Washington Softball Season Preview

Jan. 26, 2004

Last season Washington sprinted out to its best start in the program's history and was the last undefeated team in the country with a 19-0-1 mark. The Huskies peaked in May, splitting their final Pac-10 series against top-ranked Arizona in Tucson to earn the No. 1 seed at the regional tournament in Lincoln, Neb. Washington powered its way through its regional competition, sweeping the field 4-0 and out scoring its opponents 35-1, including three mercy-rule victories, to advance to its first WCWS since 2000. The Huskies opened the series with a 3-1 win over Oklahoma before dropping a pair of one-run heartbreakers to Arizona and UCLA to finish the season tied for fifth place.

The 2004 edition of Husky Softball aims for an equally impressive season as it returns seven position players and two pitchers from last year, including All-American pitcher Tia Bollinger and All-American catcher Kristen Rivera. Washington, who opens the season ranked fifth in the USA Softball/ESPN.com Top 25 poll, will also see former Husky assistants Scott Centala and Steve Dailey take over the reigns as co-head coaches.

'It was great to get back to the World Series last season,' said Centala. 'We started out like gangbusters in tournament play and gained momentum heading into the final Pac-10 weekend. We played our best softball of the season in those last two weeks.'

To prepare the Huskies for another grueling Pac-10 season, Washington will hone its skills in six tournaments that will pit UW against 17 teams that participated in the 2003 regional tournament, including eight regional finalists. The Huskies will play 13 teams currently ranked in the top 25, including defending national champion UCLA in just their third game.

'We always play a tough schedule,' said Centala. 'We've had one of the top three, sometimes the most difficult schedule in the country and not just because of our Pac-10 schedule. It's because we play tough opponents in these early season tournaments. We will be challenged early and our character and talent will be tested but those are precursors to our success in Pac-10s, which is a precursor to the World Series.'

Vying for the Pac-10 Championship will be the usual suspects of Arizona, UCLA and Washington, who have won 16 of the league's 17 titles. With increased parity, however, the Pac-10 title could be up for grabs. Last season, all eight Pac-10 teams played in regional tournaments, with four advancing to the College World Series.

'Schools like Oregon and Oregon State have gotten a lot better,' said Dailey. 'Seven Pac-10 teams played in a regional final which meant we could have had seven Pac-10 teams playing for the national championship out of a field of eight. Granted there are some heavy contenders for the Pac-10 title with Keria Goerl and Alicia Hollowell leading UCLA and Arizona on the mound but Washington is going to be good too.'

PITCHERS
Leading the way for Washington is one of the strongest pitching duos in the country in senior Tia Bollinger and junior Ashley Boek. Bollinger's finesse and Boek's power complement nicely to create a pitching rotation that keeps opponents guessing.

Last season, Bollinger posted a 28-9 record, including 10 shutouts with 207 strikeouts and a 1.32 earned run average. Thirteen of her wins came against teams ranked in the top 25 and her five saves pushed her career total to 12 to set a UW record and rank second on the Pac-10 all-time list. She threw three consecutive shutouts in the regional tournament to earn co-MVP honors and earned the 3-1 win over Oklahoma in the College World Series opener.

Boek tallied a 19-6 record last season, striking out 176 batters in 166 innings. She threw her second career no-hitter against Morehead State on Mar. 22 and maintained a 2.07 ERA. Boek made two appearances in the WCWS, holding Arizona hitless in two innings of relief and scattering four hits and striking out four batters against UCLA in the elimination game.

CATCHERS
The Huskies return two-time All-American catcher Kristen Rivera after an impressive sophomore campaign. Last season, Rivera split time at catcher and designated player, leading the Pac-10 with seven pick-offs and leading the nation with 25 home runs to set a UW single-season record. A finalist for the Honda Broderick Award, given to the top softball player in the nation, Rivera ranked second in the Pac-10 with 71 runs batted in and third in slugging percentage (.859). She shared co-MVP honors at the regional tournament with Bollinger after hitting 6-for-10 with three home runs and six RBIs.

The Huskies will look to replace the loss of catcher Amy Hanson with sophomore Jessica Wilkinson and freshman Robyn Wike. Wilkinson, who red shirted last season, appeared in one game as a freshman. Wike joins the Huskies after a successful high school career at Newbury Park High School (Calif.) where she was a first team all-league selection, the league's Defensive Player of the Year and the kicker for the football team.

INFIELDERS
Washington returns three of its four infielders in senior Amanda Oleson, junior Kathy Fiske and sophomore Sarah Hyatt.

Oleson will make the switch from second base to shortstop after the graduation of three-time All-American Jaime Clark. Oleson has been waiting for the chance to play shortstop after making the rounds at first, second, third base and right field during her career. Last season, Oleson was one of only three Huskies to start all 64 games, while driving in 16 runs from the leadoff position. She came through in the clutch in the World Series opener, driving in the winning run with a seventh inning double against Oklahoma.

Fiske returns to the hot corner after ranking second on the team with a .321 average. She notched 61 hits last season, including 13 doubles and 11 home runs for a .563 slugging percentage. Fiske also drove in 44 runs to rank third on the squad, an impressive feat considering she followed power hitters Clark and Rivera in the batting order.

Hyatt will return to first base after a solid rookie season. She demonstrated a lot of power at the plate, blasting seven home runs and 19 RBIs. Hyatt also hit two game-winning home runs in Pac-10 competition, hitting a two-run shot against Arizona State and a walk-off three-run home run against California in extra innings.

Also vying for playing time at first base is junior Callie Bergan. Last season, Bergan played in 14 games for the Huskies, making one start at first base. She hit .274 (3-for-11), while scoring four runs and picking up a RBI against Northwestern.

Expected to have an immediate impact at second base is freshman Dominique Lastrapes. A native of Laguna Hills, Calif., Lastrapes is known to be game savvy and intense on the field. With sound fundamentals, Lastrapes has a polished game that will fit nicely into the Huskies' starting line-up. She is also expected to step into the leadoff hitting position as her ability to slap or hit for power will keep opponents off balance.

OUTFIELDERS
Washington returns all three of its starting outfielders, including left fielder Dena Tyson, centerfielder Rita Roach and right fielder Aimee Minor. The Huskies also have senior Courtney Jeffries to throw in the mix in either the outfield or as the designated player.

Tyson started 60 games as a freshman and ranked fourth on the team with a .268 average. She hit a home run in her first collegiate at-bat, which was a preview of things to come as she picked up seven more home runs during the course of the season. Tyson also led the team, along with Fiske, with 13 doubles, while driving in 28 runs.

Roach, a senior, was flawless in centerfield last season, making 40 clean plays in as many chances. Her speed, powerful arm and deadly accuracy makes opponents think twice before trying to score from second. As the number two hitter in the line-up, Roach led the team with 15 sacrifices to set a UW single-season record.

Minor played in 63 games as a freshman and 20 of her 44 hits were for extra-bases. She posted 12 doubles, three triples and six home runs, while driving in 25 runs. Minor shined in the postseason, hitting .455 at the regional tournament and blasting a solo home run off of UCLA's Keira Goerl in the elimination game of the World Series.

Jeffries is expected to see time in both the outfield and as the designated player. Last season, Jeffries started six games in left field and eight as the DP. She can hit for power but is known as a situational hitter because of her excellent bat control.

'The 2004 season is one of high expectations,' said Cenala. 'Our team size, although short on numbers, is certainly not short on talent. Staying healthy will be a key, but even in doing so, most every player is going to get increased opportunities this season. This year we have the best 1-2 pitching combination in the country, a more balanced and mature offense, a defense with tremendous potential, and most importantly an entire team that has a strong sense of what each players, role is. This should provide thefoundation for not only a lot of excitement, but also a lot of fun.'

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