The No. 23 Michigan women's softball team needs to find its confidence. Selena Sun/Daily. Buy this photo.

Last Friday night, as the Michigan softball team walked off of the field after the second game of its doubleheader with Nebraska, the Wolverines looked shell-shocked. They hadn’t just dropped a game, they had dropped their third straight at home, something almost unheard of in recent program history.

Prior to this point, Michigan had been firing on all cylinders. After early struggles, it had success against strong competition and parlayed this into a winning streak in which it consistently trounced mid-major opponents.

But this changed when the Wolverines took on Miami (OH). It wasn’t that one aspect of their game was terrible, rather they were all just a little subpar. Against Nebraska, all of this was exacerbated. The pitching was inconsistent, the batters struggled and routine fielding errors cost the Wolverines a game

On the outside, there seemed to be no good explanation as to why Michigan had regressed. It wasn’t one player or one facet of the game that led to those losses, but a combination. 

But it was clear that something was lacking and its absence was pervasive:

The Wolverines were no longer playing with confidence.

“I’m most concerned not because we lost,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said last Friday. “But where’s our kids and where’s our confidence. That’s what concerns me more than anything, and right now our confidence is very low.”

A lack of confidence can be hugely detrimental, especially in a sport where there will be consistent failure. Even great batters will return to the dugout 60% of the time — that’s just softball. And in some ways, bad play can’t only be pinned on self doubt. There are legitimate areas that need improvement. But if what’s plaguing Michigan is a crisis of confidence, that’s even more worrying, because there is no simple solution.

“I can’t give you confidence,” Hutchins said in a preseason interview. “Otherwise, I’d hand it right to you. You could take a pill or something. You have to understand that your confidence is something you have to own. … They learn that in the program but it’s a learning curve, because at first they don’t understand it.”

Michigan rebounded with a win on Tuesday against Bowling Green, but it wasn’t convincing. The game was tight, and the Wolverines’ offense didn’t pull away or do anything to prove that the past three games were a fluke. However, one player had clearly regained her confidence:

Senior right-hander Alex Storako struck out 17 and allowed only one hit on a bunt. 

“The mental game is a lot of what goes into our day-to-day process, and last week I kind of got away from it,” Storako said. “Today I went out there with a kick-ass attitude, and a ‘who cares about the expectation’ type of deal.” 

But aside from picking herself up, Storako was there to raise her teammates’ confidence up as well.

“Our pregame was definitely a group of kids that I could tell were not certain, and it was concerning,” Hutchins said. “They have to have the discipline to work through it, and I thought (Storako) did. She got the team up, she pulled them into the huddle and said, ‘guys we’re winning, act like it.’ ’’

Leaders like Storako are exactly what Michigan needs. It needs the confidence of its upperclassmen to rub off on the entire dugout. The Wolverines are an interesting composition of players, as Hutchins has placed a lot of trust in younger players while also relying on veteran stalwarts. And right now, with confidence issues plaguing the team, is exactly when its leaders need to come through. 

The problem though, is that Michigan doesn’t have much time. On Friday, it will face first-place No. 9 Northwestern in Evanston. The Wildcats are strong in almost every aspect of the game and will certainly give the Wolverines a run for their money. 

Michigan may be at a relatively low point, but if it wants to preserve the possibility of another regular season Big Ten conference championship, it needs to be at its best. 

And to be at its best, it needs confidence.

“We’re walking into Northwestern’s den, and that place is a hard place to play,” Hutchins said. “They’re playing really really well, and they’re playing really really confident.”

The Wolverines are fully capable of turning their season around. But they have work to do.

“We’re a work in progress,” Hutchins said. “And our confidence is definitely not where it needs to be. No question.”

And to get its season back on track, Michigan needs to find it. Fast.