Last weekend, the Michigan softball team took on a new challenge. A challenge that had coach Carol Hutchins worrying whether she or a team member would end up in the emergency room with an axe sticking out of their leg.
Fortunately, everyone came out of the axe-throwing excursion unscathed and the team had crowned an axe champion: junior infielder Taylor Bump.
This outing was part of the team’s offseason activities and one of the things the team got to do together that wasn’t directly softball-related.
After practicing six days a week the entire offseason, Hutchins decided the team needed to do something fun to get away from the grind. The Wolverines had lunch together after practice, watched the men’s basketball game against Iowa and then she took them to the night’s main event.
“We just had fun together,” Hutchins said. “We’ve got to enjoy being around each other. You know, we’re different. We’re all diverse. We don’t all agree about everything, but we’re a team and you’ve got to get along with your teammates. So, we try to create some of those moments.”
Despite her fear that someone might put an axe through themself, Hutchins recognized the importance of taking time as a team off the field and what it means for the players.
The Wolverines have gone on excursions in the past to find a relief from practice, laser tag being cited as a Hutchins favorite, but typically at the end of the season. In Hutchins’ 36 years of coaching, this is the first time they have done anything in the preseason. This is not to mention the team’s Cuba trip over fall break — also a first.
The Wolverines went to the country and spent time with each other as well as with a Cuban softball team. They brought over toiletries, gave the team gloves and dumped out their backpacks at the end of the trip to give to the team.
In December, the team had its annual Christmas party where it played a game of white elephant and requipped with gifts of new gloves. This, along with the new experiences provided by the Cuba trip and axe throwing, gave the players a chance to bond with each other.
“I mean the most important thing, I think, is getting to know an individual teammate,” sophomore outfielder Lexie Blair said. “That’s what I feel like can build chemistry. … Us doing the team axe throwing, our Christmas parties, going to Cuba together. You kind of get to learn more about each other.”
And the hope, for Hutchins, is that the chemistry translates to the field.
Last year, Michigan started out its season 12-10 before coming home and straightening out to 33-3 down the stretch. The slow start could be attributed to a lot of things — competition, readiness, overall performance — but the importance of teamwork and cohesion was not lost on Blair.
“Yeah, last year was a really slow start,” Blair said. “It’s just finding that chemistry within the team. Learning to mesh within each other, kind of finding a common ground and working together as one. That’s what you need to find for each team.”
Connection. Cohesion. Chemistry. However it’s stated, it’s important to the success of a softball team. Outs are made as a team. Runs are made as a team. Wins and losses come as a team. Blair recognizes this, and so does Hutchins.
After losing five senior starters the Wolverines will need to find unity on a relatively young team. And quickly — the season starts in just nine days.
It is possible that a trip to Cuba, a Christmas party and an axe throwing competition could have done that for the Wolverines.
The only hint will be on the players’ faces.
“A team that’s happy together plays better together,” Hutchins said. “No question.”
So when the team takes the field for the first time this season on Feb. 7 — watch for smiles.