Wolverines look to reestablish winning culture ahead of season-opening tournament
Last season, the Michigan softball team failed to advance past regionals for only the second time since 2004.
This Friday, the 18th-ranked Wolverines kick off their 2018 campaign in Tampa Bay, Fla., as they compete in the USF Wilson-Demarini Tournament. Michigan will open up the five-game tournament against Alabama-Birmingham. However, the toughest contest of the weekend will take place Saturday, as the Wolverines will square off against No. 2 Florida.
Michigan coach Carol Hutchins is unfazed by the high level of competition early in the season.
“It doesn’t matter who you’re playing,” Hutchins said. “I don’t focus on who we’re playing because we just need to play every game with the same approach. We worry about what we do. We control what we can control which is our effort and attitude.”
As Hutchins begins her 34th year at the helm, the Wolverines look to rebound off of an abnormal 2017 season which saw Michigan fall to the Washington Huskies in the Seattle Regional championship game.
It will be no easy task, as the team lost a slew of graduating seniors — all of whom were four-year starters. The chain of leadership continues, however, as the next group of upperclassmen steps forward to guide the team in its quest to erase the disappointment of last season.
If the Wolverines hope to return to the level of success to which the program has become accustomed, the team will need contributions from all of its players. Michigan’s incoming freshman class includes a cluster of highly-touted prospects. Left-hander Meghan Beaubien and utility player Lou Allan — the No. 6 and No. 8 overall prospects, respectively, according to FloSoftball — headline the list of newcomers. The development of its young players is essential, and it begins with the leadership of the more experienced players on the squad.
“Leadership is not just about doing things yourself and leading by example,” Hutchins said. “I always say it's your job to show up and work hard and be great … And so, what do you need? You need upperclassmen to say it’s okay, I went through this too, you can do it.”
Michigan is returning 16 letterwinners and five starters, led by senior first baseman and right-hander Tera Blanco and junior second baseman Faith Canfield — both of whom earned NFCA All-American and All-Big Ten first team honors last season.
Last season’s early postseason exit puts the Wolverines in a different position to start the season than in previous years. Despite this being unfamiliar territory, Michigan doesn't necessarily view it as a bad thing.
“There’s not a target on our back like I think there has been in the past,” Canfield said. “And I think that’s a good thing, cause we’re just going to go out there and go for it … I think (because we lost four starters) people have kind of just written us off a little bit.”
At 18th, the Wolverines are beginning the season with their lowest preseason ranking throughout the tenure of all of their current players. Perhaps a chip on their shoulder is exactly what this team needs to light a fire beneath them and propel them towards what they hope will be a return to the winning culture of Michigan softball.
“We re-established culture,” said senior utility player Aidan Falk. “We took a step back, and we really figured out what the pillars of Michigan softball are and what’s really important to our team.”