NATO admits seven new countries previously aligned with Soviet bloc, the U.S. hands over power to Iraqi interim government, and an Indian Ocean earthquake generates a tsunami that devastates coastal areas of south Asia on Dec. 26, killing over 200,000. In Washington, Christine Gregoire wins the nation’s closest-ever governor’s race by 129 votes after a second recount, the Allen Institute for Brain Science launches, and the Seattle Storm wins its first WNBA championship.
So many twists and turns factor into Seattle University’s sensational run to a championship. The program has yo-yoed among affiliations and the Redhawks’ protagonist and some of his cohorts have been in and out of the game up until this crowning achievement of becoming the state’s first men’s varsity to finish undefeated.
Consider that Seattle U is its fourth iteration, having begun as NCAA Division I, dropped to NAIA – where it won its first national title, in 1997 – and then non-scholarship Division III before rebounding to Division II beginning in 2002.
In fact, SU was in state of NAIA/D3 purgatory and in no position to recruit Bobby McAlister when as a highly-touted graduate of Kennedy High he accepted Washington’s offer in 2000. By the start of 2003, because of knee injuries McAlister had missed more games than he’d played. He even contemplated ending his career. The, however, comes 2004.
Coming off a seven-goal campaign, McAlister reaches that total by the fourth outing. By the end of September, he’s scored 14 goals.
The Redhawks are much more than McAlister. Jeremiah Doyle, the goalkeeper who left Seattle U in 2001 only to return, posts his team’s ninth straight shutout at Simon Fraser. Alex Chursky and Cam Weaver, coming off the bench, are excellent attacking options, and converted midfielder Santa Maria Rivera has slipped seamlessly into the sweeper role.
By mid-October is ranked No. 1 in the nation for the first time at any level and proceed to win the Great Northwest Athletic Conference by completing a sweep of crosstown rival Seattle Pacific, 2-1, thanks to goals from McAlister (his 18th) and Weaver. That ranking also serves as a target on the Redhawks’ backs entering the postseason. No matter.
A McAlister brace sends Seattle U past Cal State Bakersfield, and Chursky’s goal with 3 seconds remaining beats Incarnate Word for a trip to the final four. In the semifinal versus Dowling, SU trails for only the second time this season, and if there’s any wonder whether a halo hovers over the Redhawks, this is it. Adam Jensen nets an 87th-minute equalizer, and McAlister delivers the overtime winner. At that point, says Rivera, “We knew it was destiny.”
Two days later, Seattle University gets a Jensen opener and McAlister closer, taking advantage of a keeper error, to defeat Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, 2-1. Like their NAIA championship seven years before, this is won by a predominantly Washington-grown squad, topped by McAlister, the son of a Sounders legend. McAlister, on the strength of his school- and GNAC-record 22 goals, is voted national player of the year.
Peter Fewing, who is named D2 coach of the year, graciously accepts the award while praising the state’s youth coaches who developed much of his cast. But the championship is far more lasting than any award. “When you win a national championship,” says Fewing, “you have that for the rest of your life."