Michigan has options as it tries to replace studded senior class
Carol Hutchins often touted the 2019 senior class as one of the best she’s ever had.
After falling out of the top-25 for the first time in a decade, the seniors took it upon themselves to right the ship. A 12-10 start was followed by a 31-1 record heading into the postseason, giving the Wolverines an opportunity to host a regional as the No. 15 seed. And though Michigan fell to James Madison in the winner-takes-all game of the regional, Hutchins was effusive in her praise of her seniors.
If the Wolverines want to replicate any sort of the success they had this year, they will need to fill the voids the senior class is leaving. With the offseason already in full swing for the softball team, The Daily looks at possible replacements for each vacant position.
Not only will Michigan need to find a new leadoff hitter but it will be searching for its new anchor after the departure of two-time All-American Faith Canfield. Following a quiet freshman year where she was backup to former four-time All-American Sierra Romero, Canfield took the reins in 2017 and became another household name. She started every single game for Michigan the last three years, posting a minimum batting average of .391 each season including a .404 average in 2019. Her .617 slugging percentage and .482 on-base percentage this past year both were team-highs — exactly what any team wants out of its leadoff hitter.
However, Michigan has its options to fill the gap. Sophomore Morgan Overaitis seems like the most logical fit at this position as she played 32 games during her freshman campaign and earned nine starts. Her best performance came against Illinois State as designated player when she hit two-for-five with two RBI, showing her ability to get hits with runners in scoring position.
Then there is standout incoming freshman Julia Jimenez. Though she primarily played shortstop and third baseman throughout high school, her infield instincts might be able to translate to second base. Her high school batting statistics were nothing short of spectacular, either. The No. 13-ranked recruit, according to Softball America, hit at a .520-clip with 31 RBI during her senior year. Perhaps her most impressive statistic, though, is that she struck out just six times in her high school career, proving that she has the ability to continue the legacy of the last two Wolverine second basemen.
If there was one position in the lineup that wasn’t set at the start of this past season, it was the first baseman. But by the end of the year, Alex Sobczak proved to be deserving of the spot. After a convoluted college career where she showed flashes of potential, Sobczak broke out in her final season, batting cleanup and tied for the team lead in home runs with 10 while finishing second in RBI with 42.
It seems likely, though, that junior Taylor Bump will take over. Though Sobczak ended up beating her out for the starting job, Bump continued to earn playing time on defense, especially in the postseason, due to her reliable glove. Bump will need to prove that she can produce consistent results in the batter’s box, though, which could make or break her case for the starting role.
Though she ended her final season with a non-contact knee injury in the regional, Katie Alexander left her mark on the Wolverines. She contributed 10 home runs to an offense that struggled to put balls over the fence and had just one error, maintaining a fielding percentage of .997.
However, if the end of the season was indicative of who can replace Katie Alexander, it seems like sophomore Hannah Carson will get the green light. Carson, a top-25 recruit out of high school, played the entire regional, batting at a .417-clip with two doubles and an RBI. She also showed great maturity behind the plate, committing no errors on the year.
After a turbulent career at Michigan, Mackenzie Nemitz persevered through injuries and fluctuating playing time to solidify herself as designated player. Sister of former Michigan great Nikki Nemitz, Mackenzie had a batting average of .288 with five home runs and 31 RBIs. She started 41 games for the Wolverines and even showed that she could play third baseman when Madison Uden was in a slump.
In the postseason, rising junior Lou Allan pinch hit for Nemitz and showed flashes of potential to get on base. Driving home a crucial RBI as a pinch hitter in the Big Ten Tournament final and even earning a start at designated player in Michigan’s most important game of the year against James Madison. Allan was given plenty of opportunities to capitalize once she came back from the injury that has hindered her for much of her college career. Assuming that she can stay injury-free, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Hutchins inserts her into the starting lineup next season.
Jimenez could also be another option to replace Nemitz if Overaitis wins the second baseman position. With her impressive batting average and .940 slugging percentage in high school, Hutchins might want Jimenez to contribute to the Wolverine offense right away.
As a staple of the Michigan offense and defense the last two years, Natalie Peters started almost every game for the Wolverines. With a .352 batting average during her senior season, she had the third-most consistent bat on the team. She also was the best baserunner for Michigan, stealing a team-high 15 bases on 16 attempts. Losing such consistency at the top of the batting lineup and speed in the outfield will not be an easy task for the Wolverines to replace, especially when their options have not received much playing time.
The most experienced replacement would be rising sophomore Grace Chelemen. She primarily entered games as a pinch runner, showing that she could replicate Peters’ speed and baserunning, but she only received seven at-bats on the season and produced just one hit.
On the other hand, there is No. 28-ranked incoming freshman Lexi Voss. Her .644 batting average was topped off by 19 home runs and 70 RBI in her senior campaign. This type of power is significantly different from Peters’ slap-hitting style and Voss has the ability to add another dimension to a Michigan offense that lacked power last year.