Pete Fewing, who returned to coach Seattle U men’s soccer in 2012, has guided the Redhawks to a 16-3-0 record and a top-10 national ranking heading into this weekend’s WAC tournament.
The members of the Seattle University men’s soccer team were openly skeptical of coach Pete Fewing’s grand plans, at least at first.
Never one for artificial ceilings, Fewing begins every season with a lofty goal: Winning the national championship. Given that the Redhawks won just three matches during his first year back at the helm in 2012, it’s understandable that such ambition was initially met with murmurs and eye rolls.
“It was tough to believe in that our first year, winning as little as we did,” senior forward Michael Roberts said. “But going into our second year, we started winning games.”
In Year 2, SU starting 0-6-1 before ripping off 12 straight wins. It upset powerhouse Creighton for its first Division I NCAA tournament win since 1964 and tested itself against future-pro-laden UW in the second round. After a step back in 2014, this year’s squad is closer to realizing Fewing’s aspirations than ever before.
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With a record of 16-3-0, Seattle is tied with Creighton for the most wins in Division I. With eye-catching victories over Northwestern, Dartmouth and crosstown rival Washington, SU has crept into the Top 10 of the RPI rankings for the first time in school history.
Heading into this weekend’s WAC tournament, the top-seeded Redhawks are ranked No. 9 in the RPI and 15th in the coaches’ poll.
“Once you get the momentum, you think that for a little bit, you’re invincible and you can go as far as you want to,” said Roberts, referencing the lengthy win streak during that second-season breakthrough. “That feeling is replicated this year.”
Seattle University has already won a pair of men’s soccer national championships, Fewing is quick to point out, in 1997 at the NAIA level and in 2004 at Division II. Up until 2005, Fewing was the program’s first, and only, full-time coach.
“I started here in 1988 and this was a parking lot,” said Fewing, gesturing with a sweeping arm at SU’s sparkling and cozy Championship Field. “We were on grass up a few blocks. I have mowed the field and painted goals.”
The details of the initial breakup are hazy – and probably irrelevant – now, something about firing assistant coaches and Fewing resigning in a huff after the 2005 season. Fewing, as is his specialty, is able to quickly redirect the conversation back to the current team.
“It’s not the story of redemption, it’s the story of reconciliation,” Fewing said.
Last season was a letdown, coming on the back of the Creighton upset. SU finished 11-5-3, losing to sixth-seeded Cal State Bakersfield in the conference semis.
“We had a decent season,” Roberts said. “But all of us knew that it wasn’t exactly what we wanted. We wanted to do a lot better than that.”
These Redhawks are led by their seniors but sprinkled with underclassmen. Sophomore forward David Olsen leads the team with 13 goals. Senior Hamza Haddadi is second with eight despite missing eight games due to injury, and Roberts is right on his heels with seven. Junior Kyle Bjornethun has started every game on the back line, flanked by a pair of freshman, and Fewing refers to Cameron Rohani “our Ozzie” after Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso.
“They’re buying in now,” Fewing said. “The other thing that’s different is that we’ve got talent now.”
It’s hard to pinpoint why, exactly, it’s so much easier for a school like Seattle University to rise so quickly through the men’s soccer ranks than it is in just about any other sport. See also: Caleb Porter’s University of Akron or the 2006 national champion UC Santa Barbara Gauchos.
“That’s a great question, because I’ve used that analogy,” Fewing said. “Caleb Porter goes to Akron and they’re national champs. I have a different job than (SU men’s basketball coach) Cameron Dollar. To build something into a Kentucky or Duke, it’s a very different animal.”
SU is not quite there yet. Fewing says the goal is to be a consistent top-10 team with standing room-only crowds at every home game. He envisions expanding the capacity, improving the facility, building a sustainable powerhouse.
“You thought I was crazy,” Fewing says suddenly with familiar mischief in his eye, flashing back to his annual preseason national championship prediction.
There’s still a ways to go, but nobody doubts Fewing’s Redhawks now — least of all his players.