The big news, although not exactly breaking at this point, is that star junior catcher Morganne Flores will miss the entire 2018 season with an injury.
The specific injury has not been officially disclosed, but according to a source with the team, it is not an injury that should have any future ongoing effects once it heals (i.e. not an Achilles, ACL, or severe concussion). Flores has two years of eligibility remaining.
Although this is a major blow for the Huskies, there is depth behind MoFlo. Junior Rachel Ogasawara played a chunk of time last year to give Flores the day off defensively. Ogasawara's bat would probably be in the lineup around 8th, but her defense is fantastic - probably even exceeding Morganne's quite good defense.
The second option is freshman Emma Helm. Helm, a lefty, is known for her power bat and my guess is she would more likely hit around 6th. But her defense, although perfectly adequate, is not on par with Ogasawara and Flores.
Even with the injury to Flores, the Huskies still have a third healthy catcher. Freshman Morgan Allen played primarily shortstop in high school but is listed as "catcher/utility" on the Huskies website, even before the injury. I don't see Allen playing regularly at catcher given that she had been practicing with the infielders the time I watched practice earlier in spring, but having a third catcher makes lineup moves significantly easier and gives another option for an in-game bullpen catcher.
On Sunday (during the Super Bowl, actually), head coach Heather Tarr tweeted the same phrase that Chris Petersen does when a new verbal commitment is made. After some searching, I found the new Husky.
Tianna Bell will not be on campus for quite a while. She is an infielder (3B/SS) due to graduate HS in 2022, meaning she's still in eighth grade. FloSoftball doesn't even release their Hot 100 rankings for 2022 until around May.
Early recruiting is an unfortunate reality of college softball right now - about a week ago, a sixth grader committed to Florida just before she turned 12. There's a movement supported by ~80% of NCAA coaches to limit all contact until the first day of sophomore year, but until that movement gets passed, if you aren't taking advantage, you're getting left behind.
Bell is a righty with plus power and a very low strikeout rate. Hopefully, I'll be able to figure out more when May rolls around. I have full confidence that Tarr would not be offering a player this early unless she were very good, so I expect Bell to be somewhere in the 2022 Hot 100.
On the same day the injury news was announced, UW came in at 4th and 5th respectively in the 2 major polls. The NFCA coaches poll had UW at #4, between #3 Oregon and #5 UCLA, while the USA Softball media poll had UW behind UCLA at #5. The NFCA poll (the one I will usually reference on here) has 6 Pac-12 teams ranked:
(23) Arizona State
One positive indicator for UW moving forward: the Pac-12 cooaches poll, which came out a week later and therefore by then Flores' injury was widely known, has UW third ahead of Arizona, the #7 team in the country.
Non-conference schedule preview
The season starts for UW in just 2 days! Friday through Sunday in Peoria, Illinois, the Huskies will play 5 games against 4 teams: 2 vs host Bradley; one each vs Miami-Ohio, Western Illinois, and Saint Louis. It's a homecoming of sorts for ace Taran Alvelo, who is originally from just outside Columbus, Ohio but played her summer club ball with a Chicago-based team.
Here's the full schedule prior to the Pac-12 opener at Arizona State on Saturday, March 17th (times - Pacific, of course - only indicated for upcoming week)
2/9 - 2/11 (Peoria, Illinois)
2/9, 9:30 AM: vs Saint Louis
2/9, noon: at Bradley
2/10, 7 AM: vs Miami-Ohio
2/10, noon: vs Western Illinois
2/11, 7 AM: at Bradley
Analysis: The first weekend should not pose a problem at all for the Huskies. If it does, I’ll be shocked. All 4 teams finished outside of the top 130 in RPI last year; UW’s worst loss was to #83 Stanford.
2/16 - 2/18 (Huntsville, TX)
2/16: vs Northern Colorado
2/16: vs Wichita State
2/17: vs Seton Hall
2/17: at Sam Houston State
2/18: vs Wichita State
2/19: DH at Lamar (Beaumont, TX)
2/21: at (RV) Texas (Austin, TX)
Analysis: The games at Lamar and UT-Austin aren't part of the same tournament, but I'll lump the Texas trip together. UW should be favored in all of these games as well. But there's enough better competition that dropping one game is quite possible. Texas is receiving votes and Wichita State is quite solid. Anything worse than 7-1 would be majorly disappointing; 8-0 would be a good step.
2/23-2/25 (Cathedral City, CA)
2/23: vs (RV) Notre Dame
2/24: vs #6 Texas A&M
2/24: vs Nebraska
2/25: vs (RV) Wisconsin
2/25: vs Long Beach State
Analysis: Honestly, kind of a disappointing schedule for UW at the Mary Nutter Classic. The one huge showdown with A&M is nice, but there are a bunch of good teams and we're only playing obe ranked team and two fringe ones. 4-1 seems likely here - either lose to the Aggies and win the rest, or beat TAMU but get upset by ND/Wisc/maybe Nebraska. 5-0 would be huge, 3-2 would not be a major problem.
3/2-3/4 (Husky Classic - Seattle)
3/2: (11) Alabama
3/3: (11) Alabama
3/3: (19) BYU
3/4: Portland State
Analysis: Really good field in seattle this year. Last year, UW beat previously-undefeated Minnesota twice in this tourney, including a 9-0 run-rule win. But Bama, BYU, and even a solid Northwestern squad is a good group of opponents. UW swept a 2-game series in Tuscaloosa last year, so you know the Tide want revenge. 4-1 would be a slight positive, 5-0 fantastic, 3-2 somewhat disappointing.
3/9-3/11 (Las Vegas, NV)
3/9: vs New Mexico State
3/9: at UNLV
3/10: vs DePaul
3/10: vs New Mexico State
3/11: vs Portland State
Analysis: Like week 1, these six games should not pose a problem at all. Probably the best of the bunch is DePaul, the defending Big East champion, which sounds nice until you realize the Big East is in the bottom quarter of all D1 conferences for softball. Huskies should cruise 6-0 here.
Overall prediction: Last year, the Huskies played their best against the best competition but occasionally slipped against lower teams. I'll say the Huskies enter conference play at 25-3: losses coming to 1) Alabama, 2) a team at Mary Nutter besides TAMU, and 3) either BYU or somewhere on the Texas swing.