Heading into the 2023 season, the Michigan softball team was not ranked on the Division I preseason poll — and it knew why.
This season’s roster lacks star players from last year, including first team All-Region pitcher Alex Storako and second team All-Region outfielder Kristina Burkhardt — in addition to other key pieces. Out of the 20 player roster, nine are newcomers to the program.
Despite the loss of many familiar faces, the Wolverines are more than ready to prove that they are still a contender.
“I think we’re coming in with a little chip on our shoulder,” graduate outfielder Lexie Blair said. “We know exactly who we are and we can brag about that. This is Michigan softball.”
Last year, the Wolverines came into the season feeling like they had a target on their back. They felt the need to amount to the expectations of Michigan’s historic program.
But this year under a new coach, the Wolverines get to create their own expectations and run with them.
And while many players have the incentive to prove they deserve a spot among the top softball teams in the nation, first-year head coach Bonnie Tholl has different motivations.
“I’m not one to function with a chip on my shoulder,” Tholl said. “I’m motivated by the fact that this group has the potential to get to Oklahoma City and the only way we’re going to do that is we’re going to think big and when you think big you start acting big and when you act big you start playing big and I want them to do all the above.”
Not only is the situation for Michigan different from last year because of the roster turnover, but it’s also unclear due to the coaching change. Tholl was a long time assistant coach at Michigan for 29 years and has now been elevated to take the reins.
While a coaching change for many programs is a sign of rebuilding, Tholl looks to instill confidence and motivation to her team. The young team is excited to operate under a familiar coach and absorb the outlook she gives.
“One thing I learned from Bonnie is that every single touch of the ball is important,” Blair said. “Whether you’re pitching, hitting, throwing, we really want to zone into that and have the OKC mindset where everything we do is a competition and play as if it was game mode and dominate.”
Despite all the change, one consistency for the Wolverines is the Oklahoma City mindset. Rather than Oklahoma City just being the destination of the Women’s College World Series, once again, Michigan has made the mindset that they deserve to be there a principle driving preseason practice.
“I asked them to be compelled every single day to come to improve their game and we’ve done so since Sept. 1,” Tholl said. “And that general expectation is that they come every day compelled to get better and compelled to work for each other.”
With a young team, that leadership and camaraderie going into the season has only served to reinstate this mindset. Under captains graduate utility player Melina Livingston and senior outfielder Lexi Voss, along with many additional upperclassmen, the Wolverines look to continue that same mission.
Through these players, the excitement and anticipation for the upcoming season rises.
“We want to go out there and show off our competitiveness in every single pitch on the field,” Livingston said. “In every single inning. In every single game. We’re Michigan softball and we want you to be scared when we walk out onto the field.”
In the upcoming games, Michigan will look to prove that it can once again contend at the Women’s College World Series — regardless of how different this team’s squad appears.