bennett concluded her prep career as the leading scorer in Washington history. Her 152 goals eclipsed the previous record established by current national team standout Michelle Akers.
"Tami Bennett and Malia Arrant are both good target players. They are both very good on the ball, great passers and good distributors. Malia can also play in the center at the back as a stopper as well, or as a defensive midfielder."
"Our team knows that we are not going to survive off one or two players. That has been the trademark of our team. We don't yet have the 20-goal type person, we need four or five 10-goal people."
Capable of being one of those 10-goal scorers is Wilson who played both midfield and forward last season. She ranked fourth on the team with four goals and third with three assists.
"As much as you talk about someone like Katey, Jana Wilson is a very talented player. Sometimes one gets overshadowed by the other. But we put them on equal footing. They are both outstanding and a good complement to our team. Their speed is what sets them apart from some of the other players on our team. Jana Wilson is going to see a lot of time up front because we think she is one of our best forwards right now."
Junior Casey Dickerson (Folsom, Calif./Folsom HS) joins Biddle as front-runners for starting forward berths. Dickerson has a knack for scoring, amassing a team-leading seven goals on only 22 shots.
"Anna Biddle and Casey Dickerson are going to hopefully step up in the scoring column. Casey puts herself in the right place at the right time. Her scoring percentages are great, but she needs to be more consistent in practice so that she gets those kind of minutes in games. Anna Biddle has a lot of great physical attributes. She is very quick in a short space and is strong."
Theresa Wagner (Edmonds, Wash./Lakeside HS) will battle for time at the forward spot after a brilliant all-around high school career. She tallied 120 soccer goals while also starring in basketball and tennis. Wagner should benefit from channeling those athletic abilities solely into soccer for the first time.
Another freshman who could challenge for playing time is 5-foot Erin Otagaki (Honolulu, Hi./Punahou HS).
"Erin Otagaki has a good chance of playing because of her skill level. The kid has tremendous ability on the ball. She's quick, a good dribbler with great vision. We need more crafty players like her."
The Huskies have won enough in the past three seasons to earn NCAA Tournament trips. Gallimore hopes the numerous underclassmen and solid cadre of veterans on this year's squad will learn to win in convincing fashion.
"I'd like our team to learn to put the final nail in the coffin," she remarks. "We need to know how to put teams away and control games rather than letting them control us."
Another thing the Huskies would like to control is their own postseason destiny. They don't want to rely on a phone call to reveal it to them.