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The top five Michigan sports moments that went under the radar this summer

BY NICOLE AUERBACH
Chantel Jennings and Andy Reid
Published September 8, 2009

Some pretty amazing things happened in the world of Michigan sports this summer, and they were away from the football field, basketball court and hockey rink. We're talking national championships, College World Series runs and one of the biggest upsets in the team's history. But most of the Wolverines' smaller sports are constantly overlooked, especially when the students leave campus for the summer.

Here are the top five storylines from this summer that you need to know about:

5. Baseball’s season = bummer

After six straight postseason appearances in the Big Ten Tournament, the Michigan baseball team’s season ended during an unfittingly sunny weekend in May in Evanston, Ill.

Michigan finished 7th in the Big Ten — the lowest ever under Wolverine baseball coach Rich Maloney in his seven seasons with the Wolverines.

The loss was extremely disappointing following three straight Big Ten Titles and four straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Michigan started the season with high hopes and was led by strong individual performances throughout the season by fifth-year senior pitcher Chris Fetter, who finished a strong 7-3 in 13 starts with a 3.26 ERA. The Wolverines also started left-handed junior pitcher Eric Katzman, who started 14 games to finish 7-4 with a 3.56 ERA. Katzman wasn’t always reliable, but neither was the rest of the Wolverines' pitching staff.

Michigan did toy with bringing in junior first baseman and relief pitcher Mike Dufek in to be the closer in close games. Dufek pitched 16.2 innings in 11 games, only allowing five earned runs and striking out 21 batters.

On offense, the team was led in large part by Dufek and sophomore center fielder Ryan LaMarre. LaMarre batted third and led the team with a .344 batting average and 62 RBI’s. Dufek led the team with his 17 home runs.

Even with a few individual successes, Michigan couldn’t overcome injuries, a lack of consistency, and a few disappointing losses to Mid-American Conference teams as it failed to repeat as Big Ten Champions.

4. Volleyball upsets No. 3 Nebraska
While students were busy coming back to campus at the end of August, the Michigan volleyball team was busy earning the biggest win in program history, a straight-set victory over No. 3 Nebraska on Aug. 28.

It started out tight as the Wolverines squeaked out a 25-23 win in the first set. But from then on, Michigan widened its margin of victory in each subsequent set, taking the second 25-21 and the third 25-17. Junior Lexi Zimmerman and sophomore Alex Hunt led the charge with Zimmerman’s 33 assists and Hunt’s 14 kills.

It marked the first time ever that the Wolverines had defeated a top-five team and it catapulted them to a No. 7 ranking, another program record. It appears the upset win got the team rolling in general, too, as Michigan has reeled off four straight wins since that season opener.

The Wolverines now boast a perfect 5-0 record and rigorous conference play begins in two weeks. But for the first time in program history, they’ll face teams like top-ranked Penn State with the confidence that comes from a huge upset. On the very first day of the season, Michigan proved it can compete with anyone. And now, the Wolverines have a chance to beat everyone.

3. Tiffany Ofili and Geena Gall win individual national titles

At the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships on June 13, now-graduated Geena Gall and Tiffany Ofili carried the day for the Wolverines by winning individual national championships. The pair led the Wolverines to a seventh-place finish, Michigan women’s track and field coach James Henry’s third consecutive top-10 finish at nationals.

Ofili’s title in the 100-meter hurdles was her third consecutive in the event and her fifth overall title at Michigan. With the victory, Ofili became the first ever Wolverine to three-peat as a national champion. Ofili defeated the runner-up by nearly two-tenths of a second, while less than four-tenths of a second separated second place from eighth place.

Shortly after her blistering performance at the National Championships, Ofili, now an Adidas-signed runner, raced at the USA Track and Field Championships. She barely missed the cut to represent the USA at the World Championships, placing fourth.

Ofili’s teammate and roommate, Gall, won her second consecutive 800-meter run championship and picked up her 10th All-American accolade of her career. Her time of 2:00.8 was a lifetime best as the senior led the race from start to finish.

The Wolverine also won the 800-meter run indoor national championship during her junior and senior campaigns. Following her impressive collegiate career, Gall joined the professional Oregon Track Club and represented the USA at the 2009 World Championships, placing 14th in the 800-meter run.

2. Softball makes a run to the College World Series

If you’re addicted to ESPN and ESPN2 (like us), you probably didn’t miss this. But for the more casual sports fan, we’ll clue you in on the Michigan softball team’s incredible postseason run. It started with a sparkling 41-10 regular-season record and a 21-game winning streak that helped the Wolverines capture their first outright Big Ten Championship since 2005. Michigan cruised through regional and super regional play, earning a trip to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.

It marked the first time the Wolverines returned to the tournament since they won it in 2005, the most recent NCAA team championship at Michigan. Much of the team’s success can be attributed to the dynamic pitching duo of Jordan Taylor and Nikki Nemitz combined with an explosive offensive attack.

In Oklahoma City, Michigan erupted for six runs to beat No. 4 Alabama in the first round. But that would be the Wolverines’ final win of the season after two heartbreaking losses to top-seeded Florida and red-hot Georgia knocked Michigan out of the tournament.

Still, the magical run points to only positive things for the coming season. Eight of Michigan’s nine starters from last year will return, including both ace pitchers. A trip back to the World Series could very well be in store for the Wolverines.

1. Lacrosse's back-to-back titles

The record books say that the last team national championship won at Michigan was the 2005 softball College World Series title. Try telling that to the lacrosse team.

Although the Wolverines have yet to gain true varsity status, lacrosse is one of the fastest-growing sports on campus — and for good reason. After two straight 20-win, undefeated seasons, Michigan is the two-time defending national champion in club varsity lacrosse.

Along with the 40 straight wins, Michigan is gaining national notoriety. In a move meant to gauge the team’s readiness to make the jump to varsity, the Wolverines hosted Army and St. Johns in 2008 in a tournament at Elbel Field. Although Michigan didn’t pull of either upset, the tournament definitely got the attention of Athletic Director Bill Martin, who has the final say about the varsity situation.

Back in May, the Wolverines traveled to Denver to defend their title against a tough Chapman squad. They won in a 12-11 barnburner.

Few people on campus know about the lacrosse team, whose home games are in Oosterbaan Fieldhouse, the Michigan football practice facility. But the fans that do show up are loyal and loud. Don’t be surprised to hear a lot more about this team in the future.


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