Elise Woodward had done just about everything in her long sports broadcasting career, but she had never been a football play-by-play announcer.
The former UW women’s basketball captain can now check that off too.
That’s because Woodward briefly stepped away from her gig as UW sideline reporter for radio — a job she has had almost 20 years — to fill in last Saturday and this Saturday for UW radio play-by-play broadcaster Tony Castricone, whose wife recently gave birth to their son.
“It was the first time I had ever done radio play-by-play and the first time I had done football play-by-play,” said Woodward, the longtime Storm color analyst who does play-by-play announcing for basketball and other nonfootball sports for Pac-12 Networks. “This was one of the biggest challenges of my career.”
Making it tougher was that the challenge that came after what she called a “whirlwind of a week.” Castricone asked her Nov. 10 if she would sub for him on two Saturdays: Nov. 13 and 20. Here’s what she’d been up to before that conversation:
- Wednesday, Nov. 3: Studio work for ROOT Sports during the Portland Trail Blazers game.
- Friday, Nov. 5: Play-by-play announcer in Pullman for UW-Washington State women’s soccer.
- Saturday, Nov. 6: Sideline reporter for UW-Oregon football.
- Sunday: Nov. 7: Play-by-play announcer for UW-Arizona volleyball.
- Tuesday, Nov. 9: Play-by-play announcer for UW-Northern Arizona men’s basketball.
“It was a whirlwind week for sure,” said Woodward, 46, who began her broadcasting career not long after graduating from Washington in 1997. But there was no hesitancy agreeing to sub for Castricone.
That said, she had to quickly go into overdrive, preparing for the big challenge just a few days ahead of her.
“It has been some long days prepping for this, for sure,” Woodward said.
The vastly greater numbers of players in a football game compared to other sports makes it tougher for a broadcaster.
“There are 22 starters, all the special-teams players, then all the players that are going to rotate in — so the football board that you have (to refer to) is this massive thing, and you’ve got to have all those names and numbers memorized,” Woodward said. “For Washington, it was very easy because I know their roster very well, but for Arizona State it was like an open-book test. But I learned that on radio there isn’t any time to look down (on the board) at all. So you have to have it memorized. It’s definitely challenging.”
But she loved doing it.
“It was a blast,” she said. “I had a ton of adrenaline going. As an athlete, you get that, but other than that it’s really tough to get adrenaline going — you’ve got to be on point and not lose focus. It was a lot of fun to get dialed in … it was a surreal experience.”
Woodward didn’t sound during the broadcast like someone who was doing football play-by-play for the first time. Her years of experience and extensive prep work showed through.
Woodward has long been a trailblazer for women announcers, beginning her career when there were few females in the business, and now she is the first woman to do radio play-by-play for Washington football.
“It does mean something to me,” Woodward said. “When I was younger, I don’t think I ever heard of a woman doing play-by-play. I didn’t even know that was a possibility. It is an opportunity that I was really excited for, but at the same time, I want to be judged by, ‘How good of a play-by-play announcer are you?’ and not anything to do with anything else.
“It’s that fine line where I am grateful for the opportunity, but I want to make sure that I nail it so that other women behind me who want to do this, get that opportunity. If you’re the first one to do something, and you don’t do it well, then everybody beneath you is judged on what you did. If I screw up, maybe someone else doesn’t get an opportunity. I certainly hope I’m judged on how good I am, and if it opens up opportunities for other women, that is an absolute bonus.”
Woodward said she was happy with how her first game went, “and I didn’t have any major screw-ups.” A tough self critic, she laments that on one play she wasn’t sure through her binoculars if UW receiver Rome Odunze was inbounds.
“I try not to hammer myself, but I am a perfectionist and I know there is a ton of stuff I can do better,” she said. “I felt like I was good, but there is so much more meat on the bone perfecting a craft. I am nowhere close to Tony or (longtime UW announcer) Bob (Rondeau). But even Bob, who was the best of the best, if he missed one call, he would get so irritated.
“And that’s the standard. If you’re trying to keep up with Tony and Bob, you’d better bring your A game. I was fine for my first one. But like with anything, with experience you’d better be getting better and better.”
Rondeau said he listened to Woodward for the first half and most of the third quarter, and was sending her text messages during that time.
“She got through it fine,” Rondeau said. “The opportunity was well deserved and she embraced it and was excited about it. It’s another addition to an increasingly crowded resume for her. She’s shown her versatility and she has certainly earned a shot.”
Woodward is looking forward to getting that chance Saturday when the Huskies play at Colorado. Once again, she is juggling prep work with other assignments: She was the radio analyst for the UW women’s basketball game Sunday and will be the analyst at the UW men’s basketball game Thursday.
But there is no doubt she will be ready.
“Just in terms of logistics, I will be more comfortable,” she said. “Just knowing the cadence and the rhythm. I felt at halftime, I could finally settle in last week and get my bearings a little bit. … Hopefully when I get to kickoff at (Colorado), I will have my bearings already and can just play ball.”
Rondeau believes that will be the case.
“I am looking forward to listening Saturday and I think she will be exponentially better having had that experience of the first game,” he said.