Olympic Duo Leads UW Softball Title Bid

May 31, 2009

By JEFF LATZKEAssociated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Danielle Lawrie's first run at the Women's College World Series title came up short. She's hoping a little help from a fellow Olympian will change that this time around.

Washington's run to the brink of a the World Series championship round has been bolstered by the late-season addition of Jenn Salling, Lawrie's teammate on the Canadian Olympic team.

But what seemed like a sure thing started out looking like a disaster.

Because of NCAA transfer rules, Salling wasn't allowed to join the Huskies until the start of the spring quarter in April, when the team had already started Pac-10 play. She was immediately inserted into the No. 3 spot in the order and started out 0-for-13.

'It could have gotten crazy,' Huskies coach Heather Tarr said. 'I don't think she had a batting average for two weeks and she statistically wasn't probably happy with what she was doing, but she was still affecting our lineup. She was still a name in the 3-hole.'

Tarr and the team's leaders had prepared other players that Salling would be joining the team eventually and figured to provide a lift because of her experience at the international level. That eased any disputes over playing time that could have arisen as Salling struggled to get her timing back.

Tarr still felt Salling helped the team by allowing other players to move into more natural spots in the lineup. Eventually, Salling broke out of a monthlong slump that had her batting average at .100. She went 13-for-27 (.481) over the nine games leading up to the World Series, including regional and super regional play.

'Any time you get a free agent like that, it's definitely a bonus for your ballclub,' Tarr said.

Salling hit .481 with 14 home runs at Oregon in 2007 and was the only freshman among 10 finalists for USA Softball's national player of the year honor. Like Lawrie, she took 2008 off to play with the Canadian team in Beijing and ended up reconsidering her college choice.

She moved closer to her home in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, joining a tradition-rich Washington program that had been to the WCWS eight times and played in the national title game twice. The Huskies need to win one of two games Sunday against sixth-seeded Georgia to advance to the championship round, which is now a best-of-three series.

'Obviously, Danielle had a big impact. I wanted to be her teammate on Washington, but the decision I made was solely by myself and my family,' Salling said.

Lawrie said she didn't try to recruit Salling during Canada's run to a fourth-place finish -- just outside the medals -- at last year's Olympics. Still, Salling did talk to Lawrie -- whom she'd known since the two met at a basketball game in junior high school -- while deciding where to play.

'She just wanted to be somewhere where she could contribute and win,' said Lawrie, the national player of the year this season. 'She did an outstanding job at Oregon and she helped them win a couple games. But I think the bottom line is she's so competitive and she has so much passion for the game that she wanted to win.

'Not saying that Oregon can't win, but she just had a better chance, I think, here. It was her decision.'

Salling believes her Olympic experience helped her to blend in with the Huskies.

'You just learn so much mentally. I've been able to bring that back to my teammates here,' Salling said. 'Playing with girls that are about 10 years older than you is just a whole new thing. ... You learn to understand different personalities.'

Salling said she was welcomed with open arms into the Washington program, and having Lawrie among a handful of familiar faces on the squad helped her adapt.

'Having her by my side a lot is helpful, but I don't think that I always have to rely on her,' Salling said. 'Obviously, I want to branch off and all the other girls have been great, too.'

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