By Clint Kelly
Womens's Soccer Coach Bobby Bruch says the team's inaugural season promises plenty of fireworks in a run at a national title. The competition includes perennial powerhouse University of California-Davis, and crosstown rival Seattle University.
Soccer coaching legend Cliff McCrath took an afternoon in 1984 to watch high school senior Bobby Bruch play. The catalytic midfielder tore into the competition and impressed a man whose Falcon men's soccer program was well on its way to becoming the most successful in NCAA Division II history.
It was quickly obvious to McCrath that the success Newport High School had experienced was due in large measure to "this little 'sliver' of a player who was everywhere." Bobby paid SPU a visit and McCrath invited him to come play for the maroon and white.
Come play he did in three straight Division II finals, helping the Falcons earn not one, but two national championships. Tireless, productive and blessed with what McCrath calls "a high-octane personality," the business management major went on to a professional soccer career that included playing for the Seattle Storm.
But the past is prologue to the 2001 collegiate soccer season at Seattle Pacific. When it kicks off this August, there will be one new face and one familiar face on the block — the first-ever Falcon women's soccer team and their hard-driving coach, Bobby Bruch.
McCrath expects the new program to quickly go gold. "Don't be surprised if he leads our women to a national championship in their first year."
Bruch doesn't flinch. "My goal is to bring the greatest Christian athletes from around the world to play here. This will become their nationally recognized program of choice."
Spend 15 minutes with the young soccer phenom — an earnest man backed by a persuasive personal coaching record — and it's evident he can deliver. He has trained school soccer teams and started league soccer clubs that collectively went to the national finals three times and won six regional crowns. In the process, an exceptional number of his players rose to the top. Seventy-five now play on college teams; three were drafted into the pro leagues this year; and another one plays for the Mexican national team. In his final 61 games as a coach before coming to Seattle Pacific, his high school team was unbeaten.
But now comes what he calls "the ultimate opportunity," the creation of a new college soccer team at an institution with a rich tradition of athletic excellence. In 1999-2000, 10 of 11 SPU athletic teams represented the University in postseason competition.
"When I take women's soccer candidates around campus, that's the standard of excellence I show them," Bruch says. "A strong core of players is already forming, and there's not an academically marginal student among them. Take Katie Lim: 4.0 GPA, valedictorian at Hillsboro (Oregon) High School, four-year letter-winner and pre-med major. That's the kind of leadership SPU can expect from women's soccer."
"We'll be competitive," predicts Sharon Harrold, who will be assistant coach next year. "Bobby knows the level each player should be at and pushes everyone to get there."
At full strength, Seattle Pacific will field a team of 18-24 players. One of Bruch's biggest challenges is a budget that is one-fifth the size of larger schools. What that does is bring out his entrepreneurial side. He has used business acumen learned at SPU to build soccer clubs with the backing of corporate giants like Adidas. He envisions a partnership of individuals, foundations and corporations coming alongside Falcon women's soccer.
The Teel family, longtime supporters of Seattle Pacific, has helped seed the SPU Women's Soccer Scholarship Fund. "We're happy to help launch this program," says Jerry Teel '63. "We urge other families to participate."
Seattle Pacific will play in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference that includes schools from California, Oregon and Washington. "We've been given the most competitive slate they could throw at us," says Bruch.
Tom Box, SPU athletic director, agrees. "Competition will be fierce as our fledgling team seeks to build a winning tradition," he says. "But what an exciting way to teach excellence and Christian values. Coach Bruch will help his players become great people as well as great athletes."