Around the World and Close to Home
Terrorists hijack four airliners and crash two into New York’s World Trade Center and other into the Pentagon U.S., British forces launch attacks on terrorist camps in Afghanistan and the Taliban government collapses within two months. Inheriting a budget surplus, new President George W. Bush signs the biggest tax-cut laws in 20 years, and mailings containing deadly anthrax result in deaths of several postal workers. The Seattle Sonics are sold to Starbucks founder Howard Schultz, the Seattle Mariners tie a league record with 116 wins, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake jolts Seattle and Puget Sound and causes more than $1 billion in damage, and after 85 years Boeing moves its headquarters to Chicago.
Arriving Late, Coming on Strong
Throughout the sporting world, the game can lurch forward from time to time. Sometimes it’s a special, single player or team raising the game. But just as often advancement is spurred on by teams or players battling one another for supremacy over a city, league or region.
The initial rise of collegiate women’s soccer in the state was borne from a local rivalry between Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran. Ten years after the Lutes’ third NAIA championship, the long-awaited arrival on the scene of Seattle Pacific, as well as the shift in affiliations from NAIA to NCAA Divisions II and III, served as a significant booster.
In the eight seasons preceding 2001, just three D2 an D3 Washington women’s programs participated in a national tournament. In the eight seasons from 2001-2008, there was a total of 20 teams reaching the postseason, culminating in SPU becoming the state’s first women’s program to lift an NCAA trophy.
Long regarded as a “soccer school,” that is emphasizing the sport rather than shrinking from it, Seattle Pacific’s journey from club to varsity status lasted a quarter-century. The Falcons were competitive as a club in the mid-Seventies, and when SPU added a women’s sport in 1986 to comply with Title IX, soccer seemed a logical choice.
Seattle Pacific, after all, had blazed a trail for many men’s programs around the Northwest. Locally, the Falcons’ Cliff McCrath held the megaphone for the game, lifting the program above the fray in both the media and on the pitch. McCrath also mined resources that allowed his teams to travel nationwide, wear the best of gear and attract top talent. They won a lot of games, not to mention five national championships. But the Falcons had no home, and that was the primary reason no women’s team materialized.
In 1997, Seattle Pacific opened its first permanent home venue, Interbay Stadium. That same year the administration also authored a five-year plan for athletics, identifying women’s soccer as the next intercollegiate program. In early 2000, a start date was set for fall 2001.
Certainly, SPU was late to the parade, 12 other schools had already begun play since the first club program kicked a ball. Still, they quickly began gaining ground. The Falcons approached recently retired U.S. National Team legend Michelle Akers, a close friend of McCrath, to lead the team. When Akers opted to stay in Florida, Seattle Pacific tapped into its own history Bobby Bruch, an alumnus of two championship teams, was chosen as head coach. There would be two scholarships to start and four by 2004.
There was on-campus buzz from the program’s initial announcement through to those first few seasons, and the team proved worthy. Behind Andrea Larsen, an Oklahoma State transfer (she was fiancé to Sonics rookie Desmond Mason), the Falcons contested for a conference championship up to the final week of that first season, won it in 2002 (through 2005) and made the NCAA tournament in Year 3.
They also awakened the neighbors. Soon, Seattle University and Western Washington became regular GNAC contenders and NCAA tournament participants, lifting the level of play in the process and reaching virtual parity with programs throughout the West.