Even after earning a national (top eight) seed in the NCAA tournament, it could be safely assumed that the Washington Huskies still surprised some people with their Women’s College World Series berth in 2017.
Heather Tarr’s club fought their way to the tournament’s semifinals, standing as one of the last four teams playing, before ultimately begin eliminated two wins shy of the WCWS championship series.
Following the tournament, the Huskies’ lone representative on the WCWS All-Tournament team was senior Ali Aguilar. The elder statesman served as a big part of her team’s heart on many occasions, as well as a stout offensive factor and always a dynamite playmaker both at the plate and in the field.
The Huskies sported one of the most lethal infields in the game in 2017, with Taylor Van Zee, Aguilar, Sis Bates, and Kirstyn Thomas around the horn. Morganne Flores behind the plate quickly and efficiently established herself as one of the game’s best backstops and certainly the cream of the crop in the PAC-12.
Nevertheless, Aguilar remained head and shoulders above the rest, showing her senior leadership on a regular basis and coming up big for her team when they seemed to be most in need of a spark.
With college athletics comes graduation, however, and Aguilar and left fielder Casey Stangel’s collegiate careers came to an end on the field in Oklahoma City. Two prolific hitters and veterans on a young Husky club, the duo’s impactfulness left some gaping holes in the Husky batting order and defensive alignment, and caused many to wonder if Tarr’s club would be able to find the production and the right replacements in a year’s time to make a run at a return to the game’s biggest stage and challenge for a championship.
Enter Taryn Atlee.
Atlee, a former Rutgers Scarlet Knight, joined the Huskies as a transfer this offseason. Despite playing at one of the Big Ten’s most oft-struggling programs for her freshman campaign, Atlee earned first-team all-Big Ten honors in 2017, finished second in the Big Ten in hits, and recorded a .393 batting average on the year.
Instead of an incoming freshman attempting to fill Aguilar’s shoes, or reshuffling their other all-star basemen around to find the new “right combination”, Tarr now has a player that she can plug in to said gaping hole and suffer much less of a learning curve than otherwise might have been the case.
The Huskies have talent in the pitching circle, led by Taran Alvelo, who has emerged as a force to be reckoned with both in conference play and in the postseason. Flores behind the plate possesses one of the game’s best cannons, while the batting order features several potent and dangerous hitters.
Losing an all-American is never easy. But for the Huskies, their journey just got easier and that alone should put them on the fast track to a return to Oklahoma City in 2018.