Eight Schools in Eight Days: Washington Softball Season Preview
Feb. 5, 2006
The Washington softball team will have somewhat of a new look in 2006. With the loss of six seniors to graduation and the addition of seven newcomers, Husky fans will see some new blood sporting the purple and gold this spring. What will remain the same, however, is a solid foundation of players, including seven starters from the 2005 team that took UW to within one victory of its third-straight Women's College World Series.
Headlining the 2006 line-up will be five All-Pac-10 players, including first baseman Sarah Hyatt, second baseman Dominique Lastrapes, shortstop Ashley Charters and outfielders Aimee Minor and Lauren Greer. The team also returns starting pitcher Caitlin Noble, as well as starting outfielders Jacki Hansen and Dena Tyson, who sat out last season with an injury.
The goals for the 2006 team are the same as always- return to the College World Series and play for the national title. Head coach Heather Tarr insists the team can accomplish their goals if they find a way to improve everyday.
'The main goal is to continue to get better and to control our strengths and improve our weaknesses,' said Tarr. 'We have a ton of talent and the team is very coachable. Our focus is going to be about competing everyday. We have set standards to specific parts of our offense and defense and we are going to work to meet our expectations in practice each day and hold ourselves accountable.'
With the loss of UW career home run leader Kristen Rivera, the Huskies will have to find a way to manufacture runs but with a squad that was 11th in the country in runs per game last season, Tarr is confident the 2006 Huskies will find a way to pick up Rivera's offensive numbers.
v'We have some depth and the offense is not going to have to rely on the long ball this season,' said Tarr. 'We still have power and will have the ability to hit the ball out of the park with players like Sarah, Aimee, Dena (Tyson) and Lauren, but we will execute better at the plate. We plan to move runners more effectively and have more quality at-bats this season.'
Not only will the 2006 team be deeper, it will be faster, which will pressure the opponent on both sides of the ball.
'Overall, we are a little bit faster than last season and we are more athletic 1-16,' said Tarr. 'Our game is going to rely on our own execution of the fundamentals and 1-16 could potentially be a starter on this team. That is what is exciting about this program and where it's going- we have depth and anybody, any day can make their way into the line-up.'
Washington returns Caitlin Noble to the circle for her sophomore season after a solid rookie campaign and also welcomes newcomers Danielle Lawrie and Alicia Matthews, giving UW its deepest pitching rotation in four years.
Last season, Noble led the team with 236 strikeouts to set the school's single-season strikeouts per game record (9.95) and became just the third freshman to throw a no-hitter. Noble also broke the school's strikeout record for a single, non extra-inning game when she fanned 15 batters in six frames vs. Willamette. The previous record was 15 strikeouts in seven innings by current UW pitching coach Eve Gaw in 1995.
'Caitlin has improved already from last season,' said Tarr. 'She has added a couple of pitches to her game plan and has sharpened them up to make her delivery seamless. Caitlin has done a great job developing both physically and mentally. She pitched this summer at the 18-under Gold Nationals and that experience, coupled with what she did last year is really going to put her in a good position to excel this season.'
The Huskies will also benefit from Canadian National Team standout Danielle Lawrie in the circle. Lawrie turned heads last summer when she led Team Canada to a 2-1 victory over Team USA at the World Cup. Lawrie pitched a complete game against the U.S. and tallied seven strikeouts.
'Danielle is really going to compliment Caitlin,' said Tarr. 'She has got talent, competitive drive and she has received a huge opportunity to play with Team Canada. She trained with Team Canada at the beginning of January and with that experience, combined with what she did from September to December here, we expect her to take her game to the next level. She is a competitor and she wants to win. I know our team is going to benefit from her talents and from her improvements.'
Matthews is also expected to play a role on the pitching staff and Tarr is excited about having a third option on the rubber, especially a left-hander.
'Alicia is a natural athlete,' said Tarr. 'She knows how to use her body and locate the ball. Being left-handed is something that can only help us.'
Washington lost its starting catcher in Rivera and the battle for the starting position will be between three newcomers. If Matthews doesn't wiggle her way into the starting pitching rotation, she will find herself behind the plate. Also competing for time as catcher is junior transfer Dena DePompa and freshman Ashlyn Watson.
'Alicia can pretty much play any position that is not limited by her being left-handed,' said Tarr. 'Her utility is why we recruited her. She has been awesome to coach this fall because she wants to learn and she wants to help the team. She has been pitching, she has been hitting, she has been catching, she has been doing all sorts of things to be ready. She has a lot of promise and a lot of ability.'
DePompa transferred from Hawaii and has two years of eligibility remaining. She played in 24 games for the Rainbow Wahine last season and made three starts.
'Dena comes to us with catching experience at the Division I level so that is going to help us a lot,' said Tarr. 'She is a good athlete and she wants to win. She and Alicia are going to compete for that starting position and it is going to depend on who can communicate the best and who can be the best field general. The person who can connect with the pitchers the best is who is going to play the most. Dena has been a pleasant surprise. She is great to work with, she makes adjustments and that is what we are looking for.'
Watson was a four-year letterwinner at Pacifica High School in Garden Grove, Calif., where she led her team to the 2003 and 2004 state championships. She played summer ball for the 18 Gold Gordon's Panthers and led the team to a seventh place finish at nationals.
'We recruited Ashlyn as a catcher but she has had some injuries and has had surgery on her knee and shoulder. She is talented and swings the bat with authority. She has some power and even if she can't catch, we will find a place to put her.'
Washington returns three-quarters of its starting infield, including 2004 All-America second baseman Dominique Lastrapes and 2005 All-Region selections Ashley Charters (shortstop) and Sarah Hyatt (first base). Both both Lastrapes and Charters underwent surgery over the summer and Washington may have to shuffle its starting line-up as it works to get the pair back to full strength. The Huskies will look to utility sophomore Torie Coury, junior college transfer Nicole Moojen and freshman Brooke Woodward to make immediate impacts in the infield.
Hyatt is a three-year starter at first base and also has the ability to play third. Last season, she started 55 games and hit .265 with 44 RBIs and 31 runs scored. She hit 15 home runs, which ranks 10th on the UW single-season list.
'Sarah is going to be a great senior leader for us,' said Tarr. 'Where Sarah plays will depend on how fast Charters recovers from her surgery. Sarah's swing has become much more solid in the last few years and she has made some big mechanical improvements. Her offensive production is going to be dependent upon her execution of a plan and her level of focus at the plate. It is not going to be dependent on mechanics or small little fallacies in her swing; she has what she needs. She may not always lead with her voice but she leads by example and she is going to be a big part of it this year.'
Lastrapes is coming back from shoulder surgery but is expected to be ready to go at the start of the season. Last year, she started 55 games at second base and hit .339. She led the team with 13 doubles, while adding a triple and three home runs for a .477 slugging percentage.
'Dom has some great talent and she is going to be a leader for us,' said Tarr. 'She has the ability to be an All-American again this year and challenge for a spot on the National Team.'
Charters is coming back from shoulder surgery and may miss the beginning of the season. Last year, Charters had an outstanding freshman campaign, leading the team with a .374 average, 65 hits and 53 runs scored. She also led the Pac-10 with 33 stolen bases and had a team-best 18 multi-hit games.
'With the shoulder injury, Ashley has really been able to focus on her offensive short game this fall,' said Tarr. 'She has really improved and with her speed, she will continue to exploit that part of her game. Ashley has the ability to be an All-American and maybe even a National Team member. She is a leader for us and a sparkplug for our offense. Ashley can do a lot on the bases and with the bat. She can hit for power and she can hit for average. She can run, she can bunt, she can slap, and we need her in the lineup. We need her to score runs.'
With Charters' injury, Washington may ask transfer Nicole Moojen to step in and play shortstop. Moojen was a two-time first team All-America shortstop at Cypress Junior College and led her team to a pair of conference championships. She hit .440 last season with 15 doubles, seven triple and six home runs for a .753 slugging percentage.
'Nicole has a lot of athletic ability,' said Tarr. 'She has speed, arm strength and range. Knowing that Charters was going to need surgery, we went out and found Nicole to keep our strength up the middle. She fills that void for us. She played some great games for us this fall in the shortstop position.'
Coury may also see some playing time at any one of the infield positions. She stepped in last season and started 17 games at third base after starter Kathy Fiske broke her hand. Coury appeared in 33 games overall, making appearances at shortstop, second base, right field and as the designated player.
'Torie will spend some time in the middle infield for us this season and I think she has the ability to become a great third baseman in our program,' said Tarr. 'She has some great talents and offensively she got a lot of experience last year. She struggled a little bit but she has worked hard to improve her game. Tori has just been awesome. To have someone of her talent be a role player says a lot about this team. This year I want her to compete for a starting position, if it's at third base, if it's at short, if it's at second, then great. But it is going to depend upon her ability to improve and do what she needs to do.'
Woodward is a freshman out of Vancouver, Wash., and was a four-year letterwinner at Prairie High School. She led the team to three consecutive league titles and was a three-time league MVP. She is expected to challenge for the open spot at third base.
'Brooke was the first person we signed last summer,' said Tarr. 'She is a natural leader and is talented. She can hit for power, hit for average and she is solid on defense. Brooke has the ability to play multiple positions and even pitch. Her offensive production will dictate where she will fall in the defensive scheme.'
The Huskies are stacked in the outfield with four players having starting experience. All three outfielders from last year return, including Aimee Minor, Lauren Greer and Jacki Hansen, and UW welcomes back two-year starter Dena Tyson who missed last year with a shoulder injury. Freshman Marnie Koziol is also expected to challenge for some time in the outfield.
Minor, a three-year starter, will return to centerfield. Last season, she ranked second on the team with 17 home runs and 53 runs batted in to earn herself an invitation to tryout for the USA National Team. She blossomed as one of the Pac-10's premier power hitters, boasting the league's third-best slugging percentage (.682).
'Aimee will bring leadership and experience to the outfield,' said Tarr. 'She has great arm strength and offensive production and she brings the whole senior package. Having her in the lineup is going to be essential.'
Greer started 55 games in the outfield last year, despite battling Mononucleosis at the beginning of the season. She hit .259 with six home runs and 15 RBIs and was a Pac-10 Player of the Week award winner.
'Lauren Greer had a great second half to end our season last year and she has only gotten better,' said Tarr. 'She has taken her game to a whole new level in terms of fitness and she has gotten stronger. Her arm strength has improved and she has matured as a leader and as a player. Offensively she brings some good tools- she can run, she can hit for power and she is left handed, which is an advantage.'
Hansen started all 57 games last season in the outfield. She hit a pair of doubles and two home runs, while driving in 14 RBIs.
'Jacki came in and played a huge roll for us last season with Dena (Tyson) being injured,' said Tarr. 'She is our best defensive outfielder. When she's in the game, we know we can trust her to make the routine play and the great play.'
Tyson returns for her junior year after a season off rehabing an injured shoulder. She hit .223 with five doubles and two home runs as a sophomore, while driving in 26 runs.
'Dena's arm strength is improving,' said Tarr. 'Offensively, if she can do what she is capable of doing on a daily basis, she will be in the line-up. She knows that there are some good athletes that might be behind her and that's going to push her. Her experience and her ability to execute at a high level is what we need from her.'
Koziol will also compete for playing time in the outfield. She was a four-year letterwinner at Liberty High School in Renton and earned Gatorade Washington State Player of the Year honors as a senior.
'Marnie is a very hungry learner,' said Tarr. 'The people that know how to learn and want to continue to grow and improve are the people that are going to succeed here. That is what I am, I am a teacher, I am going to teach you how to play the game better. She is going to be good because she wants it and she wants to learn. This fall she has been able to suck in as much information as possible and get better offensively, defensively and in the weight room. She is a good athlete and she has got a good lanky athletic body. She is fast and she loves the game. She is going to compete for some time in the outfield and challenge our returners a little bit.
'I am working with outfield this year. They have all improved and have made some big improvements on their approaches to balls, their angles, their accuracy and their arm strength, and that is something that we have been working on daily. We are going to be a more efficient outfield this season and we have a solid group out there.'