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UW goalie overcomes cancer to lead Huskies’ postseason run

SEATTLE – Standing over the penalty kick, in the oddest of circumstances, Washington’s Jorde LaFontaine-Kussmann wasn’t a cancer survivor.

She was a goalkeeper, taking a penalty shot in the ninth-round of a shootout in the NCAA women’s soccer tournament with Washington’s season on the line.

“I was more nervous taking the (penalty) than for any of the 11 shots I had to face,” LaFontaine-Kussmann said.

LaFontaine-Kussman scored, part of Washington’s second-round upset of Portland in a shootout that eventually lasted 11 rounds. The Huskies went on to beat UC Irvine in double overtime last week and will face Boston College in the national quarterfinals on Saturday in Newton, Mass.

But the nerves of being the center of attention in a penalty shootout are mundane compared to what LaFontaine-Kussman previously faced.

Three years ago, as a freshman at California, LaFontaine-Kussman was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“I think that’s the best thing about our team that everyone can look to their left and right and they all set great examples for each other,” Washington coach Lesle Gallimore said. “Jorde’s is a little bit more extreme and it definitely goes without saying on our team that if she can do this I have very little to whine about, one, and if she can do this, then I can do this, I can do my part.”

After her career at California was set back by the cancer diagnosis and treatment followed by a return to the field that was much too soon, she decided to transfer. Washington immediately became first on her list. Her desire to be closer to friends and family, and her connection with Gallimore and associate head coach Amy Griffin, made the Huskies the smartest choice.

Because she transferred to another Pac-10 school, LaFontaine-Kussman was forced to sit out the entire 2009 season. It became just the break her body needed.

“I think it took her a year to feel better and another year to get fit and back to being an elite athlete, and she worked her butt off to get where she is,” Gallimore said.

Her effort in getting healthy again was validated by her performance this season.

LaFontaine-Kussmann was a second-team all-Pac-10 selection and ranked in the top four among the conference goalkeepers in six different statistical categories.

But she’s saved her best work for the postseason. In the upset of Portland, LaFontaine-Kussman made 13 saves during regulation and overtime, then made two stops in the shootout. She followed up with four saves in the win over UC Irvine last week for her seventh shutout of the season.

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