Smith's Caper Still Makes These UW Seniors Laugh
April 26, 2012
By Gregg Bell
They've reinforced UW softball's "Inner Circle" with relentless work ethic balanced by compassion and camaraderie that have produced friendships that are bound to endure.
They've been All-Americans. Won a conference title. Advanced in three consecutive NCAA tournaments. Finished each of their first three seasons at Washington ranked within the nation's top 12.
Heck, they've won this school's first national championship, as freshmen in 2009.
Yet ask Kimi Pohlman, Nikia Williams, Jenna Clifton, and Taylor Smith for a moment they will remember long past their final Huskies home games this weekend when 11th-ranked Washington hosts third-ranked and defending national-champion Arizona State Friday through Sunday, and the four seniors laugh heartily.
"The time Taylor almost got arrested."
"So," Smith explained readily this week in the players' lounge area beneath Husky Softball Stadium, "my job up until this year was to make sure the door from the locker room to the field was locked (at the end of each day). We had official visits that weekend (in late September 2008). It was 3 in the morning and I was laying in my bed thinking about my day. And I was like, `I don't know if I locked the door!'"
Pohlman, a four-year starting outfielder and leadoff batter who entering this weekend is the all-time batting average leader at UW, was Smith's dorm roommate for those first months of their freshman year. Annoyed her roomie had awakened her in what she saw as an unnecessary panic, Pohlman growled "Taylor, you're fine. Go back to sleep" -- before Pohlman immediately did so herself.
Smith stayed wide awake.
"If the coaches were to see the door was unlocked, the whole team was going to run. As a freshman, I was mortified at that," she says.
So Smith called Williams, "because Kimi didn't care," she says now, causing all the seniors to laugh.
Williams told Smith the same thing: "Taylor, you're fine."
Daunted, Smith ran out of McMahon Hall, down the hill, across Montlake Boulevard, behind Alaska Airlines Arena, around Husky Stadium to the softball field - all while still in her pajamas and while still on her mobile phone with Williams.
"Football was playing Stanford the next day, so security is pretty high or whatever," Smith says. "I didn't know that."
She jumped the fence to get into the softball stadium adjacent to Husky Stadium, which is locked down the night before each home football game. But as a freshman in her first month on campus she didn't yet have the code to get through the main locker-room. So Smith went down a foul line and jumped another fence onto the field to check the locker room door from there.
Alas, Pohlman and Williams were right. She had locked the door, after all.
Exasperated yet relieved, Smith began the series of jumps back over the fences she had already scaled. After clearing the first one off the field, she was found security personnel "in orange jackets running at me." She dropped her phone and threw up her hands in surrender.
The scene was like a parody of a crime-movie parody, a spoof of "Naked Gun" on public-access TV.
"OK, ma'am, you need to come with us," the security personnel told the teenager, a power-hitting outfielder at UW and an all-state player at Timberline High School in Olympia, Wash.
"I'm on the team, I swear!" Smith told them, though she had no identification to prove her claim.
They escorted her back past the stadiums to two university police cruisers waiting off Montlake. She was patted down. Not surprisingly, no officer believed her story as to why she was scaling stadium fences in her PJs at 3 a.m. on a Friday night.
Smith was informed she would be charged with a misdemeanor for trespassing. She was released back to her dorm room, sobbing the entire walk back up the hill.
"I went to the bathroom and just started throwing up, until it was late enough in the morning to call Coach (Heather) Tarr," Smith says. "And she's at Salty's with the recruits! She couldn't understand me (through all the sobs).
"We got it all worked out. And I don't have a misdemeanor on my record. The freshmen didn't have to run. And the door was locked the whole time."
OK, security may not be their thing. But softball and accomplishment most certainly are for these four seniors, one of Tarr's smaller veteran classes.
There final legacy is still to be determined. Behind strong pitching from sophomore Kaitlin Inglesby and timely hitting, the Huskies beat then-No. 1 Florida early this season and peaked as high as third in the nation before conference play began. They've run into the inconsistency that has characterized each of the seniors' four league seasons and stand at 7-10 in the Pac-12 entering Friday's 6 p.m. series opener with ASU (live audio and statistics here on GoHuskies.com).
The seniors have called a couple of players-only meetings recently, seeking to restore urgency to the final weeks of this season - and of their time as Huskies.
"We've come to the realization our careers are 90 percent over," Pohlman said.
"At this point of the season, it's more about being selfless," Williams said. "I mean, a season doesn't go by perfectly. If it does, it's very uncommon.
"At this point we can't worry about, `Oh, my God! World Series! World Series!' We have to focus on today. I think we are in a pretty good spot right now - maybe not that much to the outsiders, but in here. We're moving forward."
Yet this weekend they and the Huskies will take a day to look back. Before Sunday's noon home finale, Washington will honor Arizona State's seniors. After the game, the Huskies seniors get their time with final introductions, ceremonial escorts onto the field, and flowers.
Clifton's parents Loren and Barbara are coming in from Arizona to be there. Williams' mom Denise is coming up from southern California to Seattle for the first time this season. Smith's folks, Kurt and Kyle, will be up from Olympia with both sets of Taylor's grandparents. Smith's sister Taryn, a freshman pitcher for Central Washington, will be there, too.
Pohlman will have her mom and dad, Becky and Steve, there on Sunday, along with her boyfriend. You may have heard of him: former Huskies basketball star Jon Brockman. His NBA season with the Milwaukee Bucks was to end Thursday night.
"I'm very excited. The one thing about him, he gets it. He understands it," Pohlman said of being a student-athlete with aspirations to play as a professional. "When I am a roller coaster he is flat-lining. He is a great person to have in my back pocket to use."
Smith and Williams can't believe their careers have gone by so quickly. Or so it seems.
"Reflecting back four years, how the program's evolved, how things have changed - I'm an emotional person so it doesn't take much to bring me to tears - but it's just crazy to see how much we've accomplished," Smith says. "How much we've grown as people, as students, as athletes, as friends. It's just something I never really thought this is what my life would be like, coming on graduation.
"I'm just really thankful."
This month Williams became one of 10 national finalists for the 2012 Lowe's Senior CLASS award for exemplifying excellence in the community, the classroom, with character and in competition.
She says "it's hard to put into words" that her UW career really is coming to and end.
"It's just crazy that we are already at this point in our lives," she said. "It seems almost like yesterday - I know everyone says that - but it really does seem like that when we got here."
Williams joined Pohlman last month in becoming the sixth and seventh Huskies selected in the history of the National Pro Fastpitch league's senior draft. Pohlman became the highest UW selection ever when the Chicago Bandits chose the speedy outfielder from Sammamish, Wash., second overall. She ranks in the top 10 all-time in Huskies' history in stolen bases, on base percentage, batting average, and hit by pitch.
She is graduating with a degree in communications and interned last summer for ROOT Sports cable television network in the Seattle area covering the Mariners plus college and NFL football. She says she wouldn't mind eventually landing in that field, provided it keeps her close to her Seattle home.
Williams, who was on the Women's College World Series all-tournament team with Pohlman as freshmen on that 2009 title run, was the 16th-overall selection of the USSSA Florida Pride. The utility player ranks in UW's top 10 all-time in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage.
The senior from Mission Viejo, Calif., is graduating in June with a degree in disability studies. After her playing days end, she wants to be involved in the Special Olympics.
Clifton, from Glendale, Ariz., graduates in June with a sociology degree. The pitcher and utility player wants to get into event planning, particularly for weddings.
"I like the chaos of when something goes wrong, and then coming in and fixing it," she said.
Smith has already walked in graduation after majoring in medical anthropology - she was inspired by a teacher in that specialty she had as a freshman. She's interned in a dental office, with Tarr in the softball program, and now wants to also get into wedding planning.
She and Clifton combined to plan Sunday's postgame senior banquet at Conibear Shellhouse.
Asked for what legacy they believe they are leaving behind as Huskies, these seniors say they have eliminated what had been a veteran-dominated class structure on rosters that were top heavy with experience when they arrived at Washington. They see the program as more shared now from first- to fourth-year players across the entire roster.
"The culture was way different. The seniors would get on your right away," Clifton said, snapping her fingers. "It was very class-based."
"That's another thing I think we've done a good job of, it not being `freshman do this,'" Smith added. "Everyone pulls their own weight. It doesn't matter how old you are or how long you've been here, if you start or don't start."
Or, if you've jumped fences in pajamas in the middle of the night and been accused of, say, unlawful trespassing, either.