Grace & joy
The wild ride of the University of Portland’s undefeated 2005 NCAA national champion women’s soccer team, & notes on other stellar sporting endeavors & adventures on The Bluff
By Brian Doyle
Yes, it’s totally cool that the University’s women’s soccer team won their second national title, and that they were undefeated and unassailable, and that the loping lurking lightning striker Christine Sinclair was the national player of the year and broke pretty much every scoring record college soccer ever had, and it was apt and excellent that the University set an all-time attendance record for college soccer male or female, and that the city of Portland finally went absolutely bonkers over this cheerful relentless team in a way that it never quite had about anything else at the University in a century, but the coolest thing of all about the 2005 Pilot women’s soccer team wasn’t all this.
It was the way they played, the verve and dash and zest and humor and camaraderie and creativity and coherence and generosity and quicksilver flow of their game as they bent it to their remarkable wills, the astounding instantaneous passes, the liquid geometry, the relentless energy, the constant laughter, the eerie calm, the heartfelt and hilarious bond with their fellow students, the patient sinuous ferocity of their play.
It was the way they were serious students still even as they became ever more obviously the best team in America. It was the way they were part of the crowd and not at all sneeringly above it as with so many athletes. It was the way they ran together in a ragged laughing line into the student section applauding and embracing their classmates. It was the way they ran together to the public grandstand applauding their fans. It was the way they ranged along the railings after games and signed autographs and shook hands and chaffed children for as long as there was a child awed and agog. It was the way they became the cheerful stitches binding a whole new fabric of community, far larger and more joyous and more appreciative of shared joy than ever before; and at the center of that vaster tribe were these smiling young women, relaxed and funny and graceful, teasing each other, razzing their quiet young coach, awed by nothing, eager and shy, women and girls, rock stars and big kids.
What happened this year on The Bluff was incredibly rare, something that happens so seldom that when we see it clear we can only gape and savor. These young women created something so cohesive, so graceful, so electric, that their feat finally rose past orthodox scorekeeping, past the numbers and trophies, past the normal benchmarks of their sport. In the end they were simply joy. Their delight and camaraderie and exuberance, their grace and skill and creativity, won them far more than a national championship; it won them residence in thousands of hearts. Anyone who saw them flying through the riveting fall will never forget them, and there will always be Christine Sinclair suddenly shifting from slouch to sprint, and Lindsey Huie floating deerlike down the sideline, and Cori Alexander tapping her fists on her magic goalposts, and Lisa Sari leaping happily into another terrific collision, and Megan Rapinoe pouncing on a loose ball like a grim leopard, and coach Garrett Smith watching silently, his legs crossed, idly eating candy, as calm as a man waiting for a faraway train.
There have been other champions on The Bluff, and there will be more, and we have and will relish and appreciate and laud them, but this team will always have a whole gleaming field to itself in memory, a bright place where they are always sprinting and laughing, ringed by thousands of children, for whom the Pilots will always be the women who once played their game as well as it has ever been played, which is remarkable thing to say. For the prayer of their play, for the gift of their grace, our heartfelt thanks. — Editor
She captained one of the best women’s soccer teams ever. She was national player of the year, twice. She led the Pilots to a national title, twice. She set an NCAA record for goals in a season. She’s second all-time in college scoring. She’s an Academic All-American. She’ll graduate with a 3.8 in science. She led her national team almost to the World Cup title. She’ll be famous as an athlete for many years to come. But we will miss her grace and grin, her humor, her shy wit, her utter lack of pretense and preen. We will miss the way she was what the University so wants its students to be: curious, creative, communal. More than the unbelievable player, we will miss the wonderful person. Travel in beauty, Christine Sinclair.
For more information about the University’s very cool soccer teams, athletics program, recreational adventures, and stunning opportunities of every sort, contact the Admission Office at 503.943.7147, firstname.lastname@example.org, or www.up.edu.