Undefeated Huskies Focus 1st On Gonzaga--Then Notre Dame
Sept. 6, 2012
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - One of the Huskies' few seniors, Kari Davidson barked orders like a drill sergeant.
Jaclyn Softli ran wild, passed precisely and drilled booming shots. It sure didn't look like she had offseason back surgery.
They and the rest of the young Huskies got after it like bitter rivals in practice Wednesday during a two-on-two drill with quick switches from offense to defense on a shortened field. Grass stains and grunts seemed almost required.
"That drill's called `flying changes,'" junior defender Stine Schoening said following the competitive smackdown.
"Yeah," Davidson, the team's leader and goalkeeper said with a sly grin, "the fangs come out in that."
These Dawgs' fangs have been out for a few weeks now.
Washington has bolted to a 5-0 start with three shutouts by Davidson, a fifth-year senior playing for the first time in almost two years following a foot injury in 2010 and then a medical-redshirt year. She has not allowed a goal in 225 minutes played.
UW entered the Soccer America national rankings this week at No. 22 and is the only 5-0 team in the Pac-12.
But this week the Huskies' theme is: So what.
They are grinding and growling at each other knowing this weekend brings huge tests of their unbeaten status.
Washington left Thursday morning for a bus ride across the state for Friday's 4 p.m. game in Spokane against Gonzaga (5-1). They will be bussing the other way on Interstate 90 immediately after that match to get home and prepare for Sunday's unexpected home game at noon against perennial national-power Notre Dame (3-2).
Not that the Huskies have been talking this week about the rare opportunity to host the Fighting Irish. Even though Notre Dame is one of the higher-profile non-conference opponents UW has hosted in years, veteran coach Lesle Gallimore has demanded the focus remains first on Gonzaga. The Zags' only loss so far this young season is 3-0 at Washington State.
Gallimore's players are complying with her demand.
"We are playing Gonzaga on Friday. We are focused on that," was what Schoening said when asked about UW's weekend. "They have a great atmosphere that makes them tough at their field."
Notre Dame is playing at Portland Friday night before coming to Seattle. The Irish and Huskies were originally to play at a four-team tournament hosted by Portland this weekend, but the fourth team never materialized.
So with travels plans already for this weekend to the Northwest, Notre Dame agreed to a match at the Pilots and a second at the Huskies.
The Irish have beaten No. 16 Santa Clara this season and have lost to Wisconsin and No. 19 North Carolina. They have won the national championship three times, in 1995, 2004 and 2010 - the year the Huskies reached the NCAA tournament's Elite Eight..
But Notre Dame could be the gold medal-winning U.S. women's national team -- or the local Woodland Park youth league side -- to these focused Huskies right now.
"We really have tunnel vision in our game as a team," Davidson said.
Schoening was the defensive most valuable player of last week's Husky/Nike Invitational. That earned her the latest GoHuskies.com Student-Athlete of the Week award. Tuesday, she was named one of the Primetime Performers of the Week by College Soccer 360.
Schoening grew up in the Seattle suburb of Woodinville then transferred to UW from UNC Greensboro. The junior already feels totally cozy back home with the Huskies.
"We really are in a cocoon right now," she said. "It really doesn't matter who we play."
More than by her team's fast start, Gallimore is encouraged that her mix of seniors Davidson, Kelsea Brajkovich and Faustine Dufka, transfers Schoening and midfielder Kate Bennett from California plus 10 freshmen are playing defense. Edgy, you-just-kicked-my-dog defense.
"The thing that I am really impressed with is our defense. Our goalkeeping and our backline, it's been a collective, group effort," Gallimore said.
Asked if that is an accident, the coach smiled and thought to her spring and summer spent demanding more intense defense in workouts.
"We hammered on that side of the ball, put it that way," she said.
Davidson and Katelyn Rowland of UCLA are the only two keepers in the Pac-12 to be unscored upon all of their starts this season. Rowland has had to make only five saves in her three shutouts. Davidson has made 14 in her three blankings.
"Personally, it's just nice to be on the field again," Davidson said. "It's been a couple years.
"The five (training) games I had in the spring really helped me to get back into it."
Gallimore said "Kari's really upped her game" while fending off a challenge from Megan Kufeld. The highly regarded redshirt freshman was matching Davidson diving save for diving save at the opposite goal during that "flying change" drill Wednesday.
Offensively, junior Lindsay Elston was just named Pac-12 Player of the Week after Washington's wins over La Salle and Fresno State. She and Veronica Perez are the only players in UW history to score points in each of the season's first five games.
Softli, who made the Pac-12's all-freshman team last season, just had what Gallimore called her best practice since that back surgery.
"I think we are a really talented team with the ball," Gallimore said. "And I think we can be even more potent. I think we've got more weapons than we've shown so far."
Her players are anxious to get to showing, starting this challenging weekend.
"We are really excited," Schoening said, "to show everybody what we are all about."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Washington will become the first Pac-12 team to stream an event live on the internet with the new Pac-12 Networks Sunday. The Notre Dame match will shown free on http://video.pac-12.com/. ... There will be free pizza for all fans wearing purple to the Notre Dame game. ... Fans can show their volleyball tickets from either UW home match this weekend for free admission to Sunday's soccer game. ... After hosting Notre Dame, the Huskies play five straight on the road. They are at Utah State and Brigham Young next week, then begin conference play at USC Sept. 21, at Colorado Sept. 28 and at Utah Sept. 30.