When the Gonzaga University men’s soccer team hits the pitch at Luger Field in Spokane, an observer can be forgiven for thinking he or she is attending an Archbishop Murphy High School reunion.
The Bulldogs began West Coast Conference play the past weekend, and they did so with three graduates of Archbishop Murphy — Jalen Crisler, Nick Ulowetz and Brady Henderson — in the starting lineup.
“At the moment they’re all starters, which is pretty unusual I would think,” Gonzaga coach Einar Thorarinsson said. “It’s a very unique story, having three from the same high school.”
Crisler and Ulowetz, both 2013 graduates of Archbishop Murphy, are seniors for the Bulldogs. Crisler marshals the defense as a center back and co-captain, while Ulowetz serves as the target man at center forward. Henderson, from the Archbishop Murphy class of 2016, is a redshirt freshman who lines up at right back.
All of which can make one think he or she is watching the Wildcats instead of the Bulldogs.
“When all three of us are on the field together we know where one another is going to be,” Crisler said about playing with his fellow Archbishop Murphy grads. “We have good chemistry.”
Considering how familiar they are with one another, having that chemistry is not a surprise.
Crisler and Ulowetz in particular have spent a lifetime together, having played on the same soccer teams since they were in kindergarten. They played together at St. Mary Magdalen grade school in Everett before arriving at Archbishop Murphy, and they were teammates with the Northwest Nationals club team throughout their youth careers.
But when it came time to choose colleges, it was never the plan for both to end up at Gonzaga.
“I was committed to another school, then a couple days before signing day I switched because a spot opened up for me here,” Ulowetz explained.
Said Crisler: “For me it was between Seattle University and Gonzaga, and I waited until the last weekend to decide. I attended a weekend here and I liked it, then after I committed I found out about Nick. So [the Archbishop Murphy connection] didn’t influence my decision, but it was cool the way it worked out.”
Both Crisler and Ulowetz have developed into key players for the Bulldogs.
Crisler, a towering defender at 6-foot-4, was named first-team All-WCC last season when he started 16 of Gonzaga’s 18 games and finished with three goals, despite being positioned at the back. He was also WCC All-Academic.
”He’s super composed, strong in the air, able to ping a ball 70 yards accurately,” Ulowetz said of Crisler. “He’s one of our lead guys, you know he’s going to be solid at the back every game, you can count on him to get the job done.”
Ulowetz has had more of a winding path during his Gonzaga career. Originally recruited as a defender, he was switched to forward last year where his 6-foot-3 frame would be useful for winning headers and holding the ball up. He responded by leading the Bulldogs with five goals in 2016. He also was honorable mention WCC All-Academic.
“He’s a big, strong target, someone who can hold the ball up for us and get on the end of crosses,” Crisler said of Ulowetz. “That’s what you hope for from a striker.”
Henderson may be from a different vintage of Archbishop Murphy soccer, but he did have one season of overlap for the Wildcats when Crisler and Ulowetz were seniors and Henderson was a freshman. Henderson and Crisler were familiar from being involved in the same youth group, while Henderson also received some informal coaching from Crisler and Ulowetz when the older pair would come back and help guide the Wildcats once their college year was over.
“[Having players at Gonzaga from Archbishop Murphy] wasn’t something I was thinking of as a pro or con,” Henderson said of choosing to play for the Bulldogs. “But it was a nice thing to have after I decided to commit to Gonzaga.”
Said Crisler about Henderson: “He’s really stepped up this year. He’s been a utility guy, but he’s found his position at right back. He has so much composure on the ball, and he’s reliable on the right as a one-on-one defender. He’s someone I can trust.”
The Archbishop Murphy trio is hoping to help Gonzaga have its first winning season since 2013. The Bulldogs have gotten incrementally better each year Crisler and Ulowetz have been on the team, going 5-12-1 in 2014, 7-10-1 in 2015 and 8-8-2 in 2016. So far this season Gonzaga is 6-4-1 after losing its WCC opener 1-0 Saturday against Saint Mary’s. Crisler and Ulowetz have been regular starters, each recording a goal and two assists, while Henderson moved into the starting lineup midway through the non-conference schedule.
“I definitely think this season can be something special,” Crisler said. “That’s not to take anything away from past teams, we had great leaders and teammates in the past. But the things we learned from each other are helping this year. Last year didn’t finish the way we hoped, and this year we’re hoping for a different outcome. We’re hoping we can get a WCC championship and make it to the NCAA tournament.”
And if they do, it will be in large part because of the Bulldogs’ Archbishop Murphy connection.
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