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Originally published May 27, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 9, 2007 at 9:02 PM

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Jerry Brewer

Let the good times roll as UW heads to Series

Back from scandal, scrutiny and skepticism, the Huskies are in the College World Series for the first time in Tarr's tenure. They did it with unity. They did it with zeal. They did it with class.

Seattle Times staff columnist

For a program forced to make so many touchy decisions the past four years, this choice was as refreshing as it was easy.

Gatorade or water?

Washington softball players Caitlin Noble and Jacki Hansen debated their showering options, settled on the bucket with green stuff and rumbled toward the target with a decisiveness that defines their coach/victim, Heather Tarr.

They got her. Good. Soaked the back of her clothing. Tarr hopped and then laughed. The Husky Softball Stadium infield turned to mud along the first-base line.

The desert has been irrigated.

Back from scandal, scrutiny and skepticism, the Huskies are in the College World Series for the first time in Tarr's tenure. They did it with unity. They did it with zeal. They did it with class.

After a 7-5 victory over Alabama in the NCAA Super Regional on Saturday, the band played an old Kool And The Gang song as the Washington team clapped and danced before a crowd that overflowed into the neighboring football stadium.

"Celebrate good times, come on!" people sang as the instruments played.

Perhaps now, there will be only good times. This is Tarr's program now, no question. This is her third season coaching her alma mater, but this is her breakthrough. And this is the UW softball program's break-loose moment.

The story isn't so much about the drug scandal that cost coach Teresa Wilson, the successful and dynamic former coach, her job four years ago. On this afternoon, no one asked about Dr. Feelgood or tried to remember how many thousands of illegal doses of pills and painkillers team physician William Scheyer gave those players. No one questioned why Scott Centala and Steve Dailey, who led the Huskies to the Series in 2004 following Wilson's ouster, were let go in favor of Tarr.

This day showcased the glorious possibilities of the new. Tarr has turned out to be the right person to restore this program's reputation.

"Now, it's Coach Tarr's era," first baseman Dena Tyson said.

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Marie Tuite, the UW senior associate athletic director, remembers Tarr's wowing job interview three years ago. Tarr was only 29 and had been an assistant coach for only six years at Pacific, but she was the one. She had her cute eight-page plan outlining her vision. She put a picture of Don James on the cover, along with a photo of her as a player, and she typed a question mark next to the images.

She was the answer. She was a Husky, for one, having played here from 1994 to 1997. She was Ms. Do Right as a player, All-Pac-10 as an athlete and a student. She was passionate. She was energetic.

Furthermore, Tuite recognized how much Tarr had matured since graduating. She was ready.

"She was clearly the person that we all thought would be able to get things turned around," Tuite said.

Tarr did so gradually. That first season was rough. There were so many trust issues. For many of the players, it was their third coach in three years. And for the first time, the players neither had Wilson nor a member of her staff leading them.

Tyson is the only remaining Husky who experienced the musical coaching chairs featuring Wilson, co-coaches Centala and Dailey and Tarr.

"It was like an open mic night all the time when coach Tarr first came," Tyson said. "She wanted us to talk. If you needed to get something off your chest, you got it off your chest."

The beginning involved rebuilding trust and confidence. In Tarr's first two seasons, the Huskies were successful enough to snag top 15 rankings and advance to the Super Regional, but that's as far as they would go. They were good, but they were stuck. The program still had some healing left.

"There were people who thought that the program was in disarray, and I think the athletes might have thought that was a reflection of them," Tuite said. "People were really judging Washington softball. We'd always had a lot of pride in our softball program, and to come under that kind of scrutiny was difficult for everyone."

The difference this season: The players believe. They really believe. In themselves. In each other. In their coach.

Everything is coming together. This is the kind of program Tarr wanted to build. This was the kind of program Wilson, her coach, had.

Tarr wanted this job because she was a concerned alum. She wanted to replenish a tradition more than she wanted to establish her own. As it turns out, to break the Huskies from their troubling recent history, Tarr didn't have to ignore the past. She had to emphasize the past's positives.

Sitting before reporters in a tent just outside the stadium, the validated coach put old and new together.

"You put pressures on yourself and you want to fill the shoes of someone as good as Coach Wilson was," Tarr said, pausing to grin before melding Huskies history. "How great it is that some of their players and some of my players are out there at the same time, enjoying this. It's awesome."

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com. For more columns and the Extra Points blog, visit seattletimes.com/sports

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About Jerry Brewer

Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
jbrewer@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2277

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