2007 Softball Season Preview
Jan. 29, 2007
By Benton Strong
Entering its 15th season as an NCAA sport at the University of Washington, Husky softball returns for the 2007 campaign looking to continue its history of excellence. For 13-consecutive years the Purple and Gold has been represented in the NCAA tournament, but after a two year absence from the Women's College World Series, the Huskies have only one goal this year: a return trip to Oklahoma City.
This season the Huskies return eight starters to a team that came within two wins of the WCWS in 2006. The team lost just two seniors to graduation and will see added maturity from a squad that featured five freshmen last year. Six more freshmen have been added to the roster this season and will be under the leadership of four seniors.
Leading the way for the Dawgs will be senior and two-tme All-American Dominique Lastrapes (2B) and junior All-American Ashley Charters (SS). Other returning starters include seniors Dena Tyson (1B) and Nicole Moojen (SS), junior Lauren Greer (OF) and sophomores Marnie Koziol (OF), Alicia Matthews (C) and Ashlyn Watson (DP). Washington also returns both of its pitchers in junior Caitlin Noble and sophomore Danielle Lawrie.
With so many veterans and the younger players with a year under their belts, head coach Heather Tarr is excited about her team's potential, both for this season and the seasons to come.
"Last year taught us quite a few lessons," Tarr said. "The majority of the group is back and I think our team understands that we have to play well to get a better seed in the NCAA tournament."
Tarr said that her team will be deep and flexible this season, especially around the infield. It will also have even more speed than the team that stole 72 bases last season. She said the Huskies need to perform well in the preseason and then play as well as they can in the tough Pac-10 Conference in order to get a better draw in the NCAA tournament.
Lastrapes, Charters and Tyson will lead the team as captains and Tarr said that she's already seen a difference, particularly in the weight room.
"One of the biggest things I've seen with this team is how they've embraced the weight room to be able to help us get better," Tarr said. "There are several weight room records that have stood for a long time here that we are challenging. Caitlin Noble broke the power clean record, which is just one example of the good things that are going on in there with our team."
"Sarah and Aimee were cornerstones of this program so we lost two big pieces with their graduation," Tarr said. "They understood the philosophy of being a Husky. This, however, is going to be a year though where I expect to see a lot of growth in the team. The older players will have to bring along the younger ones and show them the way. The possibilities of this team are limitless because there is so much `team' to be had."
Washington returns both junior Caitlin Noble and sophomore Danielle Lawrie to the circle to provide a strong pitching rotation in combination with Alicia Matthews, in her second year as the starting catcher.
Last season, the two pitchers combined to be the most prolific strikeout duo in Husky history, compiling 598 strikeouts. Lawrie did a lot of the damage, blowing away a Husky record 377 opposing hitters.She also set records for strikeouts in a regulation game when she fanned 19 in seven innings, and the record for strikeouts in a game of any length, when she struck out 19 batters in a 12 inning game.
Noble enters her third year as a Husky starter out of Eastlake High School in Sammamish, Wash. In 2006 she won 12 games for the Huskies and racked up 211 strikeouts. She had six shutouts and tallied double-figure strikeouts six times.
"We have great pitching," Tarr said. "We need a big year from Caitlin Noble. Danielle has gotten better so being able to do what she did last year and adding to that will only make the staff better. Alicia Matthews can pitch if the situation needs it, but we are counting on Caitlin and Danielle being our starters."
What Matthews will do is play her role behind the plate. The sophomore started 47 games in her rookie year, leading the Pac-10 with three pickoffs. She also had several big hits offensively and will benefit from having experience working with both pitchers. Coach Tarr raved about Matthews' versatility when she came into the program last season, but it seems that she has found a home behind the plate.
"Alicia is a very smart, very instinctive player," Tarr said. "She knows Danielle and Caitlin and she knows the Pac-10 hitters. She is very relaxed and will be a calm leader."
In the mix at the catcher position will be freshman Amanda Fleischman out of Woodinville High School. She will have a chance to platoon with Matthews as she gains experience.
"She has great instincts," Tarr said. "She is a long, lanky, athletic, former basketball player. She liked softball, but has always been a basketball player at heart until making the switch to softball just before her senior year. She's kind of just getting started in softball, but it's limitless what this girl can do.
"It will be one of those situations where the one that can produce offensively is going to stay in there. It will also come down to who can manage both pitchers and work with them on a game-to-game basis the best."
Coach Tarr is excited about the prospects in her infield and the versatility it has this season. Dena Tyson will move to first base from the outfield while Ashley Charters will move back to the middle infield after recovering from surgery. Dominique Lastrapes returns to second base, but could also see some time at third, with sophomore transfer Dani Stuart getting a long look at the corner position.
"Defensively we are more versatile," Tarr said. "Bringing Dena out of the outfield and into first base adds to our ability to communicate as an infield. We are versatile because we can move people around the infield. I just have a feeling that Dominique is going to have a great year. She is working harder than ever, in the weight room and off the field."
Lastrapes should continue her All-American play at second base where she has become one of the most decorated players in Husky history. A three-year starter in the middle infield, Lastrapes has already left her mark on the program with a year left to go. She ranks in the Husky career top-10 in on-base percentage, batting average and doubles, while starting all but three games her entire career.
Stuart, a transfer from Syracuse who is originally from Centralia, Wash., will get a shot a third base, the position vacated with Hyatt's graduation.
"Dani is a third baseman that can hit for power," said Tarr. "She is a great student of the game and a great student-athlete. Defensively, she plays a solid third base and has a strong arm. I expect her to come right in and compete for a spot at third."
Probably the biggest boost to the Husky defense will be the return of Charters to shortstop. With Charters at the position Washington has a very potent middle infield. Charters and Lastrapes were the top-two hitters on the team last season, while Charters has climbed all the way to number four on the UW all-time list in hitting. The first-team All-Pac-10 player ranked second in the conference in hits (75) and stolen bases (29) last season.
"Ashley wants to be our shortstop," Tarr. "She is a great leader when she is out there."
Senior Nicole Moojen will also challenge for time at shortstop after starting 45 games there last season. Moojen hit .213, drove in four runs and boasted a .917 fielding percentage.
Three additional newcomers will vie for spots in the infield, including freshmen Kristin Shumaker, from nearby Redmond High School, walk-on Sheila Reiten, from Graham, Wash., and walk-on Dru Hester, from Yakima, Wash. All three rookies will help provide depth in the infield.
The graduation of centerfielder Aimee Minor means that Washington will have one of the youngest outfields in the conference this season. One thing coach Tarr is excited about, however, is the group's athleticism.
Koziol returns to left field after sharing the starting job with Tyson last season. The sophomore from Renton, Wash., had a solid start to her rookie campaign and finished the season ranked third on the team in hitting and second in steals. Coach Tarr said that Koziol has gotten better and that offensively she, "has made some adjustments that will allow her to contribute significantly to our lineup."
Hansen returns for her final season after making critical adjustments to her offensive game. She also brings a wealth of Pac-10 experience, having played in 133 career games and making 67 starts.
McWherter will vie for a spot if she can adapt quickly to the college game, particularly at the plate. Tarr said that her strength is her athleticism so the question mark will be her ability to manage the outfield as a unit.
"Both Jacki and Alyson have good pluses," Tarr said. "It will come down to offensive production and who can manage the outfield. Whoever can do that will play."
Junior Lauren Greer returns to right field for her third season as a starter. She was a solid outfielder last season, going errorless in 54 games. "She has a lot of experience with two years under her belt," said Tarr. "She is becoming a more mature and better leader out there."
Freshman Bailey Stenson will also challenge for a spot in the outfield. She figures to back up Koziol in left field, but Tarr said that either player has a chance to make an impact.
"Bailey is crafty," Tarr said. "She can bunt, hit and slap and she's willing to do whatever she has to do to get better everyday."
Strength Of Schedule
Washington plans to maintain its excellence by playing a challenging schedule with numerous top-notch opponents. The Huskies will face five of the eight 2006 WCWS participants this season, as well as 2005 NCAA Champion Michigan.
"We've got a good schedule and it is going to prepare us to be in a good position at the end of the year," Tarr said. "We're going to the Palm Springs Classic with some of the nation's toughest teams. To play the nation's best and compete in that environment will only help improve for the Pac-10 season."
The Pac-10 continues to be one of the toughest conferences in the country, sending four teams to the WCWS last year. The conference has also won 19 of the 25 national championships, including five of the last six. The Pac-10 title will once again be for grabs this season with multiple teams poised to make a run at the championship.
Tarr predicts that UCLA will be tough despite the loss of longtime head coach Sue Enquist. With the pitching the Bruins return and an always solid lineup, they look to be a force once again in 2007. Arizona is the defending national champion and will bring a wealth of talent, along with Oregon State who returns senior pitcher Brianne McGowen.
Tarr is hopeful the Huskies can build off of the lessons learned last season, especially in coming out on top of one-run ballgames and beating the teams you should beat. Last year, 10 of UW's 15 league losses came by one run, a fate Tarr looks to turn around in 2007.
"In the Pac-10 you can play the best you've ever played and lose 1-0," Tarr said. "It's just the reality of playing in the toughest conference in the country. Our goal is to continue to battle, perform well, and position ourselves for another deep run in the postseason. We have the tools, we just need to put it all together."