From The Daily: Armed And Ready

May 14, 2010

By Christian Caple
The UW Daily

Before the end was in sight, before the national championship and before Alyson McWherter was entirely sure of just exactly where she fit in on the Washington softball team, there was a note.

It was written by McWherter to head coach Heather Tarr during a trip to UCLA last season, the first indication that the Huskies' now-rock-solid center fielder was having a little bit of trouble balancing all of her obligations.

McWherter is in UW's ROTC program, see, and is still a softball player, and a student, and so she needed some validation from her coach that what she was doing was OK, that her contributions on the field were enough and that everything was going to be fine.

'She did such a good job of not showing that it was wearing her out that it was just normal Aly,' Tarr said. 'But it was wearing her out. That was when she came to me and communicated, `I need this and that, and I'm going to be OK. But if I don't get this and that, I don't know what I'm going to do.''

More on that in a minute. Because what you need to know now is that those days are firmly entrenched in the past for the senior outfielder, who will graduate in June as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army after completing the requirements for UW's ROTC program.

It's hard to talk to McWherter without marveling at all that she's done at this school, anchoring one of the nation's best outfields while winning a national title and learning how to command army squadrons when she wasn't shagging fly balls.

And then there's that schedule.

'This year it's sort of slowed down,' McWherter said. 'But last year, it was pretty big.'

By big, of course, she means that `sleeping in' meant waking up after 6:30 in the morning. And this was during the summer, before her school classes even started.

McWherter rattles off the week's duties as if she's putting together her grocery list.

Briefings. Operations orders. Morning orders. Planning. Spot checks. Training. Classes.

Then came Thursdays, when she would arrive at 5:30 a.m. to practice everything she'd planned for throughout the week.

Fridays were for after-action reviews, which was basically a time to go over everything they'd done the day before.

'Some weeks you'd be just your average Joe, and then other weeks you'd be a squadron leader, or a platoon leader, or a team leader, and you'd have different responsibilities throughout the week,' McWherter said. 'Those were pretty busy. You just add that in whenever I had spare time from softball.'

Spare time. That was Tarr's concern, too. McWherter approached her about signing up for ROTC between her freshman and sophomore seasons, using a couple of meetings with some ROTC supervisors to convince the coach that she could handle both that and softball. The Army, after all, runs in McWherter's family, and it was important to her to be a part of it, too.

'We need you to be fully committed to softball, because you're going to have a chance to be our starting center fielder,' Tarr told her.

'I couldn't even fathom how she was going to be able to do all of this.'

There were times when McWherter wondered the same thing. Was waking up at 4 every morning after a full day of classes, training and softball really worth it?

'I definitely had a couple nights where I was like, `what am I doing?'' McWherter said. 'I did have nights, trust me, where all you want to do is pick up the phone and say, `that's it, I'm done. I don't have time for this anymore.''

She did a good job of keeping it to herself, though.

'I feel like she does a good job of separating that when she comes here and she plays,' pitcher Danielle Lawrie said. 'She was pretty good at not letting that affect what she is.'

It seems that weekend in Los Angeles is when it all came to a head. But Tarr assured her center fielder that all was well, that her efforts in both areas were more than sufficient.

And so this is a story of perseverance, a reminder that in the world of high-school athletes holding college fan-bases hostage with elaborate and drawn-out recruiting processes, in a world where our 41-year-old heroes are napping during games and you're left to wonder just what exactly is wrong with sports these days, there are still people making major contributions in ways that make you wonder why you ever doubted them.

'That cliche statement, whatever doesn't kill you only makes you stronger, really came into play last year, and ultimately helped define the type of individual I am now,' McWherter said. 'Because I had to convince myself it was worth doing and that in the end it was all going to be worth it.'

It was. McWherter got into the branch she wanted, and she'll be stationed with the third infantry division in Fort Stewart, Ga., the same place her dad was stationed way back when.

Her obligation is four years of active duty, and she's not sure what she'll do after that, though she says that she won't shy away from the opportunity to go overseas if it's presented. It's something she has perspective on, since her dad was in Iraq when she was in high school.

First, though, there's that small matter of winning another national title.

'Sometimes, [ROTC] does put [softball] in perspective a little bit,' she said. 'But I think if anything, that just makes me love [softball] more, because you can go out and have fun, just enjoy it. I think if anything, I've enjoyed it more. I haven't looked at it as much of a job as I used to. You still give everything you have, but it's more fun.'

That's part of the reason why her teammates appreciate her so much. Bailey Stenson, a fellow senior who also played alongside McWherter during summers while the two were in high school, says it's obvious that McWherter's leadership skills have carried over onto the softball field.

'We've always had a really good talking connection,' Stenson said. 'I can say one word, and she'll catch the ball and she'll say, hey, good talk, good talk. If she ever tells me, back, back, back, I don't even have to look at the ball, I know I'm going to catch it because her communication is so clear. She's a gem of an outfielder.'

A gem hardened by a college experience unlike almost all others.

'A lot of successes came from the hard work I put in, and looking back, I don't regret it,' McWherter said. 'I would do it over again in a heartbeat, no matter how hard it was.'

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