1991 – Around the World and Close to Home
A United Nations coalition force repels Iraq from its invasion of Kuwait six months earlier, the USSR begins dismantling after several former Soviet republics independence, Queen’s Freddie Mercury succumbs to AIDS, and the Internet is made available for unrestricted commercial use, with over 1 million computers signing-on. In Washington, Nirvana’s Nevermind effectively starts the Grunge era with an album release party at Seattle’s Rebar, Seattle Art Museum opens its downtown location, Winslow changes its name to Bainbridge Island, and the Washington Huskies go 11-0 during the regular season en route to a shared national championship.
Washington Women Rule
Integral to the formative phase of the U.S. National Team program, Washington’s women are, if anything, more prominent when the first phase culminates in a world championship. Four young women from Puget Sound wore the national colors that November night in Canton, China, and then celebrated that victory into the wee hours.
It was a struggle that only a close circle could possibly appreciate. The players were compensated by a mere pittance while sacrificing their day job careers. Only pockets of U.S. media share news of that first FIFA Women’s World Cup, and the team returns home to precious little fanfare.
"We come home and there's nothing - no excitement, no acknowledgment, no respect," observes Michelle Akers-Stahl following the team's return to New York. "There were about seven people there," adding, "We didn't do it for others. We did it for ourselves. If we got frustrated about that every time it happened, we wouldn't be happy playing."
"It is kind of tough to come home and have people you went to high school with ask what you've been doing lately,"says Shannon Higgins. "I play because I love the game. I guess if we get disappointed, it's because we want other people to love the game as much as we do. We were received as one of the top teams (in China). Other countries geared up to play the United States. They gave us a lot of respect."
But three weeks later, a local homecoming is held for Akers-Stahl, Amy Allmann, Lori Henry and Higgins – and hundreds of adoring fans squeezed in shoulder to shoulder. For all intents and purposes, it’s the retirement party for the latter three. Akers, whose two goals in the final and 10 altogether lift her into some limelight, will play another nine years.
It is the beginning, and often those whose sweat and toil take place in breaking new ground are not around to bathe in the applause when the capstone is applied.
Each of Washington’s World Cup Four had been forced to go elsewhere in the Eighties to play for college scholarships. By 1991, that changes. Both the University of Washington and Gonzaga begin play, joining Washington State among Division I. It takes the Huskies only a couple weeks to find their way into the national rankings. Statewide, there are now a total of 11 varsity collegiate programs. Those who elect to stay home once more prove quite formidable.
Pacific Lutheran continues to be one of the most powerful programs in the state, at any level, and once again rules NAIA. The Lutes of Colleen Hacker win their third national title in four seasons while playing in four straight finals (they also tied both Washington and Portland).