Lexie Blair stepped to the plate this weekend with nerves running through her body. The freshman outfielder had never hit a regular season pitch for Michigan. She'd never even seen a regular season pitch.
She’s also gotten jitters before most games in her long history with the softball. But it didn’t show. Blair left Tampa, Fla. last weekend with her first college hits, runs and wins as a Wolverine.
Blair emerged statistically as an offensive leader with seven hits, four runs and a .412 batting average on the weekend. On top of Blair’s success at the plate, the freshman also started the season with a perfect fielding percentage — a figure that many of her teammates share.
Blair came to Michigan talented, ranked the No. 28 overall 2018 recruiting prospect by FloSoftball, but her seemingly fluid transition to college softball also relied on Michigan softball’s atmosphere, also a staple in breakout freshman right-hander Alex Storako’s transition.
In her opening weekend, Storako pitched 18 strikeouts with a 1.13 WHIP.
“The team culture is electrifying,” Storako said. “Our motto is respect Team 42, and I think that is something not only in the sports world, but we all bring it to the classroom and to everyday life.”
The team’s emphasis on supporting younger athletes off the field isn’t just during the season. Upperclassmen moved freshmen into dorms in the fall, starting to integrate players as soon as they got to Ann Arbor. That mentorship has played a key role in developing effective communication on the field with freshmen starters.
Even with that tight-knit atmosphere, though, the transition in terms of level of play isn’t easy. Michigan coach Carol Hutchins — bringing in her 35th class of freshmen this season — thinks that the best way to build confidence after transitioning to college play is to challenge freshmen in practice.
“I think the best thing that they can take confidence in is when they work really hard and we give them really hard tasks and then they take care of the task,” Hutchins said. “Today we did a bases loaded drill for the hitters. It’s a really hard drill because they’re judged on if they really went for it, if you swung hard at the ball and attack the ball, and that’s a hard drill, but the more they do it the better they’ll get.”
And they have. Both Storako and Blair, despite room to improve, seem poised to play significant time going forward. They expect to learn from upperclassmen as the season goes on.
As far as nerves go, Blair may still worry before at-bats, but if anything could calm her nerves, this weekend was it.
“Of course, I’m nervous for every game, but I tell myself this is my thousandth time at bat, so be free and just let your hands do the work,” Blair said. “I was comfortable out there.”