SEATTLE – The No. 3 Washington Huskies softball team features four seniors in the outfield, and each one is determined to help the Huskies return to the Women’s College World Series for the second time in their respective careers.
The Huskies return seniors Marki Creger-Zier, Victoria Hayward, Whitney Jones, Mercedes Wetmore, sophomore Dani Braun, and redshirt freshman Makenzie Pletcher from last year’s outfield squad and add freshman Rylleigh Zbaraschuk.
“Our goal from the beginning has definitely been to win the national championship, to get to Oklahoma City, and then, along the road, to compete in every game,” Hayward said.
Hayward has been a stalwart in the Huskies outfield, playing in all but two games over her career. Last season, Hayward started each of the Huskies 62 games in the outfield and led the team in multiple offensive categories. Hayward led the Huskies with a .372 batting average, and put up the top numbers on the team in hits, runs, triples, stolen bases, and sacrifice hits. She was named First-Team All-Pacific Region, as well as First-Team All-Pac-12.
“Victoria is probably one of the most underrated players around,” head coach Heather Tarr said. “She’s very consistent in how she goes about things. She has continued to improve every single year. She’s taken advantage of being able to play for the Canadian National Team every summer, and that’s been a big commitment for her. She’s been getting better at softball, and it’s been paying off at the end of every single season we’ve had. She’s been one of our best hitters when it matters because she’s so consistent.”
Creger-Zier was one of the Huskies key role players off the bench in 2013, serving as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. Creger-Zier scored 24 runs in 2013 despite starting just 15 games and was four-for-five in stolen base attempts.
“Marki’s been able to put together four really good weeks in practice,” Tarr said. “Defensively, she’s our fastest outfielder. She can cover almost a field-and-a-half with her speed and her reads on the ball. She’s a Husky, and like a true Husky, she’s scrappy. She works hard. She competes. She wants it, and she’s a great teammate.”
Jones picked it up offensively down the stretch last season, hitting .385, with four runs scored, 7 RBI, and her first career home run over the final nine games of Pac-12 play. Jones is one of seven seniors on this year’s roster.
“Whitney was big for us last year,” Tarr said. “She has a tremendously consistent work ethic. We are expecting her to have a great year.”
Wetmore, a starting guard for the Washington women’s basketball team, last season joined the Huskies following the conclusion of basketball season. Wetmore appeared in seven games off the bench for the Huskies softball team in 2013 and returns to provide the team senior leadership this season. She will again join the team at the conclusion of basketball season.
“We have Mercedes involved in with our program because she’s an awesome Husky, and she fits well within our team dynamic,” Tarr said. “Whatever she can bring to our program, being a senior and with her experiences playing basketball, can only be of value to us.”
Braun will fill a crucial role for the Huskies this season, splitting her time between the outfield and infield as a capable option at multiple positions. Braun served as a pinch runner and defensive replacement for most of 2013. She scored 15 runs in 2013. Braun will most likely begin the year as an option in the outfield and at first base.
“She’s a big-time asset for us,” Tarr said.
Pletcher, a native of Puyallup, Wash., was a redshirt freshman last season and returns to the Huskies outfield in 2014 having grown a lot from a year ago.
“Makenzie learned a lot last year,” Tarr said. “She’s really improved a lot from where she was when she first got here. She’s going to be a great role player for us.”
Zbaraschuk led Sequim High School (Sequim, Wash.) to the two state championship appearances, including its first-ever state championship her sophomore year. Zbaraschuk lettered all four years, and earned all-league honors three times, including co-MVP her senior year. She will be a capable option for the Huskies in the outfield this season.
“Rylleigh has physical talent and loves to compete,” Tarr said. “She has a great arm in the outfield. She can cover a lot of ground in the outfield. She brings another left-handed bat as an option. She’s continuing to learn and grow in our system.”
As a unit, the Huskies outfield group will be driving each other to improve all season long.
“We have a couple seniors out there leading our group, which is really good,” Hayward said. “The freshmen and underclassmen are pushing each other and fighting to get in that starting lineup, which is always good.”
The Huskies will open the season at the UNLV/SportCo Kick-Off Classic on Friday, February 7 vs. No. 18 Baylor at 9:00 a.m. in Las Vegas, Nev.
· The 2014 season is just four days away. The Huskies open the season Friday, February 7 vs. Baylor in Las Vegas. The Huskies complete 2014 schedule is available here.
· Reserve season tickets for the 2014 season today. Single-game tickets for the Huskies 12-game home schedule go on sale Wednesday, February 26. More information is available here.
· The Huskies open their home schedule Friday, March 14 against Pac-12 foe Utah at 5:00 p.m. at Husky Softball Stadium. Promotions include "Softball Friday Night Under the Lights" and Professor Appreciation night, where professors with an invite gain free admission, and faculty and staff tickets are just $3.· New this year to Husky Softball is the Team of the Game promotion. Youth softball team with players currently in 8th grade and under, plus two coaches, will receive free General Admission tickets, be on the field with the Huskies for the national anthem, and receive an autographed team poster, as well as a group welcome during the game. Family and friends can also purchase General Admission tickets at a discounted rate of $3. Space is limited. To sign up, contact email firstname.lastname@example.org