As Washington baseball coach Lindsay Meggs stood in the dugout Friday evening at Husky Ballpark, in the midst of a hard-fought game with Seattle University, the words from the public address announcer at Husky Softball Stadium wafted through the air and found purchase in his ears.
From hundreds of yards away, faint but clear, came the P.A. report: The softballers had just beaten Seattle U, 5-0. Meggs already knew that Washington’s volleyball team and tennis squads had also pulled out victories earlier in the day as Montlake came alive with a cornucopia of events.
“I’m sitting here saying, ‘You know what? We’ve got to hold up our end of the bargain,’ ” Meggs said with a laugh afterward. “I’m not going to walk out of here as one of the only teams (to lose) on what could be one of the better days in Husky sports history.”
That might be a bit of hyperbole — or maybe not. There was magic in the mundane on campus Friday as the sun sparkled off the lake and Mount Rainier was out in full resplendence on the sort of crisp, cloudless, glorious day that helps sell recruits on Washington.
One full year after sports shut down on campus and everywhere else, disrupting the lives, plans, and dreams of athletes at every level, it is springing back to life. And nowhere was that symbolized more profoundly, and joyously, than at the University of Washington on Friday.
Six different live events involving five sports were staged on campus, beginning at 1:30 in the afternoon with a corker of a nearly four-hour tennis match between the Huskies’ women’s team and Arizona on the outdoor courts, and ending at precisely 10:41 p.m., when Dalton Chandler was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the 11th inning, thus giving Meggs and the Huskies the coveted 4-3 victory.
In between, staggered throughout the afternoon and into the rapidly cooling evening, was men’s tennis facing Portland, women’s soccer playing Stanford, volleyball against USC, and the aforementioned softball game.
In the grand scheme of things, the games and matches on Friday weren’t ones that will be long remembered, their importance soon to be usurped by more significant contests. Yet as a juxtaposition with the silent, shuttered spring of a year ago, and the slow rollout of athletic events that followed, it stood out as emblematic of a renaissance to be savored. With some falls sports having moved to spring, 19 of the 20 sports offered at UW have been competing or training this week — with spring football not far behind.
“It’s unbelievable — just being out here, having people, atmosphere, knowing that other sports are going on, too. It’s so refreshing,” Husky women’s tennis coach Robin Stephenson said. “It’s exciting for our athletic department, for everybody. Life is coming back somewhat, slowly but surely. Obviously, sports are a big part of that. It’s so fun to be doing that again.”
As he sipped his morning coffee on Friday, Husky volleyball coach Keegan Cook searched on the internet for the shot put results of Husky track athletes competing in indoor nationals in Arkansas. And he and his team stopped by the tennis courts to watch part of the Huskies’ thrilling win over Arizona.
“It just feels positive,” Cook said. “I think everyone who’s working here is doing a great job, all things considered. I love it. The energy is certainly special. It’s fun. It’s fun to all be competing at the same time.”
It’s an especially poignant scene for Husky athletic director Jennifer Cohen, who took in as many events as she could on Friday sandwiched around the obligations of her position.
“Back in the fall, when we made the decision to bring all of our student-athletes back, and provide resources and training for them, regardless of whether we knew we were going to be able to have competition, that in and of itself felt like a win,’’ Cohen said in a telephone interview Saturday. “But when you can actually finally see our student-athletes competing, there’s nothing better.
“If there’s anything we’ve all missed the most, it’s actually being able to interact with our students. So huge progress.”
Cohen found herself in Las Vegas earlier this week at the Pac-12 basketball tournament — the same venue where she was when sports, and life as we knew it, came crashing down a year ago.
“On the year anniversary, I felt like that day, we got big chunks of good news,’’ she said. “In a way, you almost don’t know how to accept or process it because you had to handle the adversity and just try to pivot and try to be resourceful and positive for your staff. I told our team, ‘It’s OK to feel good. It’s OK to be hopeful. It’s OK to know we’re going to recover.’
“So this week was pretty emotional, especially being in Vegas, where I and so many of us were physically when the pandemic hit in a way we realized … I remember, I knew it was significant very early, based on what I was hearing, based on the access we have to such amazing people at the UW, our medical center.”
I eagerly embraced the task of watching all six events on Friday, or as much of each one as was logistically possible given the overlaps. I was privileged to have press passes; attendance by fans is still limited mostly to family and special guests on a pass list, but Cohen is hopeful that will soon expand with the governor’s move to Phase 3.
I felt compelled to stay until the end of the women’s tennis match, their first of the year on the outdoor courts. The Huskies squandered several match points until the entire outcome swung on the last match still on progress.
Everyone in attendance — a growing number of family, friends, fellow Husky athletes, the men’s team warming up on Court 1, passersby who got sucked into the drama, Cohen — were riveted as UW’s Sedona Gallagher and Arizona’s Abby Amos battled valiantly, back and forth on Court 3.
In the end it came down to a tiebreak, with teammates from both squads who had already finished their matches cheering vigorously. Gallagher, who had squandered a match point up 5-3 in the second set, finally prevailed at 7-5 when Amos hit it into the net. Cue an eruption of joy as the Huskies surrounded Gallagher.
“It was extremely nerve-racking, but it was also really good, because we have three new freshmen, and that was actually their first real match,” Gallagher said afterward. “So it was pretty exciting for them to get to see that at home. I just try to stay as calm as possible and not be too tense, because that’s when you’re in trouble, when you’re tense.”
A junior who began at Washington at age 16, Gallagher went back to her home in Henderson, Nevada, to ride out the pandemic when tennis was canceled last year. She returned for the summer, and is reveling in the slow return to normalcy.
“It’s really exciting to play outdoor tennis and see people walking around,” she said. “It’s been awesome. I’ve seen people that I haven’t seen in a year that are back to school. So it’s been really fun and exciting to see everyone back.”
From the tennis courts, I hauled over to the soccer field, arriving in the 72nd minute of a scoreless tie — just in time to see, in the 79th minute, Stanford score the only goal in its 1-0 victory. It was the first loss of the season for the 22nd-ranked Huskies, who pushed furiously to counter but couldn’t quite get one into the net.
I hustled over to Hec Edmundson Pavilion for the volleyball match, already in progress, but stopped long enough back at the tennis courts to watch a bit of UW’s men’s team dispatching Portland, 6-1. And I arrived at Hec-Ed to see the Huskies take the second set over USC, 25-19, for a two-sets-to-none lead.
The Huskies seemed on the verge of a sweep, but after UW served for the match at 24-22, they lost four straight points to drop the set. They lost the fourth set as well, and it appeared they were replicating a frustrating recent loss to Oregon, in which they also blew a 2-0 lead and dropped the decisive fifth set. This time they prevailed 15-12 in the fifth for a hugely important Pac-12 victory.
The next stop was the softball diamond, where the raucous cheers and impressively intricate songs and chants from the Husky dugout provided a constant soundtrack. With ace Gabbie Plain on the mound shutting down Seattle (one hit, 12 strikeouts) and Sis Bates doing Sis Bates things (including her school-record 17th triple), the Huskies won 5-0 in their first home game since the 2019 Super Regionals — 22 months ago.
Husky coach Heather Tarr said she had received a text from strength coach Nick Higgins, who had been struck by the vigor of their normal Friday pregame lifting session.
“He’s like, ‘The girls are hyped. It’s going to be a good night, a good energy,’ ” she said.
The night of good energy continued on the baseball diamond, a sloppy game with an exciting conclusion, and one last outpouring of emotion by the Huskies after the winning run scored in the 11th.
As I headed home, I was struck by something that Cook, the volleyball coach, had said as he exulted over the Huskies transforming the ending of their earlier loss to Oregon and coming away with a win this time.
“Sometimes, sports give you a second chance,” he said.
Right now, at Washington and on campuses just about everywhere, the second chance to compete, post-pandemic, is being greeted by athletes with relief and joy.