2003 Softball Season Preview

Jan. 22, 2003

Despite yielding 15 underclassmen and just one senior, the 2002 edition of Washington softball went 13-8 in the Pac-10 to capture third place and make its ninth appearance in the NCAA regional tournament. Riding a 46-18 record and No. 1 postseason seed into Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Huskies had their sights set firmly upon returning to the College World Series for the sixth time in seven years. With a sub-par 2-2 performance, however, Washington was eliminated from the tournament.

'We have unfinished business after last year,' said head coach Teresa Wilson. 'We ended the regular season on a great note with a sweep of Arizona and Arizona State but we didn't carry that momentum over into the postseason. To be in the World Series for five of the last seven years, you definitely realize it is a place you want to be. This group hasn't accomplished their World Series aspirations and their goal is to get the job done this season.'

Balance is the key for the 2003 squad and a combination of speed and athletes who hit for average and power will guide Washington's World Series agenda. The team returns eight starters, including a trio of All-Americans in senior shortstop Jaime Clark, junior pitcher Tia Bollinger and sophomore catcher Kristen Rivera.

'Our goal is to play better softball from top to bottom,' said Wilson. 'Youth is no longer an excuse. We have the veterans, we have the experience and we've progressed well this fall. We have a lot of talent and we need to take care of business.'

To prepare the Huskies for the unforgiving Pac-10 schedule and the road to the World Series, Wilson has lined up a demanding preseason schedule including eight tournaments in eight weeks against 12 teams that participated in the 2002 regional tournament.

'There's nobody who plays a stronger schedule than we do,' said Wilson. 'If you look at our power rankings (a measure of a team's strength of schedule) over the last five years, we've been between one and five in the country. While the tournament schedule will present its share of strong opponents, no part of the season is more demanding than the seven weeks of Pac-10 play.'

The Pac-10 conference has taken on a new look as six All-American pitchers have graduated. The conference, which has been known as an offensive power, is expected to be on hyper-drive this year as new pitchers must face veteran hitters.

'The Pac-10 is going to be a new and interesting conference this season,' said Wilson. 'With the loss of so many elite pitchers it's going to open the door for some young talent to emerge. You're going to see some new stars and some new challenges. While in the past you've seen dominance offensively, you may see even more of it with six All-American pitchers gone. This season could be a slug-fest.'

Despite the loss of many of the Pac-10's biggest pitching names, including championship game hurlers Jocelyn Forest (California) and Jennie Finch (Arizona), Wilson warns that the Pac-10 will still be prevalent among the nation's top and that winning the conference championship will be a battle.

'The most difficult part of playing the Pac-10 schedule is that you're playing the equivalent of a national championship game every single weekend,' said Wilson. 'That's good in many aspects because the challenge doesn't get any greater than that. The down side is that we simply become pretty familiar with each other over the course of a three-game series, not to mention the fact that we may pick up a fourth or fifth game during our two month tournament schedule. Both times we've played for the national championship it was against a Pac-10 opponent so the element of surprise isn't there.'

Because the Pac-10 has been so dominating, however, winning the conference championship is not Washington's only ticket into the regional tournament for a shot at the national crown. Last season, seven of the league's eight teams advanced to postseason with four of those qualifying for the College World Series.

'Only four times in the past ten years has the team that's won the Pac-10 gone on to win the College World Series,' said Wilson. 'Winning the Pac-10 requires consistency over a seven week period of time. To win the College World Series a team must stay hot for one week. There are many arguments over which task is more difficult to accomplish. I can say that we have been the consistent team and won the Pac-10 Championship twice. We have also played for the College World Series Championship twice. This season, our goal is to combine the success required for both and finish the job.'

Below is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2003 Washington softball team:

INFIELD

The Huskies return three-quarters of their infield headlined by three-time All-American shortstop Jaime Clark. Last season, Clark led Washington in nearly every offensive category and led the nation with 75 RBIs. A first team All-Pac-10 selection, Clark was among the league's top three in batting average (.431), hits (84), home runs (19), slugging percentage (.826) and on-base percentage (.504). Seven times her opponents tried to take the bat out of her hands with an intentional walk but Clark proved that she was not easily removed from the equation. Twice she belted home runs when pitchers were trying to put her on first base.

On defense, she is just as spectacular. She has developed a reputation of making the most difficult plays look routine.

Junior Amanda Oleson will be a familiar face in the infield but will make the switch from first to second. One of Washington's most versatile players, Oleson's debut at second base will be her fifth position for the Huskies after seeing action at first, shortstop, third and right field. Combined with Clark in the middle infield, Washington will field one of the best double-play combinations in the country.

Last season, Oleson was one of only four Huskies to play in all 64 games. As the season progressed, so did her offensive power as she hit .385 at the regional tournament, including two doubles and a home run to earn All-Tournament honors.

Also returning to the infield is sophomore Kathy Fiske at third. After holding her own at the corner during her rookie campaign, Fiske proved that talent could overcome inexperience at the highest level. She's vocal and her intensity and passion for the game make her a bulldog at third. At the plate she was third on the team with seven home runs and 33 RBIs and became just the fourth player in Husky history to hit two career grand slams.

Vying for the starting position at first base will be veteran Callie Bergan and newcomer Sarah Hyatt. Bergan, who missed last season after shoulder surgery, returns for her sophomore campaign after making six appearances at first base as a freshman.

Hyatt joins the Husky family after a stellar high school career at Sedro-Woolley High School. She led her team to two league championships and was named 2001 Skagit Valley Player of the Year.

OUTFIELD

Washington's outfield has lost starting left fielder Becky Simpson to graduation but continues to have tremendous depth both in the field and at the plate. Rita Roach will anchor centerfield after a solid sophomore season in which she earned second team All-Pac-10 and All-Region honors. As a No. 2 hitter, Roach ranked second on the team with a .350 batting average and recorded 17 multi-hit games. She had just 23 strikeouts on the season for a team-low and was fourth in the Pac-10 with 22 stolen bases.

Competing for the two remaining outfield positions are veterans Traci Tawney Megan Owen and Courtney Jeffries, along with newcomers Aimee Minor and Dena Tyson.

Tawney, one of just two seniors on the 2003 squad, appeared in 39 games last season, including six starts in right field. Her strengths are her speed, defense and her postseason experience as she is one of just three players to have been to the College World Series.

Owen possesses the most experience in right field with 30 starts last season, including the last nine games. Her speed is an asset both in the field and on the base paths, evident by her four stolen bases and 20 runs scored last season.

Jeffries started 15 games in right field last season and 31 as the designated player after hitting .600 in regionals and earning All-Tournament honors as a freshman. She can hit for power but is known as a situational hitter because of her exceptional bat control.

Tyson joins the Husky squad after a successful career at Corona High School in which she earned All-America honors. A member of the Batbusters summer team, Tyson was a key contributor to the 2002 18-under Gold National Championship team. She brings a combination of speed and athleticism to the Husky line-up and she showed off her power at the plate this September with a home run in the fall tournament.

Rounding out the right field prospects is Minor who hails from Hemet High School in San Jacinto, Calif. Minor was a three-time league MVP and showed her strength at the plate this fall when she blasted a home run out of Husky Softball Stadium.

THE BATTERY

Washington returns a strong battery as all three of its pitchers and both catchers return for the 2003 season.

Junior Amy Hanson and Rivera will split time behind the plate and as designated player. Hanson returns after missing most of last season with a shoulder injury. A year prior, Hanson made the switch from second base to catcher to start 55 games for the Huskies.

Rivera became just the fourth true freshman in Washington history to garner All-America honors last season. After splitting time between catcher and designated player with Hanson, Rivera took over catching duties full time after Hanson's injury. Her youth was a non-issue as her .346 batting average ranked third on the team and her 16 home runs ranks fourth-best on the Husky career charts. Rivera's defensive ability speaks for itself as she posted a .987 fielding percentage.

The Huskies return all three of their pitchers, including Bollinger, Ashley Boek and Leslie Scott.

Bollinger is a finesse pitcher who keeps opponents off balance with her movement. Last season, she led the team with 20 wins and 178 strikeouts, while only giving up one home run to earn honorable mention All-Pac-10 accolades. Nine of her wins came against teams ranked in the top-25, while she finished second in the Pac-10 with a 0.97 ERA. Bollinger also set a Husky season record with seven saves after recording none as a freshman.

Boek returns after a phenomenal freshman campaign in which she went 19-3. Her power is impressive and complements Bollinger's pitching style nicely. She tossed a no-hitter in just her second career start while ranking fourth in the Pac-10 with a 1.43 ERA and 6-1 mark in conference games. Boek also posted four victories over top-10 teams.

Scott appeared in 32 games last season and made seven starts. She posted an overall mark of 7-5 with a 2.15 ERA while walking just 10 batters in 81.1 innings pitched.

'Again, balance is the key for the Huskies and all of the components seem to be in place,' said Wilson. 'We have a great combination of speed, power and good base running on offense to go along with an excellent defense that includes a pitching staff who keeps opposing hitters guessing. The 2003 team could possess one of the best equations for success ever at Washington.'

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