University of Washington professors know her as Melanie Fagaly, a capable student who has already graduated with a major in anthropology and global health, and a minor in education and diversity. A teaching career likely awaits.
In the softball world — and most others — she’s Hooch Fagaly, an unforgettable name for one of the key players on a Husky softball team headed this weekend for the NCAA super regionals in Gainesville, Fla. The Huskies will open their best-of-three series against Florida on Saturday, with a trip to the World Series at stake.
Before we proceed any further, however, let’s deal with the elephant in the room. Or in this case, the mastiff.
You might remember the old Tom Hanks movie, “Turner and Hooch,” in which Hanks plays a police investigator who acquires a slobbery Bordeaux mastiff named Hooch. It came out in 1989. Fagaly was born in 1991. Her father, Mike Fagaly, thought his big-cheeked, copiously drooling infant bore a resemblance to the pooch named Hooch, and a nickname was born.
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“I used to be a kind of uneasy about it, like, ‘OK, what?’ But I’ve really grown to love it,’’ Fagaly said. “I still have the big cheeks. A little less drool, but honestly, it’s stuck on me.”
The only problem, in fact, is when to use her formal name and when to use Hooch. The classroom is “definitely not” a venue for Hooch, she said.
“It’s kind of hard sometimes, which setting I’m in, how to introduce myself,’’ she said. “I don’t know what to say sometimes. But I absolutely love it all the way around.”
And the Huskies love Fagaly, a slick-fielding first baseman who this season has put up a .355 average with eight homers, a .605 slugging percentage and .494 on-base percentage. Two of those homers were walkoff shots; in back-to-back home games, in fact, first against Arizona State, then a grand slam to beat No. 9 Arizona.
“Before this year, I don’t think I had a walkoff anything, and to have a couple this year is amazing,’’ she said.
Huskies coach Heather Tarr covets Fagaly’s leadership as a fifth-year senior. In fact, as she awaits her June 14 graduation ceremony, Fagaly is unburdened by school work, a fact that earns her and roommate Bryana Walker, in a similar situation, some good-natured razzing from teammates.
“We get to sleep in a little bit and have a little fun,’’ she said with a laugh. “They tease us quite a bit when we do study hall on the road and we’re just reading leisurely.”
But it was a serious incident that got Fagaly her extra year: A season-ending knee injury wiped out her 2011 season. In a routine rundown drill, she slipped and wound up tearing three ligaments.
It was an agonizing setback, especially following a promising freshman season, but it caused Fagaly to look at the sport in a new way. After surgery, she dedicated herself to helping the team that season in any way possible, which in her case was via observation and providing whatever scouting tips she could.
“I totally think everything happens for a reason,’’ she said. “During the redshirt year, I really had to work on my mental game. Battling rehab first, but watching my team play without me, and travel without me, it’s tough. But trying to keep a positive mindset, and battling that to the back of your mind, is really cool, too.”
Besides icing and wearing a knee brace, Fagaly says the injury is now a non-factor. In Fagaly’s first practice back after months of rehab, Tarr started off with a rundown drill so she could get past that mental hurdle, “and it was no problem at all,” Fagaly said.
Tarr says the added wisdom and maturity that comes from a fifth season is invaluable, even if it’s painful at the time, both for the team and player. She calls it the Huskies’ “X Factor.”
“Every team of ours that has done something significant had a fifth-year senior or two or three in the mix,’’ Tarr said. “I think the female athlete benefits from that extra year; one, their emotions catch up with their physical abilities. It’s really neat to see those players in leadership positions like Hooch is in right now.”
The Huskies, with 12 victories in their past 13 games, appear to be peaking at just the right time. They rolled through three regional wins last weekend by a combined 26-0 margin, and only the fifth-seeded Gators stand in the way of 12th-seeded UW (36-13) for a return trip to the World Series.
Fagaly has gone to the World Series twice before, the first time as a freshman, the year after the Huskies won it all. She vicariously reaped some of the rewards of that 2009 title.
“When the incoming freshmen arrived, they were still on the celebrating end of receiving their awards,’’ she said. “Everyone would mistake us — ‘Can I have your autograph, too?’ I’d tell them, ‘No I’m a freshman, not yet.’ It was pretty cool to see the high they were on, and say, ‘I want to be there, too.’ ’’
Now the Huskies have their shot, which would be the ultimate walkoff for the college career of Fagaly. Melanie and Hooch.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.