History and Heartbreak Soccer Denied NCAA Bid

EUGENE, Ore. – In the span of about 60 minutes Monday, the Oregon women's soccer team went from jubilation to devastation.

Nicole Garbin was named Pac-10 player of the week for a record third time in 2006, and then Soccer America ranked Oregon No. 17 in the poll it released Monday morning -- the Ducks' first national ranking in any poll.

But then the NCAA inexplicably left Oregon out of the 64-team NCAA Tournament, turning out the Pac-10's second place team for the first NCAA history.

Coming off a weekend in which Oregon upset No. 3 UCLA 2-1 on Friday and dropped USC 3-1 in the regular season finale, the Duck contingent was stunned.

"I believe that in my 12 years as athletic director at the University of Oregon that this is perhaps the biggest injustice of any of our programs," said Oregon director of athletics Bill Moos. "The bottom line is we finished second in the Pac-10, we beat the first place team that was third in the nation at the time. We finished strong. Usually in these selections, how you finish is important."

The Pac-10, ranked as the No. 2 conference in the latest RPI, sent four teams into the 2006 tournament: champion UCLA, third-place Stanford, fifth-place USC and California -- the team in the sixth slot. Oregon doubled up both the Trojans' and Bears' conference win total this season, 6-3.

Frustration added to the curious omission as no one from NCAA or its selection committee would return phone calls from Oregon officials as of Monday evening.

"It's devastating," said Oregon sophomore goalkeeper Jessie Chatfield. "It's really heartbreaking. It makes us feel like, what were we supposed to have done more or better with the teams we beat and finishing second in the Pac-10? It's like they just didn't count it. It's like they just decided we weren't going to make it before we even did anything out there. It makes us feel overlooked that they would take four teams from the Pac-10 and not take the second place team. It's just unbelievable." Oregon finished the season 12-6-2 overall and 6-1-2 in the Pac-10. By comparison, USC was 10-4-5 overall and 3-2-4 in Pac-10 play, while Cal enters the NCAA Tournament at 11-4-5 and 3-3-3 and Stanford at 13-6-1 and 6-2-1.

Oregon tied California 0-0 in October in Berkeley, and dropped a 1-0 decision -- its only loss in over a month -- at Stanford, in addition to the weekend sweep of the L.A. schools.

"I knew that we were in," said Oregon coach Tara Erickson, who was a member of Washington's first NCAA Tournament team in 1994. "I could look everybody in the eye right now and say we deserve to be in. We're not a bubble team. We played ourselves in and we should be right up there with everybody else."

Garbin, who was one of the more visibly upset Ducks on Monday, became the first player in Pac-10 history to win Pac-10 player of the week honors three times in one season, and the first to win four career Pac-10 player of the week honors. Garbin was honored by the conference three times in the season's last five weeks. She was selected by the league on Monday after scoring a golden goal in overtime to lift Oregon to a 2-1 upset of No. 3 UCLA, and then netting two goals in Oregon's 3-1 defeat of USC on Sunday.

Garbin made a strong final bid for All-America honors as she upped her season totals to 12 goals, nine game-winning goals and 25 points -- all Oregon records. She also upped her school-record career totals to 34 goals, 22 game-winning goals and 83 points.

The sixth-year senior from Wailuku, Hawaii, finished he brilliant career holding or sharing 19 Oregon school records.

"Why do you even play? Why do you even step on the field?" said Garbin. "My ultimate goal was to get to the tournament. All the records weren't going to mean anything if we didn't get into that tournament. I don't know how that happens, how the second place team doesn't get to the tournament."

The painful slight by the NCAA selection committee will not tarnish a record-breaking season in Eugene. The Ducks earned the first winning season in program history and broke school records for wins (12), Pac-10 wins (6), fewest goals allowed (17) and goals against average (0.81). The team also recorded its first defeat of a ranked team on the road (2-1, No. 24 Arizona) and its 2-1 overtime upset of No. 3 UCLA was the highest ranked team the Ducks have ever defeated.

"Everyone's really disappointed and kind of in shock and confused about what happened," said junior defender Dylann Tharp. "I think we just have to hope for the best but expect the worst. Luck wasn't with us this time and we didn't get in. It's unfortunate, but it's just the way it is."

The Ducks can also take solace in that they graduate only two seniors, and 10 of 11 starters will return for 2007.

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