Tuesday, November 16, 2010
By NICHOLAS MURRAY
A little over 24 hours after pulling off one of the bigger upsets of the opening weekend of the NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament, University of Washington midfielder Jane Mitchell still couldn’t quite believe it.
“I don’t think so, not quite yet,” Mitchell told USLSoccer.com by phone. “It hasn’t quite worn off. I think that we all were pretty anxious for it to be over, but excited because we all thought we had a really good chance of winning because we have such a good goalie. We knew that (Jorde LaFontaine-Kussman) was going to pull it through and save another one, so we were just waiting to know we won.”
LaFontaine-Kussman made 13 saves in regulation and a pair of saves in a penalty shootout to help the Huskies upset No.2 Portland and move into the Round of 16 against UC-Irvine this Saturday. For Mitchell, who spent this summer with the W-League’s Seattle Sounders, and her teammates the victory was a big step for the Huskies program.
“It’s kind of unreal right now, because the last two years we’ve only ever made it to the second round and got knocked out,” Mitchell said. “Now this is a completely new feeling. I don’t know what to do with it yet, I’m just excited that we get to keep going and spend more time with my teammates and we get to play together for a little longer.”
The native of San Diego came into her own for the Huskies in 2009 when she was named the team’s most-improved player, but the midfielder has played an important role in her senior season as a ball-winner in the center of the park, her ability to read the game proving crucial.
Mitchell attributes that ability to the time she spent watching games as a child with her father Art. While she only began playing soccer at the age of nine, both Mitchell and her father, himself a big soccer fan, would get up as early as 5 a.m. on the Pacific coast to watch English Premier League games. Mitchell says the amount of games she watched, and the coaching she got from Paul Currie at club team the San Diego Surf, was important to her development as a player.
Also important was the experience she got while playing for the Sounders this summer. Playing alongside more experienced teammates, Mitchell said she became a more confident player through watching players like Justi Baumgardt.
“She was very helpful to me,” Mitchell said “Just watching her play when she has two or three kids, she’s still so great and so confident in her ability to play and always working hard on and off the ball. Watching her play was a big part of why I’ve started playing better after playing with the Sounders.”
That boost in confidence was reinforced by Mitchell’s other Sounders teammates.
“They told me to go out and be yourself, do what you need to do,” Mitchell said. “Don’t be afraid of anything. I think that was the biggest thing I learned from them, to not be scared of doing what you need to do. I think that was one of the hardest things coming to college and then learning in the Sounders’ environment I think helped me get over that fear of everything around you, playing without fear, without worrying what’s going on.”
That confidence was a key factor in the Huskies upset of the Pilots. Mitchell assisted on McKenna Waitley’s opening goal in the 29th minute, and while the Pioneers hit back quickly through Sophie Schmidt, herself an alum of the Portland Timbers’ W-League team, the Huskies were able to hold on throughout the remainder of regulation and overtime to force a shootout.
“One of the biggest things that (Huskies coach) Lesle (Gallimore) was telling us before the game was to get stuck in to them,” Mitchell said. “There was a lot of emotion surrounding playing Portland, so she said to try and channel that emotion into focus and composure and play the way we know how to play, even in the circumstances when they were trying to pressure us. I mean, they’re a really good team, and just trying to contain them, get in hard on them and disrupt what they wanted to do and do what we wanted to do instead.”
The Huskies hit the road again on Saturday when the face the Anteaters, who themselves earned an upset with victory against No.21 Wake Forest in the Round of 32. But with the Huskies just two wins away from the College Cup semifinals, Mitchell said the team isn’t going to get ahead of itself before this weekend.
That said, after this weekend’s victory it is nice to dream a little.
“That would be amazing,” Mitchell said of the chance to reach the Final Four. “We’re trying to focus on this next weekend, and then we’ll see what happens.”