HERE SHE COMES TO SAVE THE DAY.
When Oregon's Nicole Garbin lined up to take a penalty kick with 15 minutes left in regulation of a scoreless tie against Washington State last Sunday, a metaphorical moment encapsulating the Oregon season was born.
As the case has been for most of the year, if Garbin scores, the Ducks probably win. If she doesn't, they probably don't.
As the regular season comes to an end this weekend for the Oregon soccer team with home games against No. 12 Cal at 5 p.m. Friday and No. 24 Stanford at 1 p.m. Sunday, it's obvious the Ducks have depended greatly on Garbin, who has had to carry the weight of the offense on her pair of surgically rebuilt knees.
The redshirt senior forward, who is expected to receive a sixth year of eligibility when she applies for a medical hardship exemption at the conclusion of the season, leads Oregon with a career-best 10 goals this fall. When she scores, the Ducks are 7-2-0. When she doesn't, they're 2-5-1.
"I guess I'm not winning enough games for my team," said Garbin, giving more credence to the Ducks' record when she didn't score, rather than to their record when she did. "No one is really looking at that because right now we're not winning."
That the success of the team is directly related to how and if she plays is not exactly breaking news to the 23-year-old from Wailuku, Hawaii, who sat out the 2002 and 2004 seasons with serious knee injuries.
Since her freshman year in 2001, Oregon is 28-25-3 when Garbin plays, and 5-28-5 when she doesn't.
The best seasons in school history have all come with Garbin leading the way. In 2001, Oregon recorded its only non-losing season with an 8-8-2 finish. In 2003, the Ducks went 9-11-0 and set a school record for wins.
This season's record of 9-7-1 could top them both. One win or tie this weekend would give Oregon a finish above .500 for the first time.
"I can feel the pressure when I'm playing out there," Garbin said.
It's just that no other team in the Pac-10 Conference, with the exception of Arizona, relies on an individual player to account for as much of her team's offensive production as Oregon does with Garbin, who has made half of the Ducks' 20 goals this season and taken more than 25 percent (57-of-211) of their shots.
Mallory Miller, a dynamic scorer and league MVP candidate, leads the conference with 17 goals for the 23rd-ranked Wildcats, who have scored a total of 27.
"The first-ever meeting I had with Garbin, she talked about liking the pressure and wanting to be the go-to person," UO coach Tara Erickson said. "But I'm not sure she doesn't feel overwhelmed by it sometimes."
Erickson admitted it would help if Garbin got some scoring assistance from her teammates, something that she has always had in the past but not this season.
In 2001, Chalise Baysa led the team with eight goals, and Garbin finished second with five and a team-high five assists. In 2003 Garbin and Andrea Valadez each had a team-best seven goals, and Garbin also set a single-season school record with eight assists.
This year, Caitlin Gamble is second on the team with four goals.
"There isn't anybody on the field who sees a triple team on Garbin and says, `OK, now it's my turn,' ' said Erickson, who added that would definitely change with some of the recruits that will be coming in next fall. "Right now, we have no midfielders who take chances regularly. ... There are times when we're sitting around waiting for Garbin to save the day."
She's certainly done that in her three seasons. In fact, she's done it more often than anyone in program history, evidenced by her team-record 13 game-winning goals, with seven this season, including in all three of Oregon's 1-0 victories.
"There's this quote from Derek Jeter that speaks exactly to the way I feel when I'm playing," Garbin said. "He said he goes into every game expecting to be the hero and if he didn't feel that way, he wouldn't enjoy playing. He puts that pressure on himself to win it for his team and that's what I try to do, too."
Coming off her second knee surgery in two years, Garbin admittedly started the season playing less aggressively than usual.
"I was tentative," Garbin said. "I just wanted to last the whole season, you know, with no serious injuries or minor injuries to set me back ... but I had to become more aggressive, I had to be more physical, I had to take more risks."
Garbin will end her season as the school record-holder in assists, game-winning goals and shots (169), and still second only to Baysa in goals (31 to 22) and points (69-58).
"I'm not sure she still knows how much she could take over a game," Erickson said.
"I'm still developing as a player," Garbin said. "I have so many things to work on to get better."
As for that shot against Washington State, Garbin sent it left - like she always does - but the Cougar goalkeeper dived and got a hand on it for the block. Washington State went on to win 1-0 in overtime.
"I couldn't believe it," Garbin said. "I've always been clutch."
No one knows that better than her Oregon teammates.
Nicole Garbin has led the Ducks so far this season with 10 goals. She's second in school history in goals and first in assists.
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|Title Annotation:||Sports; Nicole Garbin has come through often in the clutch for the Oregon women's soccer team|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Nov 3, 2005|
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