By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
It says a lot about the state of the University of Washington softball program that the Huskies were disappointed by last year’s failure to reach the eight-team College World Series.
The Huskies have set the bar high in recent years, and as the 2012 team prepared for this weekend’s home-opening Husky Softball Classic, it’s already proven once again to be a national contender.
Several new faces have helped UW get off to another fast start, with a 19-1 record, two preseason tournament titles and a national ranking that has risen 11 spots to No. 3.
“There were a lot of holes from last year’s team, some infield spots where a lot of people were concerned with our freshman class,” said sophomore Victoria Hayward, a new contributor who has been filling in as leadoff hitter while senior Kimi Pohlman recovers from a concussion. “But they came in, and our team had full confidence in them, and there hasn’t been any sort of gap period. We hit the ground running full-speed.”
By winning 13 consecutive games to start the season before losing to 11th-ranked Missouri on Feb. 25, the Huskies legitimized their spot as a probable national contender for another year. Not even head coach Heather Tarr knew UW would get off to such a fast start.
“To be honest, I didn’t quite know what to expect, because we were so young,” said Tarr, whose Huskies play host to Seattle University and North Dakota at the Husky Softball Classic this afternoon. “But we also have four seniors who won a national championship. … But as it’s turned out, those seniors and the freshmen have kind of become the bread of the sandwich. … They kind of hold everybody together.”
This year’s Huskies, having lost former stars Jenn Salling and Morgan Stuart from the 2011 team that got knocked out by Missouri in the NCAA super-regionals, have relied more on depth than headliners in getting off to their fast start. With Pohlman out, the offense has revolved around senior Nikia Williams and freshmen Marki Creger-Zier, Kimberlee Souza, Kylee Lahners and Courtney Gano.
UW also has relied on a deeper staff of pitchers, including Bryana Walker and freshman Kasey Stanchek, to help sophomore Kaitlin Ingelsby rest her arm so she doesn’t wear out like she did down the stretch of her freshman year.
“Our whole staff has really bought into it, and it’s just going to make us that much tougher,” Inglesby said of UW’s new reliance on a full pitching staff. “… We work together because we know it’s not one of us that’s going to take us to Oklahoma City (site of the World Series); it’s all three of us.”
Inglesby did her best to ignore comparisons to departed star Danielle Lawrie last season, but it was difficult not to notice how much UW missed having a two-time All-America workhorse to carry the load.
Almost two years later, Tarr looks at the way Lawrie was able to put those teams on her back and realizes just how rare that was.
“The biggest thing that we all have to transition our minds out of is the Danielle Lawrie deal, and how she carried our team in 2009,” Tarr said this week. “That’s a very unique thing to happen. Looking back on what she was able to do, from start to finish of that 2009 season, it was almost a miracle. There were definite times throughout the season when I was like: ‘She’s done. We used her too much. She’s tired.’ And then, sure enough, she always had a little extra.”
“What might make this team even a little more successful, or maybe even a little bit better than we’ve been, is the depth on our pitching staff.”
Tarr said this team has what it takes to get back to the College World Series. And the Huskies wouldn’t settle for anything less.
“For a lot of teams, their goal is to get to postseason, just to get to super-regionals. But we’re not satisfied with that,” Hayward said. “Every year, we want to be in Oklahoma City, we want to be in that top eight. Anything less, we feel like we’ve let ourselves down and let our teammates down. Or goal, plain and simple, we want to win another national championship.”
Pohlman and Williams were both selected in the NPF Senior Draft earlier this week, making them the sixth and seventh players in UW history to be picked. Pohlman went No. 2 overall, making her the highest-drafted Husky of all time. Salling went third overall last year, joining a Florida team that also includes Lawrie and former UW star Ashley Charters. … Pohlman has been sidelined two weeks since suffering the concussion against Missouri, but the Huskies are holding out hope she’ll be available for this weekend’s games.
Husky Softball Classic
All at Husky Softball Complex
Noon: North Dakota vs. Seattle U.
3 p.m.: UW vs. Seattle U.
6 p.m.: UW vs. North Dakota
10 a.m.: North Dakota vs. Seattle U.
1 p.m.: UW vs. North Dakota
4 p.m.: UW vs. Seattle U.