December 13, 2001

Nash Helps Broncos to NCAA Championship???

Dec. 13, 2001

Previous Columns

Former Santa Clara star Steve Nash of the Dallas Mavericks attended a Bronco women's soccer practice at the 2001 College Cup in Dallas, Texas. The team, in turn, went to a Mavericks game to reciprocate the support.

Since my column is normally basketball related, I had to have some kind of hoops tie-in to sneak in a chat with NCAA champion Coach Jerry Smith of the Broncos. Here is a transcript of our conversation the night of the national title game.

Dave Lewis: "National Champion Coach Jerry Smith has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?"

Jerry Smith: "I am so excited to say National Champions. For years we've been the team that could never quite get over the hurdle. Maybe we were the best team from year to year. Now, they don't have to say you're not just the best team, but.... They can say you're the best team and you won the championship."

DL: "How sweet was it to do it against North Carolina, your nemesis over the years?"

JS: I think if you win a national championship in women's soccer and don't go through North Carolina, people will always say, "You won it, but..." Now we don't have to deal with that. North Carolina is still the standard. We beat them the last two times we played them, but that doesn't make us the standard. We measured up today (Sunday) like the last time we played them. Maybe someday in the future, someone will say "Santa Clara is the standard." We measured up today and we're the national champs. No one can take anything away from us."

DL: "I know a couple years ago, you had a team you thought was championship material. Did you think this group had the goods from the beginning of the season?"

JS: "The '99 team was the most talented team I've ever coached and they were the best team in the country that year. It was very disappointing they didn't win the national championship because they really deserved it. This team is not quite at talented as our '99 team, to be honest with you. They're gritty. They're tough. They've got great determination, great character. Those are the things that really make the difference when it comes to crunch time. We had a lot of one-goal victories this year. In those one-goal victories, it's hard to measure someone's heart, toughness, determination and desire. In the second half when we were up 1-0, North Carolina was throwing everything at us and our goal keeper paid a great compliment to our team. She said, "I didn't have that much to do." That's not to say it was an easy game because it wasn't. Our team just played so tough and were so tenacious defensively that we didn't allow North Carolina many good looks at the goal."

DL: You spoke about your heart and determination. That had to be tested Friday night when you led Florida 2-0, then they knot it up at 2-2. Were you thinking, "Oh my God, here we go again?"

JS: "I've never been a superstitious person in my life. I'm just not a superstitious person. But the first time in my life when Florida scored the 2nd goal with 3:00 minutes left in the game to tie it up and send the game into overtime, I said to myself maybe there was something to this jinx curse thing that everyone talks about. In many of those games, we were the best team and just couldn't convert a goal when we needed to or keep one out of our net when we needed to and ended up losing. This was the ultimate test for our team on Friday. To be up 2-0 on cruise control and then a few minutes later it's 2-2 and going into overtime. But once again our team rose to the challenge and showed a lot of character, leadership from players like Danielle Slaton and Aly Wagner."

DL: "How appropriate was it that Aly scored the lone goal for you? She's been one of the two marquee players for you this year."

JS: "No question. Danielle Slaton and Aly Wagner were player of the year candidates and it couldn't have been more appropriate for Aly Wagner. She's scored critical goals for us all year. When we recruited Aly, Danielle and Anna Kraus, all Bay Area kids from the same club team, the Central Valley Mercury, they had won 3 national titles as youth players. When we recruited them at Santa Clara, we thought they would be the difference for us and they would be leaders for us and make big plays for us. It couldn't have been more appropriate for Aly Wagner to score the goal. She scored the sudden-death overtime goal in the Stanford game and she scored many game-winning goals for us. It's a credit to how great she is that she scored the goal today. She won the game for us on that goal and it was a world class goal. Couldn't have been done any better."

DL: You had that great team, featuring Mandy Clemens, and so many great teams that couldn't get over the hump. Do you feel like a little bit of those players was out there with you today?

JS: "Absolutely, without a doubt. I reminded our players of that today. As we were in the locker room before the game, we talked about a lot of different things. One of the things we talked about is that you are playing for a lot of former Broncos that never had a chance to play in this championship game and win a national championship. You play for yourself, for your teammates and for your university. But, play for those Broncos that came before you and helped our program get to this point. They did that and I know those alums were in the stands or watched on television. They helped us win the championship game. They really did. They also helped will it to happen. I'm happy for our current players and our former players that helped us win a national championship."

DL: "I remember sitting in your office a couple years ago and saw all those books like "Men are from Mars". At what point did you realize you had to coach women differently and get into their psyche?"

JS: "I think for me it was after the 1990 season when we lost to Connecticut and were devastated after that. In my exit interviews with the players, a lot of them said to me that it was a great year, we were number one in the country but didn't enjoy it as much as we probably should have. That caused me to think about a lot of different things, to take a different approach. There's just no question women are motivated differently than men are and I think I've tried to be a better coach for the women who play for me. As a result, we've gone to five College Cups in the last six years and finally won a championship. I think some of those changes I made in my approach to coaching the young women that play for me had a little bit to do with that."