Fans greet return of national softball champion Huskies
But when 200 to 300 fans showed up Wednesday afternoon to get an up-close look at Charters and the rest of the newly-crowned national champion University of Washington softball team, she couldn't help but yearn for two faces that weren't in the crowd.
After spending three consecutive weeks on the road, surrounded only by teammates, Charters was looking forward to seeing another pair of Dawgs, er, dogs Wednesday.
"I've really missed them," Charters said of two Puggles -- a combination of a pug and a beagle -- that she left with friends while on the exceptionally long road trip.
The Huskies were still riding high Wednesday, after a three-week road trip that culminated in the ultimate prize, but they were also pretty glad to be home. And judging by the turnout for the arrival of the team bus, the city of Seattle was happy to have them back.
"I didn't expect this at all," Charters said. "This is so cool. It's starting to set in now that we actually won a national championship."
Fastpitch fever, which has swept over Seattle for most of the last week, finally touched down in the city Wednesday.
"It sunk in a little bit on the flight home, but it really hit me once we got here," star pitcher Danielle Lawrie said Wednesday, shortly after the team bus pulled up to the UW softball complex and was quickly surrounded by joyous fans. "Just to see all these people and how excited they are, it's really special. I'm so happy that we could do it -- for the school and for Seattle. It's a big deal."
The well-wishers included several members of the UW athletic department, including head basketball coaches Lorenzo Romar and Tia Jackson, but was mostly made up of enthusiastic fans. The Huskies walked off the team bus to the sounds of the UW band, then spent about a half hour accepting congratulations, signing autographs and posing for pictures.
The celebration was not confined to the area around the university, however. The championship has the whole west side of the state abuzz with softball talk.
Mountlake Terrace High School fastpitch coach Kim Stewart, who led his Hawks to a second-place finish at the 4A state tournament over the weekend, made a point to watch the NCAA championship with friends on Tuesday night.
"It will obviously generate more interest at the younger level," Stewart said of the effects UW's win could have on the sport in this state. "More girls will get into it."
The Huskies' pursuit of a trophy was challenging for a number of reasons. In addition to having to face the nation's top teams -- first in Amherst, Mass., and then in Oklahoma City for the weekend College World Series -- the Huskies missed valuable classroom time as the academic year wound down.
"If you miss class, you can't make it up," UW softball coach Heather Tarr said Wednesday. "The girls had to battle, just like they have to battle on the field. It was hard on them."
Charters, the Huskies' second baseman and leading hitter, was one of the lucky ones. Having graduated in the winter, the only thing on her plate is a Monday tryout with the national softball team, followed by a summer league in Illinois.
Tuesday's 3-2 win over Florida capped off a successful career for the senior from Beaverton, Ore.
"It was fun," Charters said, "but a lot of work too."
One person who might never be able to slip back into her normal life again is Lawrie. The national player of the year and most outstanding player of the CWS, Lawrie lost any anonymity she may have had while playing for the Huskies. After the nationally-televised NCAA tournament, the junior pitcher might challenge Jon Brockman and Jake Locker as the most recognizable athlete on the UW campus.
Asked whether she expects a different reaction from her fellow students now, Lawrie shrugged, smiled and said: "I don't know. We'll see (on the way to class today)."
The Huskies defeated Florida in a best-two-of-three format with victories Monday and Tuesday, but Lawrie said her arm would have been up for the challenge had the team needed to play a deciding game Wednesday night.
"It feels fine," she said with a look of surprise.
Fortunately for the Huskies, that game wasn't necessary. All the road-weary UW softball players had to do Wednesday was fly back home -- at long last.
"We've been 28 people strong, and we've grown really close on the road," Tarr said. "But to be able to come home and share this with Seattle, with the people who were behind us, it's great."
Assistant coach Gina Carbonatto, a former star player at Lake Stevens High School, admitted that she was "absolutely spent" after the journey.
But it was Lawrie, the Huskies' all-everything, who summed the three weeks up the best.
"It has been," she said with a sigh of relief, "a frickin' journey."
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