2021 – Around the World and Close to Home
An attempted insurrection results in hundreds invading the U.S. Capitol to protest the loss of Donald Trump to Joe Biden, with one protester killed, briefly interrupting the certification of the election. A COVID-19 vaccine becomes widely available, however a low vaccination rate slows the U.S. recovery. The U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan is marred by the deaths of 13 service members at the Kabul airport. The Tokyo Olympics, postponed by one year, are contested before empty seats due to pandemic concerns. In Washington, a heat wave in June sends temperatures over 100 degrees for three consecutive days, topped by a record 108 at SeaTac Airport. The Seattle Storm wins a fourth WNBA championship behind playoff MVP Breanna Stewart. Climate Pledge Arena opens, and the Seattle Kraken begin their inaugural NHL season.
Height of the Huskies
They would move on to win an even bigger game, but the moment likely seared into the collective memory of Washington Huskies players, coaches and fans must be the penultimate victory. Seconds after an Elite Eight defeat of storied St. Louis, while not exactly a pitch invasion, some friends and family spilled from the record Montlake crowd onto the squishy sod. Never before in Washington’s 60 seasons of play had the Huskies advanced to an NCAA College Cup, and not for lack of trying.
In the following days and weeks, UW coach Jamie Clark would sift through images of that aftermath, plus photos of multiple pregame tailgate gatherings. Clark is a big believer in shared experiences, and this was an advancement shared by everyone from alumni players to bandwagon types.
“Seeing those pictures of those gatherings, different groups from different eras, was one of my favorite memories of that quarterfinal,” said Clark. “Winning that game, the relief and enjoyment with everyone on the field afterward, that was the highlight. It was just so cool.”
Washington had been eliminated in the previous two Elite Eights and three times during Clark’s first 10 seasons. The Huskies would avenge one of those losses by beating Georgetown in the semifinal to reach the title match. That all happened 2800 miles away in Cary, North Carolina, albeit on national TV. Winning big on Montlake was so much more.
At home, Clark could lock eye with his past players, those who had nearly made it to the final four. He knew amongst the throng of 3,629 were Huskies who dated back to the Husky Stadium days of the Seventies and Eighties. A couple past UW coaches were there too.
U-Dub was usually in the hunt for conference and tournament glory 56 of those seasons were winning ones. “There’s many coaches before me who had done an incredible job,” noted Clark, “but somehow, as can happen, an NCAA tournament run always eluded them.”
That tradition combined with the gap in ultimate achievement is part of what appealed to Clark in taking the post. When playing for Stanford, he encountered Dean Wurzberger’s team that won the conference but fell in the first round.
Several other factors have coalesced during the decade. UW has kept many top players in-state, recruited some jewels from beyond the borders, and it has benefitted from the growing strength of the Sounders Academy. The latter sourced the first eight postseason goals, including a pair of Dylan Teves hat tricks. Getting over the tournament hump and into the last eight often requires the extraordinary.
“Some magical moments happened along the way,” affirmed Clark. “It took a special player, Dylan Teves scoring six goals in two games, to allow us to advance. Back-to-back hat tricks just don’t happen in the NCAA tournament.”
“When you’re in three straight Elite Eights, odds are that in one of them things are going to fall your way,” he added. “This was the year that the magic happened at the right moment to win those big games.”
The pandemic played a part, too. When the 2020 season was pushed to spring of 2021, it allowed Clark to rebuild the roster and take momentum into autumn. Ethan Bartlow and Freddy Kleeman were lost in the first 11 picks of the MLS SuperDraft, yet the Huskies were expertly stitched back together for another run to the quarterfinals. The 3-0 loss to Pitt created a hunger that carried over. Between the shared experience successfully battling through adversity, reaching multiple Elite Eights and that hunger, the Huskies were set to go, and they won 11 in a row out of the gate.
Clark believes his team might have won championships in two of the last three seasons. The expectations are now greater. It’s never easy getting to a College Cup, but now that it’s been done by UW, there’s the sense that now there’s a road map. They know what it takes they know how they can navigate the journey. On Montlake there’s not only a team that now knows how to get back there, they believe they will.