“My return is not a story of redemption. My coming back to Seattle U is a story of reconciliation,” said Seattle University men’s soccer coach Pete Fewing after winning the Western Athletic Conference Coach of the Year in his second season since returning to the helm of the Redhawks. “I’m lucky to be back. I’m blessed to be back. I know it and I think it all the time.”
Fewing coached at Seattle U from 1988-2005, winning two National Championships and National Coach of the Year honors at the NAIA and NCAA Division II levels. However, his departure following the 2005 season, just one year removed from his second championship, left a hole that couldn’t be filled solely with his well-renowned annual soccer camps. He continues to work as an analyst on Sounders FC radio and television broadcasts and coached the Kitsap Pumas in the Premier Development League for two seasons, winning a championship there in 2011, but still wasn’t as fulfilled as he was at the collegiate level.
“I used to sneak into Championship Field when I left, just so I could look at it,” Fewing said. “I helped raise the money and helped design it, but I never got to coach there.”
Now back coaching the program that he led to prominence, Fewing has the Redhawks on the brink of the NCAA Tournament after coaching Seattle U to the regular season title in the WAC, now just two matches away from clinching the team’s first berth in the NCAA Division I tournament.
This after starting the season 0-6-1, the Redhawks took a dramatic turn. After facing two teams ranked in the top 27 in the country in the first seven matches, Seattle was road-tested and while the next four matches saw losses to No. 21 Gonzaga and No. 2 Washington, it also saw the turnaround of a team that finished 2012 with just a 3-13-1 record.
Fewing points to the 2-0 loss to Washington as the turning point in the season. After outplaying the Huskies in the first half and going into halftime with the match scoreless, the Redhawks allowed UW to take control in the second half. After the match, the players realized that they can compete with top-flight teams like the Huskies and they haven’t lost a game since, going unbeaten at 6-0-3 since then to finish the conference season at 7-0-3.
“It was a tough schedule, but the guys never gave up. They never hung their heads,” Fewing said. “They realized that they are better than they think they are and they started to live up to it.”
They have completed the turnaround with a combination of an opportunistic offense and sturdy defense. Goalkeeper Jake Feener is the national leader with 132 saves and forward Miguel Gonzalez is sixth in the country with 12 goals. Additionally, Sounders FC Academy alum Kyle Bjornethun was named WAC Freshman of the Year, earning the honor as Seattle’s starting center back.
“He’s been playing great. He’s a quiet leader. He’s very good on the ball. He’s very smooth and very comfortable and I think he’s an MLS guy,” Fewing said of Bjornethun. “When we started playing him as a center back, we started winning.”
Seattle U will face either Air Force or Houston Baptist on Friday in the semifinals of the WAC tournament, with the conference champions clinching an NCAA Tournament berth. Fewing and the Redhawks hope to continue their success story and will keep that hope alive with each win from this point forward.
It has already been a rewarding year for Fewing and it only gets better with each match.
“I get teary-eyed during the national anthem all the time,” he said. “It’s the definition of the word surreal.”