When Heather Tarr talks about this being an exciting year for her Washington softball team, there is a lot of evidence to back that up.
The Huskies, ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the preseason in the two major polls, have most of their stars back from a team that lost in the semifinal round of the Women’s College World Series last spring, and get to play the U.S. national team twice.
But there is more to why the coach is excited.
“The personnel, a lot of people know who we have on this team — you look at Gabbie Plain in the circle and Sis Bates at shortstop — but I think the coolest thing about this team is that we are more than that,” Tarr said Wednesday at UW softball’s media day. “There are some stars who are going to emerge, just like last year.”
One of those stars who emerged last year was outfielder Sami Reynolds from Snohomish High School, who became one of the team’s better hitters. She joined Bates, the senior All-American, and senior Kaija Gibson from Redmond, a ball girl for UW as a youngster, as the player representatives at Wednesday’s event.
The three share Tarr’s enthusiasm, and all three have the same goal.
“Our goal each year is to win the last game (at the College Women’s World Series),” Bates said. “We didn’t accomplish the mission (last year), but we competed our rears off and we are proud of that and we hope to be back there this year.”
There is good reason to believe the Huskies can, starting with Bates, Plain and catcher Morgan Flores, who were named Wednesday to the watch list for the Collegiate Player of the Year award.
Bates, a first-team All-American the past two seasons, led UW with a .387 batting average last season and has won the past two Pac-12 defensive player of the year awards.
Plain, a junior pitcher, was also a first-team All-American last year after posting a 24-2 record with a 1.24 earned-run average. Flores, a second-team All-American last year, led UW in home runs with 23. The next-most was Reynolds with five.
Perhaps the biggest loss was pitcher Taran Alvelo, who starred for four seasons, and teamed with Plain the past two years to give the Huskies a great 1-2 punch.
“That is going to be the biggest question for this group,” Tarr said of filling Alvelo’s role. “There is no replacing someone who can throw upwards of 68 to 70 miles per hour … but I am hopeful in our future and the young players we have in the circle to support Gabbie Plain. I am excited about Gabbie Plain and the new role of being the oldest pitcher on our staff.”
One of the players who could help replace Alvelo is freshman Kelley Lynch, the national high-school player of the year in 2019.
“What is Kelley Lynch going to do? I have no idea,” Tarr said. “I know she’s going to go in there and be the gamer that she is and she is going to learn a lot. She’s very smart and it’s going to be trial by fire. We’ve got to figure out who she is and how she is along with (fellow freshman) Brooke Nelson. They’re two different pitchers and we are going to see how this is going to go real quick.”
That is true as the Huskies open the season Feb. 7 at the Buzz Classic in Atlanta.
On Feb. 13, UW will play the U.S. national team in Clearwater, Fla. On March 12, one day before the Huskies’ official home opener against Utah, they will host the U.S. national team, which includes former Husky All-America shortstop Ali Aguilar.
“We’re really excited to bring them to Seattle, to bring Ali Aguilar back playing against us, and it will just be a great opportunity for Seattle to have the opportunity to watch that team compete,” Tarr said.