The big question now is what the Huskies could possibly do for an encore. A first-ever trip to the national semifinals would be a pretty good start. "In years past, that's always something your talk about, but it wasn't so tangible," said senior Kelli Stewart, a midfielder from Mukilteo and Kamiak High School. "Now we know how close we are."
Washington will try to carry over some of the momentum from last winter's memorable postseason run to the 2011 season, which begins tonight with a 7 p.m. home game against BYU.
While head coach Lesle Gallimore is cautioning that this year's Huskies are simply going to put out their best effort and let the chips fall where they may, it's apparent that last season's deep run in the NCAA tournament has UW itching for more.
"It was successful, however, the older players feel like there's some unfinished business," said Gallimore, whose team lost five seniors from last year's 13-9-2 team. "It was a great season, but we could do better. We were on the brink of what could have been a breakthrough season for the Huskies, and I think that's something that sat in the back of their heads as motivation for preparation for this year."
It's somewhat telling that this year's Huskies have adopted a rather transparent slogan: "On a mission." The objective of that mission is unsaid, but it's a good guess that UW would love to take the next step come tournament time.
"There's a lot more excitement because we saw what we're capable of," said Stewart, one of three Huskies with Snohomish County connections. The other two are sophomore defender Lindsey Bos, who played at Archbishop Murphy High School, and sophomore defender/forward Annie Sittauer from Everett High School.
"I think the momentum (of last year's run) will carry over," Stewart continued. "I'm excited to get even further this year."
During one incredible stretch in November, the underdog Huskies blew out Oklahoma, shocked No. 2 overall seed Portland in a penalty-kick shootout and outlasted UC Irvine in double overtime to become one of just eight teams still standing in the postseason. Another gutty performance in Boston put the Huskies on the verge of the Final Four, but a 1-0 overtime loss to host Boston College ended UW's miracle run.
In a span of two weeks, UW soccer put itself back on the map … and left the Huskies wanting more.
"I think there's always going to be a little bit of disappointment" after the way the 2010 season ended, Bos said.
Stewart, who is one of six seniors on this year's team, said the loss to BC stuck with her for much of the offseason.
"It lingered," she said. "It was bittersweet because I was so proud of what we did but also wanted more. Now I'm even more excited for this year to begin."
The new journey begins tonight against unranked BYU, whom Gallimore called "one of the most consistent" programs in the country. UW, ranked 19th by Soccer America, hosts the Cougars in the renovated UW soccer complex.
This year's Huskies, who return their two top scorers and star goalkeeper Jorde LaFontaine-Kussman, aren't sure whether the memorable run in last year's tournament will generate more buzz around the program this year. Gallimore said she'll happily take on any bandwagon fans that want to jump aboard.
"With the World Cup this summer, and soccer being a big deal in Seattle, it hopefully sparks more interest," said Gallimore, who begins her 18th year with the Huskies. "You always want to have more eyes on you. If you're a good program at a good university, like we are here at the University of Washington, you'll take all the attention you can get. … If it means more pressure, great."
If the Huskies start this season with as much excitement as they closed out the 2010 campaign, it might be hard to keep the fans away.
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