|By Debra Vaughn Smith||
Editor's Note: Dana Garner's ability to play for the Falcons is in question after he sustained multiple injuries in an automobile accident in mid-July. If he is unable to play, Garner will have an opportunity to compete as a senior in Autumn 2000.
| Forward Dana Garner was named
the National Soccer Coaches Association of America's All-America team.
is the first Falcon soccer player to earn that distinction since
Even people who know soccer wouldn't necessarily peg Seattle Pacific University senior Dana Garner as an elite player if they saw him off the field. His 5-foot-9-inch, wiry frame doesn't hint at his All-America status, his lightening quick speed or what his coach calls "a shot like a 95-millimeter howitzer."
His past struggles aren't apparent either. You have to look into his eyes to find all of that.
"He has a fury in his eyes," says Coach Cliff McCrath. "His road hasn't been easy. He's got a rage that has to be converted into a power that works for him."
What McCrath calls "fury" is the juice that's fueled Garner through a rocky academic start that almost kept him from college. It's also the driving force behind a record-setting athletic career at Seattle Pacific. In addition to earning SPU's first All-America designation in soccer since 1995, Garner holds a No. 5 career ranking in points (105), a No. 7 ranking in goals (40), and all-conference, all-district and Pacific West player of the year awards. He and his teammates will make another bid for the national championship next season, after a disappointing loss in the semifinals last year.
Garner's childhood was steeped in soccer -- his grandfather played professionally in Europe and his father was his coach for many years. At Mountlake Terrace High School, Garner found immediate success, playing on his high school team and with a more competitive club team that finished second nationally.
He didn't find the same success in the classroom. Garner had a vague notion that he would attend college, but he never put that idea into practice. "I always had a picture in my mind of what I wanted to do, but I never really prepared myself to get there," he says. "No one in my family had really been through it before."
By his senior year, Garner was 13 classes behind and ineligible for college. On the advice of a coach, he turned to SPU, where Joy Drovdahl, in charge of athletic eligibility, worked out a plan to help Garner meet the NCAA requirements.
Garner juggled seven independent study classes on top of the normal six his last quarter in high school. He also attended summer school. Even with all the work, he sat out the first four games at SPU until the NCAA cleared him to play.
While Garner showed potential on the playing field as a starter for the Falcons, academics seemed like the one opponent he couldn't defeat. "In the beginning, I definitely struggled with studying," remembers Garner. "I didn't know how important it was to go to class every day." For two quarters in a row, Garner earned "D" averages. One more quarter with grades that low would end his college career.
"He didn't know how to be a successful student," says Drovdahl. "He got himself into a hole that he's been digging out of ever since."
Some tough love from McCrath and Drovdahl helped Garner. In the end, however, it was Garner who made it happen. "I had to study, and I found that going to class made a big difference," he says. His quarterly GPA has hovered around a respectable "B" average since then.
Garner's improvements haven't been limited to school. "I am a lot smarter on the field and a lot less selfish," says the athlete. "Cliff [McCrath] has a lot to do with that."
When Garner talks about highlights, he thinks more of team wins over tough Division I competitors -- like last season's nail-biter victory over rival University of Washington -- than his own accomplishments.
That type of spirit will be needed if the Falcons are going to make a repeat appearance at the Final Four. The squad will have a more difficult road to the postseason with 32 teams fighting for two playoff berths instead of four. The Falcons' region has been reconfigured to include the competitive California Collegiate Athletic Association. Two of the past three national championship teams are in the CCAA league.
"If we don't get back to where we were last year, I'll be surprised," says Garner. "We all know we can get there."