There is no soccer shot, no matter how well placed, that UW goalkeeper Sam Fowler thinks should get past him.
He rues every goal allowed, but fortunately for Fowler and the Huskies, very few shots get behind the sophomore, who has helped lead Washington to the NCAA tournament for the fifth straight season.
The Huskies (10-3-0) are the No. 7 overall seed in the tournament and begin play against Grand Canyon (8-1-0), the Western Athletic Conference champion, on Sunday at 1 p.m. (PDT) in Matthews, N.C. (The entire tournament is being played in North Carolina.)
Fowler started as a freshman last year, helping Washington reach the Elite Eight. He led the Pac-12 in goals-against average (0.62) and was named to the College Soccer News All-Freshman Team.
Fowler is saving a higher percentage of shots this season (77.8% compared to 72.4%) and was named to the all-Pac-12 second team. He helped Washington finish second in the Pac-12 in fewest goals allowed.
“Sam has been great back there,” said Washington coach Jamie Clark. “We needed a leader — and I don’t think that has anything to do with age — and he is very confident back there and really keeps guys on their toes.”
Fowler is quick to pass credit “to the entire back line for helping protect the goal,” but when a shot gets through, it’s likely to get stopped.
That Fowler has excelled has not been a surprise. He joined the Sounders Youth Academy when he was 14. He went to training camp with the first-team Sounders while taking a gap year after graduating from Issaquah High School.
“That was super eye-opening, to be able to train full-time with pros and see their mentality,” said Fowler, who has played in several United Soccer League games for Sounders2.
Fowler started playing soccer when he was 6, but didn’t start playing as a goalkeeper until he was 10, “and I wanted to hop into the goal and try it.”
“I would not call myself very good from the start,” he said. “I wasn’t the naturally athletic kid when I was 10 and 11. But I always had the mindset and I always wanted to push myself.”
When “the athletic ability started to find its way” to Fowler, he started making big progress.
Fowler competed in a trial for the Sounders Youth Academy when he was 13, and joined the academy the next year.
“That was huge in my development as a player,” Fowler said of his time with the Sounders.
Fowler committed to UW in his junior year of high school. Despite training with the Sounders, he was a bit intimidated joining a veteran Husky team last season in 2019.
But Fowler said his teammates were welcoming and one of the players who helped him the most was fellow goalkeeper Bryce Logan, even though the redshirt junior was competing with Fowler for playing time.
“He was super kind in giving me advice all the time,” Fowler said of Logan. “It really helped me blossom into the spot, and blossom into the team and to feel like I was confident that I could play on that team.”
The Huskies were the No. 6 seed in last year’s NCAA tournament and lost on a pair of late goals to eventual champion Georgetown in the quarterfinals.
“It was a special group of guys and we had some incredible players,” Fowler said. “Not that I took it for granted, but it set my bar for college pretty high.”
Nearly 18 months later, Fowler still rues giving up those goals to Georgetown, even though the tying goal was a perfectly placed free kick.
“I feel like it’s my job to pull off the saves that no one thinks you will save,” he said.
Fowler said one of the hardest things for him has been moving past giving up a goal.
“I am just so hard on myself, and I expect so much of myself, but as I have gotten to be 19-20 years old, I’ve learned I can’t dwell on allowing goals,” he said. “I have to focus in and pull off a save to help the team win when they need it.”
The Huskies outscored their opponents 31-10 this season. Despite losing many stars off last season’s team, Fowler said, “I honestly believe this team will go further this year.”
“Just because of how close-knit we are and how hard everyone works,” he said.