By David Krueger Herald Writer
This season was pretty much the opposite of how Archbishop Murphy center back Nick Ulowetz thought his final soccer season for the Wildcats could go.
Ulowetz is living out every high school athlete’s worst nightmare: getting injured and missing his senior year.
However, the senior who has committed to — and should be healed in time to play soccer for — Gonzaga University is still making the most out of his final year on the Wildcats, serving as a team captain and helping his team out from the sidelines of every Archbishop Murphy practice and game.
“I think it’s one of the biggest fears of a senior. All our seniors talk about that,” said Wildcats head coach Mike Bartley. “They all worry about that because there’s no tomorrow if they get hurt. That’s probably the worst part of the whole deal. But I think Nick’s taken a positive out of this and being a leader with the kids.”
Bartley praises his senior, who spent this past Sunday getting fitted for prom, for maintaining a positive attitude. He kept Ulowetz as a team captain even though he won’t be able to play this season.
“You can tell he’s sad and he’s disappointed but at the same time it’s not in his nature not to be upbeat,” Bartley said. “He still jokes with the guys and he’s positive. We all just found out. We’re all in a little bit of shock, as a group. We’re all trying to work through that the best we can. The thing I’m proudest about is he’s staying focused and helping the team progress. He’s learning from the adversity and he’ll grow from that.”
Ulowetz was injured five minutes into the Wildcats’ second game of the season, a 6-0 win over White River on March 15. While several players were going up for a corner kick, Ulowetz came down weird on his right ankle.
Moments later the White River goal keeper landed right on it.
“When it happened it hurt. I didn’t know what was wrong with it but I wanted to go in and play,” Ulowetz said. “But they wouldn’t let me.”
Ulowetz spent the rest of the game icing his injury. After a couple weeks it was still hurting so he went to the doctor for X-rays and an MRI, which revealed a Grade-3 sprain with ligament damage and a stress fracture.
Which meant Ulowetz’s season, and high school career, was over.
“I’ve never sat out a game because of an injury in high school so this is new for me,” Ulowetz said. “It’s painful but I’m getting better.”
Bartley decided to keep Ulowetz as a captain because of the senior’s leadership and dedication to the team. Ulowetz constantly deflects attention and praise to his Archbishop Murphy teammates such as Jalen Crisler, Cobi Weyers and Josh Bartley.
“My other captains Jalen Crisler, Cobi Weyers are just doing phenomenal right now,” Ulowetz said. “They’re doing great and leading the team.”
As a captain, Ulowetz had the awkward task of helping decide which Wildcat would take his place in a recent captain’s meeting.
“He’s a very positive person, well liked among the team and is a great leader. He’s still taking on that captain role even though he’s injured,” Bartley said. “He’s in the captains’ meeting. One of the toughest things we had to do this week was talk to Nick about who should be in his spot.
“You don’t replace Nick Ulowetz. I wouldn’t even want to put that pressure on the person playing that position. That’s not fair to them. Nick’s all-state. You just ask them to do their best and we’ll do our best as a team.”
The senior said he is really honored and thankful to still be a captain for the Wildcats.
“I’m a captain still,” Ulowetz said. “Even if I won’t be able to lead on the field I’ll lead on the sidelines. It means a lot to me. Bartley’s been great about it. He’s letting me keep my role as captain.”
Ulowetz said he’s used to being able to see the whole field while standing back and surveying the team on defense. But the sideline view gives him a new perspective of the field.
“I can see everything,” Ulowetz said. “Usually I’m in the backline so I can see the whole field. From the sidelines I can see everything.”
Archbishop Murphy finished the regular season with an overall record of 13-2-1 (and a record of 10-2 in Cascade Conference play). The Wildcats will be the conference’s No. 2 seed in the upcoming 2A District 1/2 tournament.
Bartley hopes that while on the sideline he can take Ulowetz and “make him more like a coach.” In his second year coaching Archbishop Murphy the Wildcats have only lost two league games under Bartley’s tutelage.
“Nick was a big part of that,” he said. “When I lost Nick I was in a bit of a panic mode. I don’t have another center back of that caliber. We just decided we’re going to go with youth.”
Even though he can’t physically play soccer now, Ulowetz is expected to make a full recovery in time to play for Gonzaga next season. He’s expected to make a full recovery and be out of a cast and walking boot by mid-June.
In the meantime he’ll continue to help his team as much as he can.
And, of course, there’s always prom.
“It was different,” Ulowetz said of wearing a cast with a suit. “Hoping to get the cast off for two days and wear a boot so I can go to prom nice and normal and then put the cast back on.”