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By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

James Moberg (left), a Maria Carrillo graduate, pushes the ball upfield during Washington's game against Portland on Sept. 6 (University of Washington Athletic Department)James Moberg (left), a Maria Carrillo graduate, pushes the ball upfield during Washington’s game against Portland on Sept. 6 (University of Washington Athletic Department)

Spending summer in Seattle to improve fitness and soccer savvy helped James Moberg keep his starting spot on the Washington squad that just took the Pac-12 Conference title.

Such commitment from the former Maria Carrillo standout and fellow Huskies has Washington set for an NCAA tournament run. Seeded second in the nation, Washington aims for a trip to the final four after last season’s second-round loss.

“The goal is to win the national title. It’s going to take some gritty performances,” Moberg said.

Toughness as well as skill are at a premium playing the nation’s best in the NCAA tournament. Coming through the grinder that is Pac-12 play prepared Washington for the test that resumes Saturday, when the Huskies host a quarterfinal with New Mexico.

Helping anchor Washington’s defense is Moberg, a sophomore midfielder mostly assigned to limit opponents’ scoring opportunities.

“I knew I could play at this level. But I had to work extremely hard,” Moberg said.

Seeking to play significant minutes as a freshman, Moberg showed up for early workouts a year ago. Distance running, speed and strength training resulted in improved fitness for the rigors of major college competition.

Soon he was starting and contributing in a big way for a first-year player. Moberg would finish second on the team in scoring.

Adapting to the college game and the demand for more speed and skill was not as difficult as learning how to play strong and stay healthy.

“The college game is all about defense,” Moberg said. “There is not much space out there. You have to be creative and ready for the physical play.”

To prepare for his second college season, Moberg stayed in Seattle this past summer to play for the Washington Crossfire, a Premier Development League team.

With the Huskies bringing in a big, talented recruiting class, Moberg recognized he needed to get better.

“All the coaches remind you to keep working hard because there’s always ways to improve. At this level it’s all about consistency,” Moberg said. “There’s always someone looking to take your spot. Our coaches push the competitive nature.”

Making the starting lineup led to a position change with Moberg now playing more defensive midfielder. The move has helped Moberg develop skills that could translate well if he has a chance to one day play professionally.

“Whatever it takes for the team, and it helps me as a player,” he said. “I’m here to win.”

Highlights on the season for Moberg include beating then-top-ranked Cal, assisting on two goals in defeating regional rival Portland, and scoring a goal in a tie with UCLA.

Balancing school — Moberg’s major is marketing and communications — and soccer has gone well. Homework and studying for tests on the road is challenging.

“You try to get enough sleep,” Moberg said.

Back home, Washington players can count on a boost from Huskies fans. Playing home contests before large crowds, sometimes 2,000 or more, reflects the passion for soccer in the Pacific Northwest.

“It’s awesome up here,” Moberg said. “The soccer at times is unbelievable.”

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