The world of sports is full of false beliefs and assumptions.Hockey is only played well in cold-weather places. Baseball and softball only in warm-weather ones.
While there may be anecdotal evidence to support those kinds of claims, at least when it comes to softball, there is plenty of counter-evidence right in our own backyard to refute it.
I’m talking, of course, about the powerhouse that is the Washington softball team. Let’s run through some of the numbers.
Washington started this season ranked second in the country and has been ranked nonstop in the top five since 2017, according to the university, who also claims that Washington has not gone unranked at all since 2008.
Since being founded in 1993, the softball team has twelve appearances in the Women’s College World Series, including a 2009 national championship and another appearance in the championship round just last year, which they lost to Florida State.
Currently ranked around the fifth-best team in the country, they are off to a hot start and have only lost one game so far. Though they lost several players to graduation after last season, the expectation and the results on the field suggest that this Huskies team is every bit the contender they were last year.
In terms of where they stand within their own conference, it’s perhaps a little premature to anoint them the preeminent Pac-12 favorites—conference play hasn’t begun yet—but in short, the answer is very good. Currently, the only team ranked higher nationally is UCLA. Other Pac-12 teams ranked in the top 25 include both Arizona schools and Oregon.
Who are the personalities that stand out on this team? If you only know one name, it should be Sis Bates. She is an absolute force; the straw that stirs the drink; a 5’4” terror at shortstop who competes relentlessly and is recognized nationally for her accomplishments so far in her career.
Last year, Bates was Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. She also led the Huskies in batting average (.391), on-base percentage (.471), and runs scored (53), according to gohuskies.com. And she’s already been nominated for player of the week by the conference.
In addition to Bates, Washington returns two other All-Americans from last year’s squad, pitchers Taran Alvelo and Gabbie Plain.
Beyond those now-seasoned veterans, Washington breaks in nine freshmen, giving this team a chance to build upon the past and create an identity that includes elements that weren’t there before. If you think teams with a championship culture can’t break in new players and still be successful, pay attention to the New England Patriots.
Currently the Huskies are in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for two weeks to begin the season, where they are competing in the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge, along with 14 other colleges from around the country. They’ve won every game they’ve played in the tournament so far, save for an extra-innings upset loss to Notre Dame, which gives them a 4-1 record overall on the season.
From there, the Huskies go to California for two back-to-back tournaments: the Mary Nutter and Judi Garman Classics.
Why do they play all these tournaments in NCAA softball? It gives teams an opportunity to play games in warmer places. It also gives them an opportunity to face schools from other parts of the country they might not otherwise see until the postseason. Is there also money involved? Most likely, yes, in the way of television deals and ticket sales.
They play their first game in Seattle on March 8th against Ohio State as part of the Husky Classic.
Pac-12 Conference games of interest include a three-game series against UCLA in Seattle over the weekend of March 15-17th and a weekend series against Oregon, March 23rd-25th.
So as you look ahead to baseball this spring, don’t neglect to consider that across the Pacific Northwest, on any given afternoon, there are battles being waged. High drama will ensue. Lives will be metaphorically won and lost. Yes, hearts rended.
For the warriors that are the Washington Huskies softball team, nothing else matters.