Two former high school rivals from Boise, Idaho, now seniors on the Willamette women's soccer team, are providing the offensive power and goalkeeping strength that have earned the Bearcats a No. 19 ranking and an at-large berth in the NCAA Division III National Tournament. With Susan Butler leading the offense and Kari Woody leading the defense, Willamette has outscored its opponents 43-9 this season.
Butler and Woody were hometown competitors, matched head-to-head by Butler's desire to score goals for Boise High School and Woody's determination to keep the ball out of the net for Timberline. Now they play for the same team, even if most of their efforts are at opposite ends of the field.
"Our games against each other brought out the most rowdy fans, and the games were always the most intense and physical games of the year," Butler says.
"Our schools were the best in the state every year, and they despised one another," Woody says. "Boise High games were absolutely ridiculous; I remember every one perfectly -- each meeting was the biggest game of the year."
One might wonder how well two highly competitive athletes with a history of bitter rivalry would get along as key players on the same college team.
"There was definitely more of a bond than tension because we were both adjusting to college and excited to play for Willamette as teammates," Butler recalls.
"It was nice showing up for soccer tryouts our freshman year already knowing someone," Woody says. "We joke about our high school rivalry, but there's no hostility." Even so, she can't help but add, "Go Wolves!" invoking the Timberline mascot.
The better part of four seasons later, the former competitors have helped move the Bearcats into the NCAA Division III National Tournament for the first time since 2001. They attained starting positions their freshman year and have now taken on leadership positions.
"Our parents have bonded over the experience of Kari and I playing together," Butler says. "Every home game, both my parents and Kari's parents drive from Boise to cheer us on."
"After hating Susan for so long, I've realized I like us much better as friends," Woody says. "Willamette soccer has been a great opportunity for us to finally win at the same time."
Willamette made four consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament from 1998-2001, including three seasons in the quarterfinals and two appearances in the final four. Head Coach Jim Tursi, now in his 14th season, also led Willamette to five NAIA postseason appearances from 1993-97. The Bearcats joined NCAA Division III in 1998.
"Playing together, we have experienced great wins and disappointing losses," Butler said of their collegiate soccer career. "I think it just proves that the game of soccer can create enemies, but bring them together when they are on the same team and going for the universal goal of the game -- to win."
It's been five years since Willamette last advanced to the NCAA Tournament, and Butler and Woody hope to play deep into the postseason in 2006, ending with the first national championship in team history. It would be a final opportunity for the two talented players, one at each end of the field, to play together. This time their parents, family and friends will be cheering for the same team.
As of Nov. 4, Butler leads Willamette in scoring with 23 total points on a team-high nine goals plus five assists. She is tied for third in the Northwest Conference in both categories.??Woody has been the goalkeeper of record in all 20 games for the Bearcats this season, and has twice been named NWC Defensive Player of the Week.