Even though the pep band and several hundred fans were there to greet them Wednesday afternoon, one might have expected members of the University of Washington’s national championship softball team to exit their bus, fall to their knees and kiss the ground before joining the celebration.
They’d had to travel to Massachusetts, Atlanta and finally to Oklahoma City on their way to sweeping the University of Florida for the Women’s College World Series title Tuesday.
Nobody was in a mood to complain about the wicked travel itinerary after the school’s first national title by a team that has traveled quite a way, metaphorically, since 2004.
A scandal at the time led to the firing of coach Teresa Wilson after it was determined that a volunteer team doctor had been feloniously casual about the distribution of pharmaceuticals.
The program in 2009, in contrast, is a beacon of pleasant news to an athletic department that is struggling like everybody else with recession economics. Still, the team’s postseason travels put a spotlight on another necessary facilities upgrade, since the Huskies couldn’t host any games because their stadium has no lights.
Supposedly, new lights are on the way. Regardless, players obviously relished their moment in the sun, literally, when they were met by enthusiastic fans at UW.
Alicia Blake, a senior catcher from Yelm High School, didn’t bother trying to kid anybody: she was worn down by it all.
“I’m not gonna lie,” she said. “I’m a little tired. My hand is a little broken and my thumb is a little jammed and the legs are a little tired. But it was worth every bit of it. Now I can rest.”
Blake had the best view of the effort by Huskies pitcher Danielle Lawrie, the national player of the year, who pitched all 442/3 innings during the six games at the World Series.
“It’s fun when you have a pitcher who is going to hit her spots and make the ball move,” Blake said. “And then you get on the same page so you can set up hitters and get them out. That’s so much fun.”
Lawrie had a monstrous performance in the regionals against Massachusetts, when she threw 251 pitches in a 15-inning win that earned the Huskies the right to move to the Super Regional at Georgia Tech.
Even though that win was more than two weeks before the title sweep of Florida, it gave some Huskies the premonition that the title was a genuine possibility.
“We never gave up all season, ever; we were battle-tested all the way,” said outfielder Alyson McWherter, a junior from Lakes High who is a defensive standout for the Huskies. “When we won that game in 15 innings, we knew there was no stopping us. Everybody had a hand in beating Massachusetts, and you become closer through stuff like that. And all of a sudden we were playing for the national title.”
McWherter doesn’t throw around the term “battle-tested” lightly. The daughter of a retired lieutenant colonel, McWherter is in the Army ROTC at UW and is facing her Leadership Development and Assessment Course at Fort Lewis this summer.
“They will grade me on my leadership abilities and assign me a duty station and a branch based on how well I do,” she said.
Blake also has a military future ahead. She will soon move to Spokane, where husband Andy is stationed at nearby Fairchild Air Force Base.
McWherter, meanwhile, will return for a try at another national championship for UW.
“Winning this means we’re a part of UW history,” McWherter said. “Every single girl on this team has worked so hard to get to this point, and to be able to represent them and all these fans here wearing the ‘W’ on their chests … that’s a real honor.”
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440