After winning the Pac-10 conference title in 2000 and advancing to the College World Series for the fifth consecutive year, the Husky softball team went through a rebuilding year last season. The Dawgs finished with an overall record of 40-23, good for a third place tie in the Pac-10 with Stanford. The Huskies once again advanced to postseason play and regionals in Norman, Oklahoma, but did not make it to Oklahoma City, losing twice to the host Sooners.
Two very bright spots that Wilson will build her team around will be shortstop Jaime Clark and pitcher Tia Bollinger. Clark bashed 23 homeruns and plated 67 RBIs last season. She is only seven long balls away from setting the all-time school record. Bollinger had 36 of the team's 40 wins last year, and led the Pac-10 in innings (261.0) and appearances (50). She also earned All-American honors and won Pac-10 newcomer of the year as well as team MVP honors.
Dawgman.com's Perry Huang had the opportunity to talk about the upcoming season with Coach Wilson.
Perry: Last year in the preseason, the coaches picked you to finish fourth, taking into consideration all the players you lost from the 2000 squad. This year, they have picked the Huskies to finish fourth again. Do you consider those reasonable expectations?
COACH WILSON: Last year 15 of 19 players never started a college game, and 10 were freshmen. The fact we were picked fourth was a symbol of respect for our program. Finishing third was a tribute to our players. This year, we look to beat those expectations. We have stabilized our team by adding more pitching and bats to support Jaime Clark.
PH: Finishing fourth in the Pac-10 does not change your expectations for this year, does it? You expect to once again compete for the national championship back in Oklahoma City, right?
TW: Yes. The Pac-10 is a crazy conference. In 2000, California finished eighth (last) in the conference and advanced to the College World Series. Then in 2001 Cal finished seventh and made it to the Series again. Cal cannot host regionals due to field issues, but the Bears just go to whichever regional they are placed in and beat whoever they play.
PH: This year, your two best players, Jaime Clark and Tia Bollinger return. It is easy to assume that the team will go as far as Jaime and Tia take it. Can you expand on that?
TW: Yes, what Jaime and Tia accomplished last year was remarkable, especially considering that they spent much of the season injured (bad backs). We were being extremely careful and cautious with them. What they accomplished was a tribute to their perseverance. Clark and Bollinger are returning All-Americans but they do not have to carry the load this year. We have brought in more players so they can relax and just play their game.
PH: The Huskies have lost three mainstays from the lineup for the past four years - Kelly Hauxhurst in left field, Kim DePaul at third base and Christie Rosenblad at second. Who will fill the void created by their departure - offensively, defensively, and leadership wise?
TW: Becky Simpson has come around the last year. She will play left field and bat leadoff. She has great speed, incredible speed. She is incredibly diverse. She can bunt, slap, chop and hit for power. Kathy Fiske will replace DePaul at third. She has most incredible presence and is a great communicator, and very aggressive. She is an amazing team player. She will be a great one. We have two players sharing second base. Nicole Wicks, from Renton, has the highest level of intensity. She creates havoc on the base paths. She's a catalyst - she makes things happen. She has a phenomenal arm. We also have Steph Nicholson, from Tucson. She has incredible potential and could become another Sara Pickering. She has great instinct and great hands, and great ability to turn the double play. Leadership wise, Hauxhurst, DePaul and Rosenblad were more the quiet types and led by example. So although we lose their supreme athleticism, consistency and experience, there will be more communication and a new type of leadership will be allowed to blossom.
PH: What about first base, center field, right field, and catcher?
TW: At first will be Amanda Oleson. She's a phenomenal athlete - she has the fire and intensity of Angie Marzetta (now Arlati). She's very confident and possesses great presence for a sophomore. She played every position except for two last year. Her presence is so commanding that you want to put her in the infield. She can also be a great leadoff batter but will bat fifth, supporting the big bats of Clark and Kristen Rivera.
In right field, we have depth and incredible options. First is Traci Tawney. She is our best defensive outfielder and has come around with the bat. She will start the season in right. We also have Shawna Norris, who has great speed and a phenomenal arm, and Nicki Holt, a 5-10 speedster and slap hitter with great potential.
We have Rita Roach playing, or more likely, patrolling center field. She's like a cat stalking prey and takes personal offense if anything drops in the outfield. She can hit second or ninth, with her slapping ability and speed.
At catcher we have Kristen Rivera. She's possibly another Jaime Clark, Jen Spediacci, Sara Pickering or Jen Cline. She's an incredible power hitter and will make part of the dominating three - four batting duo with Jaime. We also have Amy Hanson, one of our team captains. She has more respect from her teammates than anyone else. She has great instinct and an incredible heart. She leads by example. Amy learns as much about pitching as anyone. She has made it so that everyone wants to pitch to her.
We also have Megan Owen from Spokane. She had a minor knee injury during the winter but should be ready to start the season. Callie Bergan, our backup at first base, will undergo shoulder surgery and redshirt, missing the 2002 season, but should be ready to go next year.
PH: Last year, Tia carried the pitching staff. How much do you expect from Ashley Boek and Leslie Scott and what do they bring to the program?
TW: Leslie - a year ago no one had ever heard about her. She has made incredible adjustments. She performs voodoo on the ball. There is great break on her pitches. Ashley is a power pitcher in the mold of a Spediacci. Both she and Leslie played exceptionally well during the fall. When all is said and done they may be as prolific a duo as Spediacci and Jamie Graves.
PH: What about Courtney Jeffries and Jessica Wilkinson?
TW: Courtney will be our designated hitter and can also play left field. She takes good angles and has a good arm. Offensively, she made an amazing transition last year from pinch hitter to designated hitter, hitting .600 at regionals. She has a great eye and bat control and occasional power. Jessica Wilkinson is a local product that will help the team as the bullpen catcher. Smaller colleges recruited her as a basketball player. She has the right attitude, mentality and a good outlook.
PH: Today is an absolutely frigid day. In March and April, it really does not get appreciably warmer. How much of a home field advantage do you gain, knowing that UCLA and Arizona has to travel up here? Or does it come down to whether you get a team for two games here or on the road?
TW: A little of both. We smile when we know that UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State have to come up here, even when conditions are not what we would prefer. Our big home field advantage really is due to the crowd. We ranked second nationally in attendance behind Fresno State and ahead of Arizona and had eight sellouts last year. Combine the crowd with the Husky band and no team likes to visit. It is an intimidation factor all its own.
PH: Do you have plans to expand the stadium or to install lighting?
TW: Yes, we will expand seating by about 500-800 in the outfield. The outfield seating should be completed in February and we will need it, especially when UCLA and Arizona and the other teams in the Pac-10 come to town. We have had to turn away fans three of the last four times we have hosted regionals. Beginning this season, teams will also need to have lights to be considered as hosts for regionals so we will probably install some portable lights.
PH: How would you assess the Pac-10?
TW: Tough. Arizona and UCLA are ranked 1 and 2. Stanford has been picked to finish third. Stanford is well coached. Dana Sorensen is a great pitcher and Jessica Mendoza and Sarah Beeson are tough hitters. This year the conference will also be dominated by senior pitching, most prominently Jennie Finch, who finished 32-0 in 2001 for national champion Arizona.
Washington will begin the 2002 campaign in the Early Bird Classic on Friday, February 1 against Long Beach at 11:30 a.m. Brian Donohue will be in the stands to provide a first-hand account of the action.
UW Softball 2002
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