UW's Seniors: Pranks, Pain and Pursuit of a Final Surge
Oct. 28, 2012
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE -- They are two honors students about to enter medical careers -- plus a shutout goalkeeper/self-starting entrepreneur who is empowering women in Haiti.
That's evident in how they all doubled over outside the team's locker room this week while retelling their most memorable moment at UW.
During a typically taut game at archrival Portland last fall -- their first meeting since UW had shocked the No. 2 Pilots in an epic penalty-kick shootout win that propelled the Huskies' run to the Elite Eight in the 2010 NCAA tournament -- the Huskies were lining up for a free kick.
The Pilots' raucous fans stand on raised bleachers at bandbox Merlo Field, literally on top of the visiting bench on one side.
"We were at Portland and they have these really rowdy fans. We were sitting on the benches. These guys were standing up there, yelling and screaming. And this one guys has on these pinstriped, like pajama pants," Brajkovich recalled, stifling -- for a moment -- her laughs.
"Yeah, big baggy pants," Davidson injected over her own cackling, before the Huskies (10-6-2, 3-5-1 Pac-12) play on Senior Day Sunday at 1 p.m. against Oregon State (11-4-2, 3-3-2) -- a game UW must win to stay alive for an NCAA tournament berth.
Turns out, it was Portland's "yell king" that was annoying the Huskies that day last September. And the lead rabble rouser had yelled "GO PILOTS!" in the Huskies' ears long enough.
"He's screaming at the other side to get the students section on the other side to start yelling," Brajkovich said. "We had a free kick, and they were trying to distract us by the railing (at the bench).
"We were all laughing so much we missed the goal."
Yes, no one on the Huskies' sideline saw Alex Webber score the lone goal of Washington's 1-1, double-overtime tie with No. 24 Portland that day.
They were all staring in shock at Huskies associate head coach Amy Griffin pantsing the obnoxious Pilots fan.
"The rest of us were standing on the sidelines at that point - and were just cracking up," Dufka said.
"We were laughing so hard because she had just pantsed the guy!" Davidson added, still marveling.
Finally, the Huskies started cheering, delayed-reaction style, upon realizing the goal.
"It was hysterical," Griffin said Friday. "Right when I did it, I saw two older women in the triangle of space beneath the guy's legs. They were in shock.
"Thank God he had long boxers on."
The moment was so memorable, last year's senior class called it the funniest one of their Huskies' careers, too.
That figures. Dufka and Davidson were once part of that class, as well. Then both took extra, redshirt seasons after injuries so they could return this fall.
Now Davidson, from Jesuit High School in Portland, is second in the Pac-12 behind Katelyn Rowland of undefeated UCLA with a .89 goals against average. She's allowed just 15 goals in 17 games following her sixth shutout of the season Thursday night against Oregon.
Dufka, from San Francisco, has played in 12 games this season, six of them starts, while still battling through injuries.
Brajkovich has also played through a knee injury that cost her all of last season - and then battled through a setback with that this August and September.
So, yes, they deserve a laugh - not to mention a return to the NCAA tournament. Washington needs wins Sunday and next week at Washington State (9-6-1, 3-4-1 entering the weekend) to make it back of narrowly missing the NCAAs in 2011.
"They've been through the ringer, these three," Huskies coach Lesle Gallimore said. "These are great leaders, that's for sure. I think it would be tough for any player to look them in the eye and whine about anything, with all they've been through.
"Academically, they are ridiculous. And just as people they set the bar so high."
Dufka is about to receive her degree in medical anthropology and global health. She is weighing whether to work in a neurology lab this summer at the world-class University of California-San Francisco Medical Center in her hometown or play professional soccer in France. She is planning to apply to medical school that she hopes to begin in the fall of 2014.
Brajkovich is, like Dufka, an honors student and is closing in on a biology degree. She has volunteered at the practice of renowned Seattle-area physical therapist Brent George. She hopes to become a physical therapist in her native Southern California.
Davidson is about to graduate with a visual design communications degree. But she's already doing a world of good beyond that. This summer she was on a 10-person team of undergraduates, graduate students and faculty from UW's School of Art/Division of Design that gave a presentation in China on water conservation in developing societies.
While making 80 saves - third-most in the Pac-12 - in 17 games for the Huskies, Davidson is also saving something more precious and noble: The lives of orphaned children and families in Haiti.
She has teamed with Seattle commercial real-estate agent Kaitlin Jackson to start Haiti Babi, a non-profit organization that seeks to employ and empower Haitian mothers that do not currently have the means to care for children forced into orphanages on the impoverished Caribbean island. http://www.gohuskies.com/sports/w-soccer/spec-rel/061312aab.html.
She has been to Haiti, and recently helped launch an online fundraising campaign with the goal of raising $7,000 in 30 days. Haiti Babi raised $3,000 of that in the first three days (at http://haitibabi.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/#!/HaitiBabi ).
For the last two months Haiti Babi has trained Haitian mothers to knit baby blankets to be sold online, with the idea to eventually sell the blankets in retail stores in the United States. That three-month training program is on target for a sales launch in the coming months.
Haiti Babi is in an accelerated business program at UW and hopes to receive in January a grant ranging from $10,000-$25,000. Davidson and her other team is also applying for other grants.
"Things are rolling. It's going really well," she said. "It's been exciting - and somewhat overwhelming."
Gallimore just shakes her head at all her keeper has accomplished.
"She just that dream kid," the coach said, saying Davidson lives in brilliantly "organized chaos."
THIS CLASS OF THREE IS REALLY FIVE
The senior class considers itself to have to five members.
Kellie Welch endured three torn anterior cruciate ligaments in her knees over a four-year span before she gave up the sport following a comeback try her sophomore season of 2011.
Louise Albin was voted by her team as UW's rookie of the year as a freshman in 2009, when she started the second-round of the NCAA tournament at No. 2 Portland. She redshirted 2010 and was ultimately also forced to give up soccer because of injury.
Brajkovich is still roommates with Welch and Albin. The two injured but not forgotten teammates are planning to be at Husky Soccer Stadium Sunday for the seniors' final home match.
"I couldn't have gotten through playing a college sport without those girls," she said. "They are very, very, very cherished."
Like Davidson, Dufka is impressed. They all still consider Welch and Albin their teammates.
"They show so much support considering how difficult it's been for them - and so much fortitude, I think, for sticking around despite how hard it is," Dufka said. "Every time they come see us they are on the other side of the field, and not with us. They look over, and they want so, so badly to be on the other side of the field.
"I can't imagine how hard that is. Kelsea always talks about it."
The three playing seniors have endured four and five years of 6:30 a.m. workouts in the darkness of winter for this last chance at an NCAA tournament.
"And it's not like football, where they are inside the Dempsey," Dufka says, playfully teasing UW's flagship sports program over its priority in the Huskies' indoor practice facility. "We're outside, on the East Field.
"The day that they had off was the one day of the week we got to go inside."
FORGET SENTAMENTALITY. THEY'VE GOT A TOURNAMENT TO MAKE
These seniors have to beat Oregon State and then Washington State in Pullman Friday to feel good about that chance to return to the NCAAs.
That's why Dufka says no teammates are allowed to say the "S-word" regarding the ... uh, "oldest" players' final home game.
"I'm just thinking about getting to the NCAA tournament," Davidson said. "We need these games. They're big. I haven't even gotten to the sentimental piece."
They are too dialed in at making a run to perhaps equal their surge to the NCAA's round of eight as underclassmen two seasons ago.
"I think when everything's done and over with - whenever that is, hopefully after a long run into the tournament - yeah, there will be emotion," Dufka said. "But at this point that's not at all at what we are focusing on.
"Because, for us, it's about winning these next three games and getting into the tournament. That's the most important thing to us. Every time someone brings up, `Oh, Seniors!' we go, `Shhh! Now is not the time!'"
As Brajkovich put it, "These are our last games at home.
"But these are not our last games of the season."