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Garbin returns for one last shot.

Byline: Chris Hansen The Register-Guard

UO SOCCER

When forward Nicole Garbin first suited up for the Oregon women's soccer team as a freshman, former UO quarterback Joey Harrington was still the Big Man on campus, and Luke Jackson and Luke Ridnour were just a pair of mop-topped sophomores on the men's basketball team.

Six seasons and two devastating knee injuries later, Garbin, the most dominant offensive player in program history, will finally play her senior season when the Ducks open against Long Beach State on Friday at 7 p.m. at Pape Field.

That this year's group of incoming freshmen were in middle school when Garbin was a freshman in 2001 hasn't been lost on the team, which took a good-natured jab at her longevity in a recent skit during a team retreat.

Even Oregon coach Tara Erickson has gotten in on the act.

"I remember coaching against her five years ago," said Erickson, who previously coached at Portland State after a standout career at Washington. "I think I almost played against her."

Garbin, who takes it all in stride, is just happy to finally be playing back-to-back seasons for the first time in her college career.

"I was eager this summer to get going," said Garbin, 24, who missed the entire 2002 and 2004 seasons. She received a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA in April, granting her a sixth year of eligibility. "I just wanted to work hard for my last season."

After scoring a school-record 10 goals last season, Garbin is on pace to become Oregon's career leader in nearly every offensive category.

The all-American candidate already is the top producer in game-winning goals (13), assists (14) and shots (173) and is second in goals (22) and points (58).

"I think Garbin, as a senior, will probably be a starter," Erickson joked.

Heading into Erickson's second season with the Ducks, not all positions are as set in stone.

The defense, which was the strength of the team as it went 9-9-1 in 2005, returns four of five starters, including defenders Dylann Tharp, Allison Newton and Nicole Dobrzysnki and goalkeeper Jessie Chatfield. Tharp is a junior and the rest are sophomores.

As a true freshman, Chatfield, a Churchill High School product, started all 19 games, made 97 saves and allowed just 1.71 goals per game as the team recorded only its second nonlosing season.

"I really think she's the best goalkeeper in the Pac-10," Erickson said. "I don't think other teams know that yet."

The Oregon midfield, however, needs to not only be rebuilt, but dramatically improved.

Gone are midfielders who at times played at a high level for Oregon in Cristan Higa, Andrea Valadez and Caitlin Gamble. But for the past few seasons, the Ducks have struggled in the middle with injuries and inconsistent play.

This year, Oregon will rely on a collection of talented but inexperienced players. Standing out so far this fall is sophomore Jen Cameron, who sat out last season with a knee injury.

"Jen brings a whole other dimension to the game and plays a little bit quicker than some of the other players we've tried in that position," Erickson said.

In last Saturday's 70-minute split-squad scrimmage, Newton moved up from defense to play midfield and was second on the team with four shots. A pair of true freshmen have also been impressive this fall. Danielle Oster, the 2005 player of the year in Washington, and South Eugene's Rianna Mansfield, the Class 4A player of the year, will both see considerable playing time.

"Rianna Mansfield is an awesome, awesome player," Erickson said. "She is just a grinder. I love the way she plays and I love her work ethic."

A major challenge, as it has always been during Garbin's career, will be to find someone who can play alongside her at the other forward position and take some of the defensive pressure off her.

To that end, there seemed to be universal pleasure after the scrimmage when the team Garbin was on won 5-0 and she didn't score a single goal.

"I hope it's a good thing," Garbin said. "We have some freshmen who have played at a high level and are ready for this."

Two of those goals were scored by Leigh Quinlan, a redshirt freshman who sat out last season with a knee injury. Quinlan, who is from Victoria, B.C., and is a member of the Canadian national junior team, looked comfortable playing off Garbin in the scrimmage.

"I feel like already we have a lot of chemistry," Quinlan said. "She's amazing to play with, so I really feel like we'll be successful up front together. "

Garbin accounted for half of the Ducks' 20 goals last season. Erickson said that there is an impression around the Pac-10 that Oregon is just a one-player team, which she said helps explain why the Ducks were picked to finish in last place by league coaches.

"They know Nicole Garbin, but they don't know everything else," Erickson said. "I think we're deep. I think we're deeper than any team I've ever coached. Usually my philosophy has been these 11 kids, these 12 kids, maybe these 13 kids, will play, but now, we'll be using players further on down the list."

With the hope being that at least one can provide some additional scoring punch.
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Title Annotation:Sports; The injury-stricken leading scorer leads a team that is optimistic going into the season
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 23, 2006
Words:891
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