Looking in the mirror while shaping the future

Wednesday, February 6, 2019 - 8:21pm

Senior catcher Katie Alexander had a .314 batting average last season with 24 runs batted in.

Senior catcher Katie Alexander had a .314 batting average last season with 24 runs batted in. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

Staring at your imminent successor would stir conflicting feelings for most. For Katie Alexander, it’s her day job.

Now in her third season as the No. 19 Michigan softball team’s starting catcher, the senior has established herself as one of the best backstops in the conference. Last season, she slugged her way to a .314 batting average and 24 runs batted in while picking up second team All-Big honors.

Though this weekend’s Wilson-DeMarini Tournament will mark the beginning of Alexander’s final chapter, she is also focused on her role in helping write the first chapter of freshman catcher Hannah Carson’s much-anticipated career.

Perhaps much-anticipated is an understatement. Carson — FloSoftball’s No. 21 2018 prospect — verbally committed to Michigan coach Carol Hutchins while in eighth grade. Five years later, the Weidman native tallied a .571 batting average and 31 home runs as a senior in high school en route to her fourth consecutive All-State First Team selection.

As a captain, Alexander deems her mentorship to Carson more important than her own numbers.

“I take pride in being a leader because I want to leave the program better than I found it,” Alexander said. “That’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I know that’s something I’ve done so far this year (with Carson), but really want to help her understand how it all works and make sure she’ll be able to lead just like I’ve been. She’s an amazing player, and she’s obviously been catching for a long time.”

Today, Carson is the rookie that Alexander once was. But at the end of the day, mentoring the program’s next catcher seems more like glancing in the mirror than teaching an outsider.

“I see myself in her,” Alexander said. “I’ve watched videos of myself hitting while she’s catching and I think, ‘Am I catching? Is that me?’ She pays attention to detail, and I think she’s going to do really well because she already has the physical stuff. Now it’s about the mental game — getting in there, getting reps and knowing the speed of the college game.”

When the Wolverines take the field this weekend, they’ll see No. 7 Arizona and No. 5 Florida on the other side of the diamond. With an early opportunity to capture two statement victories, Hutchins knows her newcomers will have to contribute immediately. Michigan returns seven starters from last year’s Big Ten Championship team, meaning Hutchins will have to call upon a pair of freshmen or 2018 reserves for a spot in the starting lineup.

As of now, outfielder Lexie Blair and pitcher Alex Storako — two of Carson’s fellow freshmen — have positioned themselves to earn playing time in Tampa this weekend.

Though Alexander has established herself as the Wolverines’ starting catcher and a staple in the heart of the team’s batting order, Carson’s presence can spark mutual growth for both catchers.

“It’s my goal to give (freshmen) as much of an opportunity as possible,” Hutchins said. “Hannah Carson looks up to our senior catcher tremendously, and I think our upperclassmen have really been great mentors for these guys, really showing them the ropes. Katie’s totally helping Hannah get ready, but Hannah really needs some playing time so she can give Katie some rest and get ready for the future. You never know when the future’s going to show up.”

Regardless of how playing time is split, 2019 has the potential to be a special year behind the plate in Ann Arbor. With Alexander’s career set to come full circle, perhaps there isn’t a more fitting way to leave a lasting legacy than by setting an example for her successor.