Puyallup, WA -- For the first time since 2001, the University of Washington Huskies have won the Northwest Division in back-to-back years. They held off a flurry of late 4th quarter goals from the Oregon State Beavers to win 9-6 in the championship game and punch their ticket to the Collegiate Club National Championships in Pittsburgh, PA next month.
The Huskies finish the regular season 10-0 in division play, 15-7-1 overall and will hold the #7 seed when they play in Pittsburgh, May 5-7.
The Huskies have been nothing short of spectacular all season. Playing with a defense-first mentality led by first year goalie, Elizabeth Lipps (#1, Menlo Park, CA) and center defenders, Jalene Weatherholt (#17, San Jose, CA) and Kellie MacPhee (#2 Encinitas, CA), the Huskies have only allowed 30 goals in 10 games in the division while racking up 136 on their opponents. The offense has been absolutely dominate with first year players, Lauren Hickey (#10, Palos Verdes, CA) and Karli Stevenson (#4, Tacoma, WA), and second year offensive stand-out, Mary Elizabeth Ward (#6, San Rafael, CA) once again leading in assists.
The Dawgs all-around strong performance demonstrates the amount of depth on the team with additional contributions coming from first year players, Maddie Joy (#14 Puyallup WA), Jacqueline Li (#3, Mercer Island, WA), Katie Rogers (Tustin, CA), and Margaret Lazzarini (#15, San Marino, CA), as well as senior and co-captain, Lacy Chun (#11, Hau'ula, HI).
"This is one of the deepest teams I have had the privilege to coach," said head coach, Rudy Ramirez after the championship win. "It's amazing watching this group play with their team first mentality. Once an opponent thinks they figured something out on them, someone else is there to open things up on offense or shut down a player on defense. It's really remarkable what they are capable of."
"I'm really proud of this team for all of the hard work they've put in this year, and it's great to see it paying off," were the words of Kellie MacPhee after the tournament. "We're looking forward to heading to Pittsburgh and challenging ourselves against some of the best teams in the country."
The Huskies started the championships tournament by having to play their own, #5 Washington B, after a last minute schedule change reduced the division to 7 teams. It was a difficult situation for the teams to end up playing each other first round, but after a slow first half, the offense opened up in the third to secure a 11-1 win for Washington A. Mary-Elizabeth Ward and Karli Stevenson led the team with 3 goals each followed by 1 from everyone else on the roster.
Next up for the Huskies would be their semifinal match against #4 Oregon B. The Huskies had previously beat them, 14-4 and 21-1, but weren't leaving anything to chance; and were especially fired up after Oregon B defeated Washington B. The Huskies went into defense and counterattack mode right away, converting 3 goals off the counter in the first 5 possessions; 1 each by Stevenson, Ward and Lacy Chun. It didn't get much easier for the Ducks. In the second quarter, Washington added another 6 to Oregon B's 1. The one goal would mark the only score for Oregon B in the match as the Huskies went on to win 17-1. It would be the best offensive performance by Stevenson in the season so far, as she tallied 5 assists and 10 goals. With the win, the Huskies secured their spot in the Championship game.
Washington expected to play Oregon A, who's only loss of the season was to Washington A, 12-3. But to everyone's surprise the Ducks came up against a tough and ready Oregon State team who started off 3-0 in the first quarter. After a back and forth match, the Ducks were up 6-5 with 20 seconds left, when an aggressive Oregon State defense came up and sunk the ball on the goalie to result in a 5-meter penalty and a tied score leading to two periods of overtime. Oregon State would emerge victorious as they converted three more goals to win 9-6 to earn their place in the championship game. This would mark the first time the Ducks would not be in the Northwest Division Championship since 2004.
The Huskies had previously beat the Beavers 10-4 and 14-4. But since they were expecting to play Oregon A, Washington had to scramble quickly to redo their game plan against a surging Oregon State team on a hot streak.
But once again, Washington doubled down on what has been so successful for them all season, their defense. The Huskies scored off the counterattack within the first 30 seconds of the match. But Oregon State lead scorer, Rachel Haney, answered back with a minute to go in the first quarter marking it even. But once again, the depth of the team showed, when usual defensive standout, Maddie Joy playing in front of her hometown crowd, switched gears and converted the first two goals for the Huskies. The Huskies found themselves in early trouble as they had to play down getting 2 ejections called against them in the final 90 seconds of the quarter. But once again Washington's defense shutdown the pair of power plays.
Another solid defensive performance in the 2nd quarter helped jolt the offense, as Kellie MacPhee scored off a post-in at center and Karli Stevenson scored off a power play in the final seconds of the quarter. The Huskies entered the half, 4-1.
Fired up from the first half, the Huskies began an all-out offensive blitz, as primary center, Lauren Hickey, fired 3 goals from center in 90 seconds going up, 7-1. However, ejection trouble continued to plague Washington as they received two more kick-outs against them; but once again to no conversion for the Beavers. Rachel Haney of Oregon State, converted her 2nd goal to end the 3rd quarter 7-2.
But what looked like an all but assured win for the Huskies, was less certain in the 4th quarter as a errant shot from outside hit Hickey in the face as she was shot blocking. The shot downed Hickey and resulted in an Oregon State player picking it up from her and throwing it in the open cage as goalie, Lizzy Lipps, and center defender, Jalene Weatherholt, checked to see if she was ok. Once again the Huskies had to defend against two more back-to-back ejections and once again the Beavers came up empty handed. After a time out was called by coach Ramirez to calm the team down and get them refocused, the Huskies converted off a set play, bringing the score 8-3. But a timeout and conversion by Oregon State brought the score to 8-4. Another ejection against the Huskies resulted in the first power play conversion of the match for the Beavers bringing it to 8-5 with a 1:29 left to play. Three goals to score with less than 90 seconds to go, is a tall order, but don't tell that to the Beavers, who converted yet another goal 30 seconds later to bring the total to 8-6. The Huskies called another timeout to confirm the final minute game plan which was to spread it out and absorb the overly-aggressive defense. The plan paid off, as the Beavers completely ignored a wide-open Mary Elizabeth Ward who sealed the Huskies win with another goal, marking the final tally, 9-6. And just like that, the Huskies were going back to Nationals!
The two unsung heroes of the match were goalie, Elizabeth Lipps, and center defender, Jalene Weatherholt. Lipps had 15 saves and two assists in the game, to conclude a weekend with 33 saves, six assists, four steals and only eight goals allowed. Weatherholt, was absolutely dominant in center, allowing one goal all weekend from 2 meters.
The end of the match found the Huskies speechless. Most likely a little disappointed they let Oregon State comeback, but still relived to do what they haven't been able to do in 16 years, win back-to-back titles in the Northwest Division and get to Nationals.
After the match, captain and outgoing senior, Lacy Chun, reflected upon the year and said, "Winning the division is another amazing milestone for our team, but gaining lifetime friendships and growing with one another is our greatest accomplishment this season. It inspires me everyday to see my teammates excel in and out of the pool, and I know how much heart they put into their work. I'm ecstatic, to head to Nationals one more time and end my time at UW, playing with some of the best people I've met. I know they'll continue to succeed beyond this season."
It seems to be the common theme on the team: hard work and great camaraderie.
"We have put in so much work this season," said Jalene Weatherholt. "Not for the title or for number of wins, but have done so for each other. Our team dynamic and genuine friendships are what led this program to be where it is today."
The Huskies are looking to secure a top 4 finish at the Collegiate Club National Championships when they take place next month May 5-7 in Pittsburgh, PA. In the mean time they will be continuing to work hard the next few weeks as well as hold several fundraisers to make the necessary $10,000 to get to the tournament. You can help by making a contribution online of any amount.
Stay tuned for the next post on the Washington B team's performance at the tournament and the amazing season they had.