I came to win, to fight, to conquer, to thrive
I came to win, to survive, to prosper, to rise
To fly, to fly
The song is called “Fly.” For the 2012 Washington softball team, it is more than just pretty words over a good beat. Head coach Heather Tarr and her Huskies have adopted the lyrics as the team mantra.
The motto, “To Thrive,” is the brainchild of senior Kimi Pohlman, who tweeted the Nicki Minaj and Rihanna lyric last year. It stuck. In fact, it resonated with the coaches so much that they now have a mural in their locker room featuring action shots of players with the phrase superimposed in a bold font.
The Dawgs have taken the words of “Fly” to heart. They thrive by keeping others on the outside of their “Inner Circle” and focusing their eyes on the singular goal of winning a national championship.
Tarr and her support staff have revamped the squad into a juggernaut of selfless players ready to impress the softball world. Don’t mistake this team with the one that brought a national title to Montlake in 2009. The Huskies have no dominant personalities this year. Don’t compare this team to the 2011 unit that made a run to Super Regionals. These Dawgs are healthier and deeper than last year.
For all intents and purposes, this team is different. It has young talent, a strong corps of pitchers and versatile athletes who can adapt to fill any role. No one player has to put the team on her back this year. Nope. This is a team in the truest sense of the word. They mesh and have all the necessary parts to form a cohesive whole.
This year is about chemistry and philosophy. Signature of any Tarr-coached team, the Huskies have a mantra and plan to excel with a new breed of players ready to take to the softball diamond.
Nothing is assumed yet, but the Dawgs are currently ranked No. 3 in the nation and have a superb 29-1 record as they enter rugged Pac-12 conference play with a three-game home series against Utah this weekend. The team went undefeated in its first two preseason tournaments. Beginning the year in Tempe, Ariz., at the Kajikawa Classic, the Huskies racked up a notable win against No. 24 Nebraska and run-ruled both Idaho State and Texas State in dominant fashion. Then, in San Diego, the squad run-ruled two more opponents on its way to five consecutive wins in the Campbell Cartier Classic.
A brutal series of games in the Cathedral City Classic, also held in California, presented the team with its first true preseason test. In the tournament, the Huskies faced top teams like No. 3 Florida, ranked No. 1 at the time, along with No. 13 Missouri and No. 7 Georgia. The club responded beautifully to the challenge, winning four out of five games. The only defeat came in a 2-0 loss to Missouri, a team that knocked the Huskies out of contention last year during the Super Regionals.
Then, the Huskies returned to California to compete in the Louisville Slugger Classic. There, the squad run-ruled Delaware and Sacramento State to open with two shutouts and then won the remaining three games of that tournament. After going undefeated in the Husky Softball Classic, the Huskies went to the Judi Garman Classic and continued winning. So far this season, they have passed all of their non-conference tests.
“It was great to get out and show the country what we could do,” pitcher Kaitlin Inglesby said.
The story so far for the Huskies has been the breakout play of the quality freshman filling key roles in the infield. Courtney Gano, Kylee Lahners and Kimberlee Souza have all had a positive impact, fitting seamlessly into their positions at third base, second base and shortstop, respectively. Their cool attitude has come as a pleasant surprise to Tarr and the veterans on the team.
“They all have definitely shown the rest of the softball world that they are going to do some good things this year,” captain Niki Williams said.
Along with the impressive play of the rookies, the Huskies will need to stay healthy. This year’s outlook is good, with a number of core players returning from injury to bolster the depth of the team. Both Williams and Taylor Smith are seniors returning from back surgery. Also, Hooch Fagaly, a redshirt sophomore, is back in the lineup after missing all of last season due to injury. She is a talented first baseman and should bring solid experience to a young infield stocked with freshman standouts.
The pitching corps is also very deep. The Huskies no longer have a prevailing pitcher like former two-time player of the year Danielle Lawrie, but their rotation includes Inglesby and Bryana Walker. The crafty Walker and powerful Inglesby have different styles that are sure to keep opposing hitters on their toes throughout the season. The development of those pitchers, along with the potential prowess of sophomore Whitney Jones and freshman Kasey Stanchek, could mean domination for the Huskies throughout their tough schedule. Players are confident that pitching will give them an edge.
“I really think we’ll be unstoppable,” Williams said of the rotation’s potential.
Besides pitching, the team is more than capable to perform at a high level offensively and defensively. The aforementioned freshman trio, along with the return of Fagaly, forms a strong infield. Their routine defense, along with dominant pitching and clutch hitting, should prove to be another strength of the group this year. Additionally, the mix of Husky hitters, both right-handers and left-handers, could mean trouble for rival defenses throughout the season.
“We are going to be able to push a lot of runs across with the offense we have,” said Pohlman, a lefty who plays center field.
With a tough schedule ahead of them, the Huskies will need every run they can muster.
Coach Tarr cited the schedule as the biggest challenge this year. Along with the always-difficult Pac-12 slate, a conference that has seven teams ranked in Top 25 polls, the Huskies had contend with a tough non-conference schedule, and since they currently have a 29-1 record, it’s safe to say they handled that challenge in impressive fashion.
Players agree that they will have to come ready to play and take one game at a time. They feel another challenge is staying internal. Playing with focus, they say, is the key for success in the clubhouse this year. They hope to be a better team than ever before and look to improve on the little things daily to move them toward their goal.
Williams said: “With any schedule and with any team, the biggest challenge is being quick to make adjustments.”
The players’ ability to adapt and their willingness to fill any position should make those adjustments come easily throughout the season. Many players have the ability to satisfy crucial roles if injuries crop up.
The high expectations set by Tarr and her staff this year should also ensure that the team is prepared for the spotlight as they pursue another national title. Along with demanding fall practices, the offseason featured tough conditioning tests that highlighted Tarr’s rigorous regimen. Some veteran players noted that practices have had a substantially different feel so far this year. Specifically, flow and pacing have been the biggest changes.
Pohlman said of practice, “It’s much more efficient, it’s faster paced, but sometimes shorter.”
With that type of preparation ingrained and a reliance on one another, the softball squad is brimming with confidence this season. The players expect a top-eight seed in the NCAA tournament and hope to battle through Super Regionals as they did in advancing to the Women’s College World Series in 2007, 2009 and 2010 under Tarr’s direction.
The goal is clear: national championship or bust. These girls are motivated to achieve greatness. The seniors preach not overlooking any opponent. No one game is bigger than the next; all are equal in the eyes of the Huskies, who are hungry to repeat their recent successes.
Though the team doesn’t have a leader like strikeout-queen Lawrie, it has a highly capable captain in Williams. She is the only All-American in the lineup and arguably one of the best right-handed hitters in the nation. In the past, Williams used her presence to lead by example. Now, the senior has stepped up vocally as well and is taking her role to a new level.
“Niki Williams is the one that rules the roost,” Tarr said. “What she says goes.”
As with former Husky softball teams, this club is similar in that they have a slogan for the year.
“I love how our coaching staff each year really has a mantra and a theme,” Pohlman said.
Coach Tarr plans to implement yet another theme, “All About The Ball,” in the coming weeks. But regardless of the motto, the Huskies always stick to their five core values: selflessness, accountability, toughness, confidence based on preparation, and, of course, Husky Fever. These have guided their pursuits in years past and have proven crucial in Tarr’s formula for success.
The basis for that success is in place. The Husky players have the tools to give their seniors a proper send-off. But for the seniors, they hope their legacy means more than just on-field success.
When asked how they would like to be remembered, none of the vets cited rings or accolades. Rather, the group hopes to impart wisdom onto the younger players and teach them what it means to be a true Husky softball player. It is their relationships with girls on the team that they will remember most.
Said Pohlman: “What I’d really love is to, 30 years from now, look back and still have lifelong friendships [with] girls I’ve played with and be looked at as more of a great teammate and leader.”
This year, coach Tarr has worked to compile a team of athletes capable of achieving unmatched success. The parts may be different, but the engine is the same. Regardless of the challenges the season may hold, Tarr is once again driving her squad in the direction of Oklahoma City and its ultimate prize in 2012.