Photo by University of Washington Athletics
By RYAN TOLMICH
Fresh off the most successful season in team history, the Washington Huskies enter the 2014 season with something unseen in recent campaigns: expectations.
After climbing as high as third in the country last time out, the Huskies enter this season knowing what it takes to win. Having experienced a 15-game winning streak, a season-rattling injury and an Elite 8 appearance, head coach Jamie Clark has seen his team mature through a lot, both good and bad.
“I think going on those sort of runs takes winning on your bad days, because everyone has them,” Clark said. “The key is that every good team wins on their good days, but it’s the tough teams that win on their bad days.”
One of the Huskies’ worst days came in the fourth game of the 2013 campaign, which saw star goalkeeper Spencer Richey suffer a broken leg against UConn. Richey, now back as a fifth-year senior captain, returns as one of the team’s biggest leaders, both on and off the field.
“He’s got the pulse of the team,” Clark said of his star goalkeeper. “He knows how things go. Nothing’s going to phase him, no game’s too big. We’re just very confident with him back there. We just feel fortunate.
“The time away has allowed him to do a lot of work in the weight room and has become a far better and stronger athlete than he’s ever been before. You can tell. He looks fantastic right now.”
Despite being recognized on the preseason MAC Hermann Trophy watch list, Clark insists Richey will share time with Ryan Herman, who filled in for Richey last season. Herman, a redshirt junior out of the Seattle Sounders academy, allowed just 16 goals in 21 appearances last season.
“We have an embarrassment of riches in the goalkeeper position,” Clark said on his goalkeeper situation, “but you’d have it no other way.”
Richey’s return sees the Seattle product recognized on the Hermann Trophy watch list, where he is joined by teammate Cristian Roldan.
Roldan, a midfielder out of Pico Rivera, Calif., enters his sophomore campaign having contributed a team-leading seven goals to go with five assists last time out. Described as an “ultimate winner” by his head coach, Roldan is expected to emerge as one of the more electric attacking threats in the country.
“You don’t find many attacking guys with the mindset that he has,” Clark said of his midfielder. “He just loves to get into one-on-one battles and, if he gets into them, he usually comes out with the ball or in a goalscoring situation. He’s a fantastic player and the sort of guy that you can lean on in the best or worst times.”
In addition to Richey and Roldan, the Huskies see the return of three more of the team’s top five scorers in Josh Heard, Mason Robertson and Darwin Jones, who combined for 18 goals in 2013.
“I think every one of those three, and Roldan to make it four, should score 10 goals this season,” Clark said. “Darwin is capable of scoring the special goals, which are fun to watch, and he can beat guys at will and he strikes an incredible ball with both feet… Mason is an incredibly good box finisher. He’s great in the air. He strikes clean balls. He gets himself in and around the box.
“Heard, he’s one of those opportunistic guys that’s there at the right times. Right when you forget about him is when he’s there at the back post to score tap-ins and little goals. They all score different ways, so it’s fun to know that you aren’t one dimensional.”
The Huskies will also look for production from redshirt freshman forward Danny Gavin and true freshman midfielder Henry Wingo, both players that Clark believes can make a real impact despite their inexperience.
“Danny Gavin scored a lot of goals for us this spring,” Clark said. “He scored in every single game we played in and on our international trip he scored another handful of goals. He’s got a real chance. He’s opportunistic. It’s going to be hard for him to play enough minutes, if we stay injury free, to really light it on fire, but he’s got a chance because he’s very opportunistic.
“Henry Wingo, I’m not sure if he’s naturally a goalscorer, but he’s a guy that will find himself on the score sheet with either goals or assists.”
The Huskies are sure to have that depth tested throughout their navigation of the 2014 seasons, with visits from UConn, Seattle and Penn highlighting the non-conference schedule. However, as expected, the Huskies biggest challenges will come in the always-competitive Pac-12, which enters the 2014 season with the Huskies, UCLA and Cal all ranked in the top 10.
The Huskies open the conference campaign with a pair of early October visits from Cal and No. 20 Stanford. While the need for results is alway apparent, Clark understands that the competitiveness of the conference means that each and every game will be a struggle.
“Games are games,” Clark said. “You walk in, you play and you prepare properly and you walk out with a result, hopefully. The key is going to be to make sure we get results in those games. Because we’re at home, I don’t think it’s going to make it much easier for us. They both are tough games.
“I think the Pac-12 is going to be awfully challenging. Gone are the days, in my mind, when someone goes unblemished in the conference schedule.”
Regardless of wins, losses, rankings or championships, Clark is just looking forward to seeing his side play up to their capabilities, which the fourth-year head coach defines as a bit more attack-minded as the Huskies enter the realm of the country’s elite.
“We’re heading into a change in direction in terms of being a very gritty, determined team who grinds out victories to being a more up-tempo team, and that’s a tricky transition,” Clark said. “If we can do it properly and without taking any steps backwards, I’m going to be very happy and it will set us up for a lot of good years to come and, I think, we’ll have a lot of success doing so.
“It’s very grey, in terms of what success is, but I think our guys will know where we are.”
The Huskies open their season Friday with a visit to in-state rival Gonzaga.