Washington looks to life without Lawrie

January, 24, 2011

Editor's note: Graham Hays is counting down to the start of the 2011 college softball season with a look at each of the teams in his top 20. Check back daily for updates.

No. 15 Washington
Last season: 50-9, lost in Women's College World Series

Who returns: At the top of the list is a Canadian Olympian who rates among the very best at her position in the last decade or so. That is, of course, shortstop Jenn Salling. In her first full season on the field for the Huskies, Salling posted a 1.051 OPS, was perfect on the bases in 14 stolen base attempts and committed just six errors. Niki WIlliams edged out Salling for the team batting title with a .357 average (and 1.038 OPS), and Kimi Pohlman erased the first word in "potential star" by hitting .347 with gap power and 22 stolen bases as a sophomore. Morgan Stuart endured a tough season at the plate but remains one of the very best with the glove at third base.

Who departs: At the top of the list is a Canadian Olympian who rates among the very best at her position in the last decade or so. Actually, forget the last decade; Danielle Lawrie rates as one of the best pitchers in the history of the college game, dominating hitters at a time when aces like her seem to be a vanishing breed. But the Huskies also lost one of their best run producers at the plate: Danielle Lawrie. The two-time Player of the Year led Washington last season in slugging percentage, home runs and RBIs. Amanda Fleischman, Bailey Stenson and Alyson McWherter were also integral parts of back-to-back World Series appearances.

Sophomore first baseman Hooch Fagaly is an unexpected loss. After posting a .442 on-base percentage as a freshman, Fagaly could miss the entire season with an injury.

Who arrives: Among the freshmen generating the most buzz are first baseman/pitcher Kaitlin Inglesby, pitcher/outfielder Whitney Jones and outfielder Victoria Hayward, the last apparently yet another gem from the Canadian national team (by way of high school in California).

Statistically speaking: Going by the eye test, Washington had an elite defense in recent seasons, Lawrie or no Lawrie. But history raises some questions.In its first season after Cat Osterman, Texas went from 43 errors and a .973 fielding percentage to 57 errors and a .965 fielding percentage. Tennessee went from 21 errors and a .988 fielding percentage to 39 errors and a .978 fielding percentage without Monica Abbott. Virginia Tech went from 62 errors and a .966 fielding percentage to 81 errors and a .953 fielding percentage without Angela Tincher.

Preseason question: What is life like after Lawrie?
Texas is still waiting for its first World Series trip since Osterman left. Virginia Tech has struggled to hold its own in the ACC in the two seasons since Tincher departed. And Tennessee just made it back to Oklahoma City after lingering in Abbott's shadow.

It seems the problem with landing a once-in-a-generation talent is it's tough to wait a generation for the next one. And yes, the Huskies are aware that moving on without Lawrie means people on the outside will do things like rank the back-to-back World Series participants, who still boast four starters from the 2009 national championship team, preposterously low. Like, say, No. 15.

"That's obvious that that's totally the thing," coach Heather Tarr said of the Lawrie factor. "Everybody and their mothers asks everybody on our team, 'Well, what are you going to do about Danielle?' [Washington players] loved playing with Danielle and playing behind her and having her be their teammate, but at the end of it, if you're a competitive player, you're just like, 'Hey, uh, I'm here. I'm pretty good. I helped the team win a national championship.'"

With Salling, Williams, Pohlman, Stuart and catcher Shawna Wright, the offense should score runs and the defense should field the ball. The question is which pitcher or pitchers will try and fill the roles that fell impossibly on the likes of Meagan Denny, Kenzie Roark and Megan Rhodes after Osterman, Tincher and Abbott, respectively. The primary veteran returnee in this case is Baily Harris, who made 14 starts last season with a 3.61 ERA. But even as Tarr makes it clear it's an unsettled depth chart, the figure in the spotlight is Inglesby, the 6-foot-1 prep All-American.

"It would be great to have her evolve as our No. 1," Tarr said. "But she's going to have to prove it. She's going to have to figure it out and figure out how to get through an opposing lineup that might be tough three times. Even for Danielle, that's something she had to go through and learn . A lot of people only remember Danielle in her last year or two, but Danielle went through a lot of the same things, of holding a tough lineup for six innings and then they get her."

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.



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