Five Seniors Ending An Era Of Transforming UW Soccer
Nov. 2, 2011
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - Kate Deines grew into a national player-of-the-year candidate and member of the under-23 national team.
Sarah Martinez overcame injuries early in her college career to become the Huskies' leading scorer.
The Huskies still laugh over Alex Webber scoring UW's only goal this season in a 1-1 tie at rival Portland. It came seconds after someone on Washington's bench who shall remain nameless "de-pantsed" an obnoxious Pilots student that had been screaming "GO PILOTS!" into Huskies' players ears.
Kelli Stewart scored during the eighth round of penalty kicks in the NCAA tournament at Portland last November, in the epic victory that will be this class' enduring legacy. She's also shined in one of the toughest majors a student-athlete has at Washington: Architecture. She is now applying to graduate schools on the East Coast, primed for future reconstruction project after her one with Huskies soccer.
And Jorde LaFontaine-Kussmann? All the driven goalkeeper has done in her college career is transfer back home from California, overcome cancer, save 13 shots - one short of the school record - in that second-round NCAA match at Portland last fall, score in the ninth round that day on a rare penalty kick by a keeper, then send the Huskies to the NCAA quarterfinals by making a diving stop of Portland's last PK.
"Beating Portland, that was the one," Martinez said Tuesday when asked for her best moment as a Husky.
Washington's five seniors transformed Huskies women soccer from winless in 2005 back to national prominence. They turned a program that had missed the NCAAs three consecutive seasons immediately before they arrived into one that made the NCAA tournament in each of their first three seasons as Huskies. The most recent appearance, last season, went all the way to the Elite Eight, tying the `04 team for the farthest UW has ever advanced.
"This class will be known as the class that got us back to the playoffs," coach Lesle Gallimore said at the end of her 18th season leading UW women's soccer. "When they were freshmen they and the class one ahead of them were instrumental in helping us with a `rebuilding' period we experienced after 2004.
"They came in with a tremendous work ethic, attitude, and willingness to lay it all on the line for one another and their teammates. That has never wavered with this group -- no matter the circumstances."
The five seniors have at least one more moment to make before saying goodbye to their Washington careers. Thursday night, they lead the scrapping, injury-wracked Huskies (7-8-4, 3-5-2, Pac-12) into the season finale at Husky Soccer Stadium against archrival Washington State (12-6-2, 6-3-1).
A victory in the seniors' final regular-season game would be the first of their illustrious Washington careers over WSU. Deines, for one, has promised her teammates a memorable celebration if they beat the Cougars on their final chance.
"With the rocky season we've had, just going out on top and knowing we left our mark - there is no game bigger than this one," Martinez said.
"Everything," Stewart added, "is set up for this game."
The Huskies are hoping to have more to celebrate than just an overdue victory in the rivalry. The seniors are desperately trying to extend their careers and rally into a perfect 4-for-4 on NCAA tournament berths in their UW careers.
The Huskies, derailed this season by Deines getting sick, Martinez breaking her hand, Webber's foot pain and more injuries across the roster, have an RPI rating of 88. The RPI is one of the selection criteria for the 64-team NCAA tournament.
"We've really pushed ourselves this season," said LaFontaine-Kussman, who has one shutout and a 1.02 goals-against average in 17 games this fall. "We've pushed through obstacles as a team."
Washington State's RPI is 48. A win over the Cougars could also impress the selection committee. And its members will be able to watch the Huskies state their case. Thursday night's 7 p.m. game will be broadcast live nationally on cable, on the Fox Soccer Channel.
"We've definitely put our backs to the wall," said Martinez, who has seven goals and four assists for a team-leading 18 points despite missing four games this season. "But we are all going into this game knowing there is still a small chance. And it's on national TV.
"We were the Cinderella story last year. We went into that selection day and we didn't know if we'd even get into the tournament. And we went all the way to the Elite Eight.
"We're just hoping for a little leeway. ... We've been battling so much. We're just hoping it will turn our way now."
With all these seniors have pulled off, they deserve one last break.
Their unique class camaraderie - strengthened by Deines' hilarious videos with teammates - intensified before their sophomore season in 2009 during a preseason team trip to Brazil.
"That was such a fun time to come together," Stewart said - with an accent on fun.
"The time we all spent together in Brazil in the summer of 2009 will always be something we all hold near and dear to our hearts," Gallimore says, somewhat cryptically.
"What happens in Rio stays in Rio."
The trip preceded a second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. Then, last fall, LaFontaine-Kussmann capped her recovery from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma discovered during her freshman season at Cal by turning in her performance for the ages -- the unheard-of 11 rounds of penalty kicks it took to win in the NCAA tournament at top-seeded Portland.
It was Washington's third win in 28 tries against the Pilots. It will always be the signature victory of these seniors' careers.
"It was almost better than winning a national championship," said Deines, a member of the national under-23 team and a hopeful for the 2012 Olympic squad.
LaFontaine-Kussmann, from Lakewood, Wash., is applying to nursing school. Gallimore says she and redshirt junior Kari Davidson, who was granted an additional medical redshirt year last season by the NCAA but will be recognized with her class at Thursday night's finale, are the two best goalkeepers the Huskies have ever had.
Gallimore says it's been a thrill "having Jorde and Kari be two of the best goalkeepers this program has ever seen and watching the way the two compete intensely. They want to kill each other in training -- and then become each other's biggest fans in games.
Then there is "the fact that Jorde is cancer-free after three years and has been able to become an integral part of our Husky family after transferring here," Gallimore said.
The seniors' best memory off the field also involves last fall's run in the NCAA tournament - and an unforgettably goofy film session that showed how the players' devotion to the program works both ways.
Gallimore rounded up goalkeeper coach Amy Griffin, assistant coach Jim Thomas, assistant strength and conditioning coach Rose Baker, and assistant athletic trainer Chris Melton after the players went to sleep a couple nights before the national quarterfinal match at Boston College last Thanksgiving weekend. The staff stayed up until 1 a.m. secretly filming a parodied, lip-synched music video to Taio Cruz's hit "Break Your Heart." The 5-minute spoof had Griffin as lead rapper in sunglasses and a skull cap. It had Thomas and Melton as fawning woman wearing hilarious outfits. And it had the players rolling on their hotel's floor the following day, the eve of the biggest match they'd ever played.
"They would honestly do anything to lighten us up," Martinez said, still laughing over the video after practice Tuesday. "We were just a family. We felt so tight."
Deines, whom Gallimore has said is one of the most technically sound players she's ever recruited to UW, almost didn't come here. She wanted to get away from her native Seattle suburb of Issaquah coming out of high school and play collegiately out of state.
"I reluctantly came on my one unofficial visit. I was dragging my heels getting here," Deines said Tuesday. "Then when I got here I thought, `Oh my God! How did I almost overlook this place?'"
Tears began forming in the senior midfielder's eyes as she stood in her purple Huskies uniform, at the edge of the practice field on which she and her classmates have spent so many productive hours training.
"I wouldn't trade these four years for anything," she said. "I wouldn't trade the experience we've all had together.
"I'm just so blessed for this experience."