Well, it’s Alex Storako and Meghan Beaubien season again.
After the pair led the Michigan softball team to its third straight Big Ten title and 28th NCAA Tournament appearance last year, the senior right hander and fifth-year left hander are set to pitch together once again in 2022. It’s a final lap for this one-two punch, and expectations are higher than ever.
Storako, for her part, was named a preseason first-team All-American by D1 Softball off the back of a historic season. Boasting a record of 22-3 and an ERA of only 1.05, she broke the Wolverines’ program record for strikeouts and was unanimously named the conference’s pitcher of the year.
Beaubien held her own, too — her five-inning perfect game and three no-hitters were indisputable evidence that opponents had no easy side of the rotation.
But despite these many accolades, this final lap is not a victory lap for either player — and Beaubien’s decision to utilize her COVID eligibility made that no secret.
“This team wants to get to Oklahoma City and this team wants to win in Oklahoma City,” Beaubien said, noting the site of the Women’s College World Series. “That’s a big reason I’m back … I’ve never made it out of the regional. I’m not happy with that. No one who’s been here for five years is satisfied with that.”
Following a controversial draw in NCAA Tournament selection, last year’s push to Oklahoma City was stunted in the Seattle Regional at the hands of Washington. And despite being the Wolverines’ bread and butter all year, Storako and Beaubien’s performance took a frustrating downturn.
Now, with a new season dawning, that frustration has solidified into focus.
“We had a tremendous pitching staff and we fell short,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “But I want them to come in with a sense of urgency every day. I want them to have it today at practice. I want them to have it tomorrow in practice, to be their best self because their best self is the best chance.”
Since the focus on refining skill is so unified among the two pitchers, one might not initially realize how their stark differences actually fuse them together. While differences in pitch preference and off-field personalities may lead one to question the cohesion of the duo, the pair create a righty/lefty yin-and-yang effect for Michigan.
“We’re very different people off the field,” Storako said. “Our minds work in very different ways and we’re interested in very different things, but I think that just just adds to what makes us so great as a duo on the mound.”
Of course, the two are not the only arms on the Wolverines’ roster. Michigan welcomes two freshmen to the bullpen — right-handers Lauren Derkowski and Emerson Aikan — who join junior left-hander Lauren Esman to round out the pitching staff.
And for the two veterans up top, helping younger teammates assimilate into the collegiate level is so much more than just an upperclassman obligation — it’s an enriching opportunity that they both cherish.
“I think I can see a bit of myself when I was younger in all of them in different ways,” Beaubien said. “I really loved getting to work with them. … That’s been one of my favorite things about this year so far, and I think they have a ton of potential and a ton of talent already.”
The pursuit of consistency and level-headedness has been reiterated by Hutchins and her players for so many years. That, however, does not mean growth and change isn’t present along the way.
“My mental approach and my confidence level and leadership abilities are just worlds apart from when I walked in here as a freshman,” Beaubien said. “Instead of just walking in here and saying ‘oh, I hope I do well in college,’ I know that I can be great here. … I know there’s gonna be games where I don’t do well, but that’s not gonna shake my confidence anymore.”
Now in their final season together, the pitching duo hope to leave something to be remembered by.
“When you speak of Meghan Beaubien and Alex Storako, you put them on the same wall with the Jennie Ritters and the Jordan Taylors — they’ve been fantastic pitchers,” Hutchins said. “We’re lucky that they’re on our team, because I can tell you we’re tired of hitting against them in practice. But this is a new year, and last year is over.
“ … The carrot is that they want to do what they can to get us to the World Series.”