Nicole Van Dyke was excited to tackle her new job when she was hired as coach of the Washington women’s soccer team on Jan. 4, 2020, replacing Lesle Gallimore, who retired after 26 seasons.
Then, two months later, everything came to a halt because of the coronavirus.
“You take this new position and you have all these plans, and you want to hit the ground running, but fortunately I was able to spend time with (the players) before everything getting shut down,” said Van Dyke, who played at Cal State Bakersfield (1998-2000) and coached there. “We’ve had our challenges, but we’ve had a lot of things to celebrate, including the growth of the group. We’ve seen a lot, and I think we’ve become more resilient and mentally tougher.”
The team had to deal with the disappointment of the traditional fall season being postponed. It will play a shortened spring season that begins Feb. 6 at Portland.
“I think we’ve pretty much stayed on course for our goals,” Van Dyke said. “One of our goals is to be in the (NCAA) tournament every year. With our conference, and with how many teams that tend to go from it, whether you finish first or fifth, you have an opportunity to do really well (in the tournament).”
Van Dyke spent the last five seasons as the coach at Penn, where she led the Quakers to a 41-24-15 record, but she is well aware of Pac-12 soccer, having been an assistant at national power Stanford from 2011-14.
“The soccer community here is incredible, and there is so much excitement around the sport of soccer,” said Van Dyke, talking about one of things that attracted her to the UW job. “And then there is the Pac-12, and the quality of the conference, and the ability to win championships.”
The Huskies reached the second round of the tournament the last time they played in 2019. It was UW’s first tournament bid since the 2015 season, and Gallimore was named conference coach of the year.
Several starters graduated from that team, but one of the returning players is Summer Yates, who led the Huskies in scoring with 22 points — eight goals and six assists. Yates, a junior, was a second-team all-Pac-12 pick and was directly involved in more than half of UW’s 26 goals.
“We have a very talented team, and leaders with great character,” Van Dyke said. “I have been unbelievably impressed with their resilience and perseverance — whether it be their understanding of a new system, a new style or just being open-minded.
“They felt success last season, and they want to get back to the tournament. As a coach, you just want to build on that energy and that experience.”
The Huskies have a pair of two-year starters returning in the midfield in seniors Jessika Cowart and Olivia Van Der Jagt. Sophomore defender Shae Holmes, who played on the national U-20 team, will be counted on more after starting in three games as a redshirt freshman.
The Huskies have three new goalkeepers — junior Olivia Sekany, a transfer from California, and freshmen Nicole Smith and Caeley Goldstein — who are competing for the starting job, “and they all bring different strengths,” Van Dyke said.
“I think this spring will be a time to play everyone and solidify that position,” Van Dyke said.
After playing at Portland, the Huskies will host Seattle U on Feb. 12, then begin a shortened 13-game conference season at home against Colorado on Feb. 26. The Huskies can’t wait to get started.
“We just want to compete,” Van Dyke said. “These kids have stayed the course for the last year, and I can’t wait to see them get the opportunity to get back on the field safely and do what they love.”