From the way she smears eye black onto her tanned cheeks to how she wears her crisp, white Washington uniform, Courtney Gano’s presence cannot be denied.
Physical. Imposing. Talented.
Gano’s eyes tell the story. Focused and fiercely competitive, they glisten with an unwavering confidence. Upon arriving on campus last summer, she refused to accept the stereotype of a wide-eyed rookie and has become an intimidating player on a talent-rich Husky softball squad. Head coach Heather Tarr is already impressed with Gano’s skill at third base. So much so in fact, she anticipates that the freshman will be best to ever play the position at Washington.
Simply put, Gano is a competitor. That identity is what sets her apart and adds to her young legend. Maybe the competitiveness was bred by her athletic family history. Maybe it was spurred by the frustration of not starting every game of her high school career. Whatever the case, her development has earned her a starting spot on one of collegiate softball’s best teams.
Expectations are high for Gano. She hails from Southern California, a hotbed of softball talent. She is also part of a lineage of Corona Angels, a large club team in the region that has produced a multitude of players who have donned the purple and gold. Marty Tyson, who runs the club, has supplied the Dawgs with talent year in and year out. The trend started with his own daughter, Dena, an All-American first baseman on coach Tarr’s first Women’s College World Series squad in 2007. Other former Angels include Gano’s predecessor at third, Morgan Stuart, current star Niki Williams, Shawna Wright and Whitney Jones.
Now, it is Gano’s turn to live up to the billing.
“I expect her to be the best third baseman that we have ever had here,” Tarr said without hesitation.
That is high praise, and not just from a coaching standpoint. Tarr actually played the position herself as a member of the Huskies in the 1990s. But she knows the type of player that the Corona powerhouse can produce. Former Angels have become driving forces on Tarr’s past and current squads, and she is confident in Gano’s ability to respond to pressure.
As a member of the Angels, Gano had to deal with intense competition before coming to Washington. She played shortstop and had to prove herself on a regular basis to hold down that spot. Recruited as a sophomore in high school, Gano’s work ethic sparked coach Tarr’s interest.
“She didn’t absolutely start every game [for Corona], and I think that bothered her in a good way,” Tarr said.
Gano carried that competitiveness with her to Seattle and now has a starting spot to show for it. In preseason play, Tarr noticed that teams have already begun to game plan for the 5-foot-9 freshman. She has proven to be an intimidating presence at third, with a knack for filling space. Length and quickness highlight Gano’s defensive skills, while powerful slugging bolsters her offensive impact.
The young third baseman’s play comes as a pleasant surprise to the veteran players on the team, and she seems unfazed by the pressure of playing on the larger collegiate stage.
“No matter what, it’s still the same game,” Gano said.
Her maturity and skillset are assets gained from her early life and parental influence. Gano’s father, Greg, has served as both the football coach and athletic director at her high school, Los Altos. A single parent, he raised Courtney, but his busy schedule often limited their time together. So, she had to grow up quickly, and that experience has benefited her at UW.
The member of an athletic family, Gano’s talent comes not only from her father, but also from her mother, Rhonda Wheatley. An accomplished softball player in her own right, Wheatley was an All-American pitcher who won gold with the United States softball team at the Pan American Games in 1987.
From a young age, Gano picked up skills by spending time in her mom’s batting cage, where she learned to hit, pitch and field. Gano also played other sports to hone those uncanny talents that have left her teammates and coaches so enthralled. From golf to soccer to even a brief stint playing football, Gano has prospered in all of her athletic pursuits.
That athleticism has captivated the Husky coaching staff. Tarr mentioned that her command at third base has been remarkable at the outset. She is part of a strong core group of freshman in the infield along with shortstop Kimberlee Souza and second baseman Kylee Lahners. Their off-field relationship has been key to their success on the diamond.
“To me the chemistry is unbelievable, especially in the infield,” Gano said.
Though the Southern California girl is far from home, Gano has found the right fit for her personality and playing style in a tiny corner of the Northwest. And that’s right where her father wants her. He supported her desire to go to Washington, where she could be part of a family-oriented team, complete with a positive female role model in coach Tarr.
“I get to help her get to the next spot in her life,” Tarr said.
And that’s what it is all about. Life. Not a game. It is bigger than the sport of softball. As a member of Tarr’s club, the girl who had to grow up fast can slow down and let the game come to her. Gano has the intangibles. Now, she can thrive.