Have you heard?
The Washington Husky men are undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the nation.
Not the football team, which is off to a 2-4 start, but the soccer team.
Playing in relative anonymity, the Husky men’s soccer team is 12-0-0, (4-0-0 in the Pac-12), and the only unbeaten and untied team in men’s Division I soccer heading into a Friday showdown at home against No. 8 Oregon State at 5 p.m.
“Somehow, some way, the momentum started and you just want to let it go and see how far it goes,” UW coach Jamie Clark said.
The coach started the season hoping his team could go 6-2 in nonconference play, but the Huskies did better than that — an accomplishment more impressive considering the team has played the past nine games without star midfielder Lucas Meek, who was leading the team in scoring before injuring his left shoulder.
“That’s probably the craziest part to me,” said Clark, who said Meek might be able to return next week. “We felt pretty good about our team and then when he got hurt, it was like, ‘Oh gosh, we’ve got to buckle down and survive these next six weeks.’ But instead of surviving, those other guys really stepped up and really thrived.”
The Huskies have won once in double overtime and three times in overtime, but have dominated opponents for the most part, having not allowed more than one goal in any game.
Washington ranks No. 11 in the country in goals per game (2.50) and No. 3 in the nation in goals allowed per game (.406).
The Huskies have outscored opponents 30-5, with seven players having scored at least three goals, led by junior Dylan Teves (four goals, six assists), who was a first-team All-American and a first-team All-American Scholar last season.
But are people noticing?
“I don’t think a lot of people know, just walking around campus,” Teves said. “If we walked into class and said we were on the soccer team, most people wouldn’t even know that we had a soccer team — even the teachers.”
Junior defender Kendall Burks from Tacoma, who transferred to UW from Cal State Bakersfield, has had a slightly different experience.
“I think it was a little bit of a secret earlier in the season when we started in the top 10, but I think we’ve proved we’re the real deal and we are here to stay,” said Burks, who has two goals and two assists this season. “I think people are starting to notice what we’re doing and that we have something special. It’s starting to get around. Some nonathletes have reached out to me and said, ‘Keep up the good work,’ so it has been really fun.”
This has been a historically good start to the season for UW, but the Huskies have been good for a while.
Clark has a record of 140-50-20 since taking over at UW in 2011, finishing with a winning record every season and never lower than third in the Pac-12.
Washington was No. 1 in the country for a good chunk of the 2019 season before losing to eventual NCAA champion Georgetown in the Elite Eight, then lost to Pittsburgh last year in the Elite Eight.
The Huskies have been to the NCAA tournament eight times in Clark’s 10 seasons, reaching the Elite Eight three times. The coach knows what getting to the College Cup would mean for his program regarding excitement and exposure, but said, “I never want to talk to (the players) about going to the College Cup, because that’s not why I do this.”
“I just want us to go out and do things properly every day and hopefully that takes us somewhere good,” Clark said.
Clark’s father, Bobby, was a college coach for 31 years, and won a national title in his 27th season, in 2013, with Notre Dame.
“If you keep knocking on the door and have enough winning teams, it will come,” Jamie Clark said. “I don’t think there is any secret formula for getting that one last step.”
For UW players, taking that next step is a big deal.
“We all have a passion to get there, and we know we are capable of it,” said Teves, who grew up in Hawaii before moving to the Seattle area and attending Liberty High School in Renton. “It’s that last little push, that last little bit that we need to get through. It would mean the world to get there and it would mean even more to win the whole thing.”
Said Burks: “A few of the guys have lost in the (Elite Eight) twice and a big goal of ours is to get over that hump. I think that is very important to the guys on this team. We have a common goal and I think it’s something we can achieve.”
Regardless, UW has been one of the nation’s top programs for several years. But Clark is hesitant to call his team a national power.
“I’m probably the most nervous to make statements like that, because I see things come and go,” Clark said. “I think year in and year out, we should be really good, but I’m still waiting for the years that aren’t so good. It seems like there should be some ebbs and flows along the way, and we’ve somehow avoided them almost completely.”
Clark said UW’s success had made the program “a place where players want to come to now.”
“We get to sift through and really choose the right guys for us,” Clark said, noting that the “right guys” aren’t always the highest-ranked prospects. “We want to coach really good kids. We don’t often have a top-25 recruiting class, but I feel every year we get top-10 people. And those top-10 people end up becoming really good players.”
Players such as Teves, graduating with a degree in finance this fall with a GPA of 3.69.
And players such as Burks, who was not recruited by UW out of high school but transferred after two good seasons at Cal State Bakersfield.
Burks was second-team All-Pac-12 last season and a second-team Scholar All-American. He has a GPA of about 3.3 and is scheduled to graduate in the spring with a degree in sociology.
Teves and Burks are big reasons UW is No. 1, and they know that opponents will be extra motivated to knock off the Huskies.
“I like being No. 1,” Teves said. “Who doesn’t? Everyone else on the team loves it too. We know that no team is going to beat us when we are playing at our best.”
Oregon State, second in the Pac-12 at 3-0-1, appears to be the toughest opponent remaining on UW’s schedule, and the Huskies play the Beavers twice in the final six regular-season games (the teams conclude the regular season Nov. 11 in Corvallis).
The Beavers are No. 2 in the NCAA RPI rankings, behind only Washington.
“I think Oregon State is one of the top five programs in the country, so you know you will push to win those games, and that’s the challenge good teams and players want,” Clark said. “It will be interesting to see what the following and the turnout will be, because hopefully people will notice and want to attend and see what’s going on.”