After last season was upended by COVID-19, the Washington softball team’s journey toward its goal of winning a national title is set to begin — again.
The Huskies, who were ranked No. 2 last year when the season was canceled in March, are scheduled to finally return to play Feb. 12 at the UNLV tournament with games against Southern Utah and Dixie State.
“We’re so excited to be starting this year,” said UW coach Heather Tarr. “Of course, we have high expectations and this team is going to be on a mission.”
The NCAA ruled in late March that the canceled season would not count as far as players’ eligibility. Because of that, All-American shortstop Sis Bates, second-team All-American catcher Morganne Flores, starting second baseman Taryn Atlee and utility player Kaija Gibson, who started the majority of last year, are back for a fifth season.
“To be able to have the opportunity to have these four seniors back is amazing,” Tarr said.
Said Flores: “I have a great appreciation of being able to be with my teammates, no matter what setting it is. It feels so good to be back with them and have another chance at this thing.”
Great pitching is the key to success in softball, and the Huskies are talented and deep at that position. Senior Gabbie Plain, a first-team All-American, anchors a group that also includes Kelley Lynch, the 2019 high-school player of the year, Pat Moore and Brooke Nelson.
“Gabbie is literally a goddess and I am obsessed with her,” Bates said. “With every pitcher that we have, it’s a unique confidence that we have — and it’s not just with Gabbie, but I feel like that with every pitcher we have — but Gabbie, come on. She is amazing.”
The Huskies also figure to score a lot of runs, with Bates setting the tone at the top of the lineup, and Flores, whose 48 career homers are fifth in UW history, in the middle of the lineup. But there likely will be no easy outs in the lineup. Tarr is expecting more power this season, with Lynch, Baylee Klingler and Noelle Hee among the other players very capable of hitting home runs.
No wonder Tarr said this: “I think (this team) lines up as one of the greatest teams to ever play in the history of Washington, and that says a lot.”
The Huskies will play in four tournaments before their first home game March 12 against Seattle U. The Pac-12 season starts March 19 with the first of a four-game home series against Arizona.
The Huskies hope the journey ends at the Women’s College World Series, scheduled to start June 3. The Huskies lost in the semifinals in 2017, in the title series in 2018, and in the semifinals in 2019.
They can’t wait for another chance to win UW’s first title since 2009.
“I was telling Coach Tarr earlier this week that a lot of us have never not played for so long,” Bates said. “Being back with my teammates … has just been the greatest thing. We are so grateful to have another shot at this and hopefully have another shot at winning the final game in Oklahoma City.”