Softball In Search Of Sixth Straight Trip To The College World Series In 2001
Jan. 18, 2001
SEATTLE - Washington head coach Teresa Wilson has no problem with the word rebuilding when describing the 2001 edition of the Husky softball team.
With the loss of exactly half of last year's roster from a team which claimed its fifth-straight trip to the College World Series and a number one national ranking for 13 straight weeks, this year's Washington squad will be looking to exceed expectations, rather than just live up to them.
"I'm okay with the phrase rebuilding year, because it is," said Wilson, now in her ninth year as the only head coach in school history. "It is a rebuilding year, because essentially what we're doing is rebuilding our foundation. We have new names, new positions and very little experience. Our pitching staff is unproven, our shortstop only played there part time last year and we have 10 freshmen. Our three seniors are the extent of our experience.
"Do I mind people saying that? No, because it's true. It's not that I'm bothered by that fact or the situation that we're in, it's how you deal with it and where you plan to go with it. So we're rebuilding that foundation and we'll see what kind of product we end up with."
Although Wilson is quick to concede the word rebuilding when describing this year's team, she also is quick to note that it is not the first for a team, which, with one more victory, will reach the 400-win plateau in the program's short nine-year history.
"After the 1996 team, we lost eight kids, and no one thought we would make it back and then we finished third," Wilson said. "After that we lost five more, so in the span of two years, we lost 13 kids - the Jen Clines, the Michelle Churchs and the Sara Pickerings. The names go on and on, and yet, we just kept finding a way back. In 1997, when (All-Americans) Jennifer Spediacci and Jamie Graves and all those kids were freshmen, no one gave them a chance because they were young, but they found a way to go back and finish third again."
Leading the charge this season will be the team's trio of seniors - Kim DePaul, Kelly Hauxhurst and Christie Rosenblad. The three have been the model of consistency, combining to start in all but six of the team's 207 games over the last three seasons.
DePaul will once again anchor the Husky infield with her gritty athleticism and competitive drive at third base. A three-time all-Pac-10 honoree, DePaul hit over .290 for a second consecutive season in 2000, drawing a school-record 56 walks and posting an unbelievable .502 on-base percentage in scoring a career-high 54 runs.
"Kim is one of the best third basemen in the country," Wilson said. "She has amazing strength and quickness, good power, and phenomenal instinct both offensively and defensively."
DePaul, who has started every game since coming to the UW, may also see some time behind the plate at the catching position.
"Kim never met a challenge she didn't like," Wilson said. "For her, stepping behind the plate is fun and it's a chance to be involved with every play. The more opportunity that she has to make a great or tough play or make a play that no one else thinks can be made, that's where she is happy."
Joining DePaul in the infield at second base is Rosenblad, who had a .980 fielding percentage in 70 games in 2000, which included a streak of 26 games without a error from mid-February to mid-March.
"Christie has a great eye and vision of the entire field," Wilson said. "She knows where everyone is supposed to be and is a good communicator on the field. She's quiet, but her play is very loud and you seldom catch her out of position or not communicating."
Rosenblad also continued to improve at the plate, posting a career-high .277 batting average to go along with career bests in runs scored with 23, hits with 36 and home runs with three.
"Christie has become a true student of the game and because she's not in anyone's shadow anymore, people are going to see a really exciting softball player out there this season," Wilson said.
Completing this year's senior class is Hauxhurst, whose clutch play has been a key part in the Huskies' run to the College World Series over the past three seasons.
"Kelly is as clutch a player as you'll ever see," Wilson said. "You can go every year from her freshman year up and Kelly is a postseason queen.
"When we recruited her, her summer coach said, `All I can tell you is that Kelly Hauxhurst has probably hit .650 lifetime for me in championship play or at national tournament time.' Kelly just loves the challenge and the better the competition, the better she is."
Last season, Hauxhurst earned regional all-tournament honors for the third time and recorded career highs in nearly every offensive category from her number two spot in the batting order, including a .326 average.
At the same time, the team's starting leftfielder continued to excel off the field, garnering GTE and all-Pac-10 academic honors.
"Kelly exemplifies the term student-athlete," Wilson said. "She takes her academics very seriously. She also takes extreme pride in being in shape, in being strong in the weight room, in being a leader and representing herself, her team and the University of Washington in the highest manner."
Besides the three seniors, the Huskies' other returning starter from last year's squad is sophomore Jaime Clark, who split time between right field and shortstop last year, but returns full time to the latter position in 2001.
Clark led the nation in total bases with 176 during her freshman campaign, hitting .362 with 23 home runs and 24 doubles to earn All-America, all-Pac-10 and all-region honors.
This season, Clark will serve as one of the team's captains along with DePaul and Hauxhurst and is once again poised to continue her assault on the Husky record books.
"I just cannot say enough about what Jaime has put into this program this fall," Wilson said. "She's stronger and has really gotten after things and taken care of business in the weight room. She's faster, she's quicker, she's more mature, and she's a leader. This team rallies around Jaime Clark.
"Jaime motivates people just by watching her play. She plays the game with an all-out reckless abandon every single day of practice and in every single game. I've been watching her play for five or six years now and I've never, ever seen her loaf on the field."
With Clark's movement full time to the shortstop position, the Huskies, with Rosenblad at second base, will have the added threat of a near flawless double-play combination on defense.
"Christie and Jamie are the best double play combination in the country - I would put a lot of money on that," Wilson said. "There's a great sense of security for those two, because they know where each other is going to be on every play. They spent time playing together on their summer team, the Batbusters, but they have taken huge strides this fall with their comfort level. It's a pretty amazing thing to have them turn a double play."
While there is little question about the impact the three seniors and Clark will make this season for the Huskies, the biggest question no doubt will fall on the shoulders of the pitching staff, which will enter the season with a combined career record of 2-0 in just a little over 64 innings of work.
"(Pitching) is the big question mark this year - everyone in the country is wondering if our pitchers will get it done," Wilson said. "I like the challenge, but it doesn't really matter if I like the challenge. What I feel best about is my pitchers.
"Four of the last five pitchers have garnered six All-American awards between them, so there is an expectation. Our pitchers are very well aware of that expectation and they enjoy it. "
Wilcox enters the season with the most experience of the three, appearing in 29 games and starting in three over the past two years. A location pitcher, Wilcox will bring a degree of calmness with her to the circle, in addition to a large repertoire of pitches.
Walsh, meanwhile, has logged 13 innings of work in the past two seasons, while seeing playing time in 88 career games primarily at the designated player spot. Like Wilcox, Walsh has command of a wide variety of pitches, but throws more of a heavy pitch and adds a bit of a flair to the position.
"What you learn by watching in those first couple years, when success and failure isn't all put on your shoulders, has a lot to do with future success," Wilson said. "I think Shannon and Bridget are very excited about the opportunity they have. They've watched, learned and paid their dues, and now it's their turn to try and take this team. I think they're excited about that and they're very proud."
The 2000 Gatorade National Player of the Year, Bollinger concluded her senior season at Mater Dei High School in California with a 30-2 record, including a 0.03 earned-run average and almost 400 strikeouts. She also was tabbed twice for ASA All-America honors will playing for her summer team, Gordon's Panthers.
"Tia is going to come and throw right out of the shoot," Wilson said. "She's got the reputation (Gatorade National Player of the Year), but what she has had to learn very quickly is that even with all the accolades that she received at Mater Dei and with Gordon's Panthers, she now has to take her game to the next level. She's learned to think at this new level and has learned some new pitches very quickly, which is a tribute to her being a great student of the game."
After the departure of both of the team's two catchers from a year ago, sophomore Amy Hanson will take over the catching duties after seeing action in 16 games, primarily at second base, as a freshman in 2000.
"Amy has made a good transition for someone who has never caught a game before, and all of sudden is thrusted into the catching role," Wilson said. "She has the unique outlook that she is there for the sole purpose of making the pitcher better. She has put time and energy into her pitchers and has taken time to find out what each pitcher needs, how they learn and take feedback and what clicks for them. Amy has made her pitchers feel extremely comfortable and they come to rely on her."
Another of last year's supporting cast, who will be thrust into a starring role will be sophomore first baseman Traci Tawney. Tawney appeared in 19 games in left field, at first base and as a pinch runner and hitter in 2000.
"I've always admired Traci for her ability to adapt," Wilson said. "She has a way to exude confidence in positions that she doesn't have a lot of experience at. Traci is the poster girl for taking information that you're given and going home, working on it and applying it."
With Hauxhurst returning in left field, the Huskies have two open positions in the outfield, one of which Wilson expects to be filled by junior Becky Simpson.
Simpson hit .357 in 2000, appearing in 40 games as one of the team's primary pinch runners for the second straight year. Simpson can play either right or center field and adds speed, work ethic and confidence on offense to the UW lineup.
"Becky is one of those rags-to-riches success stories," Wilson said. "She came in as a walk-on and no one knew her. Then she made an impression with her work ethic, hustle and with her heart, and now as junior, is looking to have all that work pay off."
Of primary importance to Washington's success this year will be the development and play of the team's nine freshmen position players. Six of the nine will play primarily in the infield, while outfielders Nicki Holt and Rita Roach and utility player Amanda Oleson will see extensive action in their first seasons.
Holt and Oleson both hail from the Ventura County area of California, having played on the same all-star team a year ago, while accompanying their respective summer teams to the 2000 ASA 18-and-under gold national championships in St. Louis, Mo.
Roach, a former summer teammate of Clark on the Batbusters, adds speed to the line-up as a left-handed lead-off hitter and is expected to see most of her time patrolling center field.
"In the outfield, Rita has a nose for the ball," Wilson said. "She has a great first step and gets a good angle on the ball. She makes plays that you just think, `wow'. You also can look at her size and think you could run on her all day, but I wouldn't try it, because she has a good arm."
Rounding out the group of newcomers are infielders Callie Bergen, Courtney Jeffries, Shawna Norris, Megan Owen, Robyn Waddle and Nicole Wicks.
Owen and Wicks will back up Clark at the shortstop position and Jeffries and Waddle will see duty behind Rosenblad at second base. At 5-10 and 6-0, respectively, Bergen and Norris provide the Huskies will good range at the corner positions.
The 10 incoming freshmen also add a new threat to the Husky offense - speed - something which was less of a factor on last year's squad which tagged a school-record 84 home runs.
"There was a time two or three years ago that we had to manufacture runs," Wilson said. "Last year, we could sit back and watch things happen, because we had RBI people and hit a lot of home runs. This year, we're going to have to go back to manufacturing some things, because we have more of a variety of speed, slappers and power hitters.
"We have a very good balance this year, but it's just unproven."