Huskies, Energized by 9th Life, Host NCAA Opener
Nov. 8, 2012
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE -- This week, the Dawgs feel more like cats.
See, Washington (10-7-3) is on something of a ninth life entering Friday night's NCAA tournament opener against hard-pressing, recently hot Auburn (12-10-1).
A tie against Oregon State and then a galling loss last weekend at Washington State left the Huskies fearing they were out of the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive fall.
Yet an RPI ranking of 32 from playing in the ultra-competitive Pac-12 and a non-conference schedule that included five NCAA tournament teams, three conference champions (Colgate, LaSalle and Utah State) and a victory over recent national champion Notre Dame got UW not only into the 64-team derby - but as an unexpected host in round one.
"It definitely is a ninth life," said coach Lesle Gallimore, who has now led the Huskies to each of their 12 NCAA tournament appearances all time.
"We know we are capable. We have a belief in the way we play and the way we want to play. Once you get into the tournament it's that sigh of relief that, `OK, we did it.' Now, it's a clean slate for everybody."
The winner of Friday's 7 p.m. match at Husky Soccer Stadium, where UW has lost just once in eight games this season, advances to the second round meet the winner of this weekend's Brigham Young-Utah State tournament game.
"When the news came out (Monday) that we were in the tournament - and that we were getting to host - we were like, "NO WAY!'" leading scorer Lindsay Elston said. "To host, I mean, it's going to be awesome.
"I can't wait!"
The Huskies' last NCAA tournament in 2010 spawned a thrilling run that didn't end until the Elite Eight. Gallimore thinks this year's team - behind the pressing Elston, gritty, fifth-year senior goalkeeper Kari Davidson and a mentality of lock-down defense flowing from the front through back lines - could push just as far. Or farther.
"This team is as good as any team I have ever coached," Gallimore said. "We are capable of making a playoff run, there is no doubt about it."
The Huskies feel that way because of defense-first mentality that tends to keep them in every game. The Huskies didn't allow more than a single goal in any of its first eight matches this season while starting 7-0-1. It allowed more than two goals just twice this season - in a 3-1 loss at BYU, the top seed that is sitting in Washington's tournament bracket, and in a loss at Stanford on Oct. 21.
An unforgiving, defense-first style tends to succeed in the taut, chilly, raw environment of NCAA tournament games.
"Defending is something that we pride ourselves in. That is a defining feature of Washington soccer," senior defender-midfielder Faustine Dufka said. "We've definitely improved since the beginning of the season. And it's not just the back line. It's everyone, as a team, everywhere on the field."
Even though Elston is a UW's scorer, she piped in that defense "is what we pride ourselves on." Auburn finished second in the Southeastern Conference's West division with a league record of 7-6-0. The Tigers had a RPI of 48, boosted by upsets of Tennessee and Texas A&M in the SEC tournament. They eventually lost to Florida in the SEC championship game.
The Huskies and Tigers met in the NCAA tournament in 2004, with Washington going to Alabama and beating Auburn.
Now the Tigers come to Seattle to face some recharged, excited Huskies. "We are so excited. We couldn't be in a better position right now," said Davidson, who is extra pumped that her stellar senior season and remarkable UW career (http://www.gohuskies.com/sports/w-soccer/spec-rel/061312aab.html) are continuing.
"Yeah, to be playing at home after we thought that was our last home game (two weeks ago) - feeling pretty certain that was our last home game - feels kind of like I've felt this entire year. Having this gift of a fifth year, and having this gift of another home game.
"It's like, YAY! It's not over yet."