When Washington's softball team and ace Danielle Lawrie take the field Thursday against Georgia, they will do so as the favorite to win the Women's College World Series.
It wasn't always that way.
Washington, the nation's top-ranked team, traditionally has played the underdog to conference rivals UCLA and Arizona, who have combined to win 19 national titles. The Huskies' lone title came last year, with Lawrie pitching every inning of the team's six WCWS games.
That championship changed the face of a program that since its inception in 1993 had made the WCWS eight times without capturing the title.
Coach Heather Tarr said playing with a target on their backs this season has led the Huskies to take a different approach.
"You can't take the role where you sneak up on people,” she said. "You get everybody's 'A-game' and nobody forgets who they're playing. The players have had to adapt to that.”
Tarr said the team's ascent is a result of involving the right people with the program.
"When you have the right people, good things happen,” said Tarr, who played third base for the Huskies from 1994-97. "It's an exciting time to be part of the program. You can't overstate what Danielle has done for us.”
Lawrie, who on Tuesday was named college softball's player of the year for the second straight season, said Tarr was the biggest reason for the program's success.
"Year after year she gets better and makes us better,” she said.
Lawrie won nation's top award after posting a 40-3 record and striking out 478 batters during the season. She also led the Huskies with 15 home runs and 57 RBIs.