Senior Day win a good ending for Rapinoes

November, 3, 2008
PORTLAND, Ore. -- With a full house of 4,892 fans on hand at the University of Portland's Merlo Field to say goodbye for the final home game of the regular season, twins Megan and Rachael Rapinoe waited with teammate Korie Nicholson for Senior Day ceremonies to get underway before Sunday's game against Santa Clara.

But just as the public address announcer launched into an intro, the stadium's audio system shut down, the circuits overloaded by the strain of extra equipment associated with the ESPNU broadcast. Forced to improvise, assistant coach Lauren Hanson jogged across the field to borrow a megaphone from the student section. She then handed it off to associate athletic director Buzz Stroud, and like something out of the movie "Eight Men Out," he stood in front of the crowd and introduced the seniors and their parents.

It seems nothing has ever gone quite according to plan for the Rapinoes. But at least on this particular afternoon that began in silence, Megan and Rachael got the last word.

Continuing a stellar campaign on the heels of playing just 13 games the previous two seasons because of knee injuries, Megan scored Portland's second goal in a 4-0 win against Santa Clara on a half-volley off a 30-yard cross from teammate Jessica Tsao.

I'd pay the price of admission to watch Megan more than any other college player in the country. That's in part because of the sort of touch and instincts she showed off on the goal, but Casey Nogueira, Kerri Hanks and a few others have those qualities. With Portland's senior cornerstone, it's also they way she jabs and darts around the field with the kind of potential energy more familiarly seen in Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu -- or perhaps in a soccer sense, former Pilots standout Tiffeny Milbrett (who was in the house Sunday).

As an outsider, it's difficult to watch and not wonder what sort of records Megan Rapinoe would be chasing if she had a healthy knee and four seasons under her belt. But Portland assistant coach Lisa Sari, a sophomore when Megan and Rachel arrived in 2004 (Megan didn't play while participating in the Under-20 World Cup), offered the counterpoint.

"You know, I guess from a health perspective, you do think about that," Sari said of Megan's lost years. "But also, I think Megan will be the first one to tell you, if she hadn't [torn the ACL in her left knee] twice, she wouldn't have learned as much about herself as she did and grown up as much as she did."

Rachael's on-field career effectively ended in this season's third game, when she tore the ACL in her left knee for the second time in a year. She held off going under the knife before the end of the season so she could be around her teammates this fall. And for 90 seconds Sunday, she was once again with them on the field after Portland coach Garrett Smith sent her into the game in the closing minutes.

"The only thing I can say is I'm so grateful for this university and the coaches and my teammates," said Rachael, who was reminded to not go after the ball before she took the field, "because they've given far more to me than I could possibly have given to them."

There weren't nearly enough opportunities over the past five years to watch the Rapinoes on the field together, but as the two lagged behind the rest of the team after Sunday's game to sign autographs for dozens of fans, it was clear they've left their imprint.

"I couldn't have asked for anything more," Megan said. "[A] 4-0 win against our rival on Senior Day."

For both sisters, that came through loud and clear.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.



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