Last year didn’t quite go Sara Driesenga’s way.
The fifth-year senior right-hander suffered a rib injury early in the season and spent most of the year trying to return to health.
Michigan coach Carol Hutchins remembers that Driesenga’s return was still a possibility even when the injury was diagnosed as a fracture. But the obstacle proved too difficult to overcome, and near the end of conference play, Driesenga approached Hutchins having made a decision: the pitcher wanted to come back for a fifth year.
“I waited for her to come to me because I wanted to know that she wanted to come back,” Hutchins said. “It’s a huge decision. It’s quite a change in life and quite a change in plans. We thought it was in her best interest so she could have a senior year, and we certainly thought it was in our best interest.”
It was heartbreaking for Driesenga to find out she wouldn’t be able to help the Wolverines on the field, and though she had to cope with that pain throughout the season, she found other ways to contribute. She developed close relationships with former pitcher Haylie Wagner and current junior Megan Betsa, and became another coach of sorts, spending her time watching and providing advice to the other pitchers based on her observations, both good and bad.
“I think people — especially the other pitchers — weren’t afraid to ask me about what wasn’t working,” Driesenga said. “As the season went on, I was more apt to say something if I saw something because I wanted to help any way I could. That just made them better. We’re all there to help each other and make each other better, so that’s definitely something I’ve brought from last year.”
Her performance this season has been impressive considering her time off. Though she experienced a few bumps earlier in the season, Driesenga currently sports an 11-0 record and a 2.12 earned-run average in 62.2 innings pitched.
Driesenga is non-committal when asked if she thinks she’s pitching at a higher level than before her injury.
“It’s hard to tell and to compare,” she said. “I’d like to think I’m better than I was because a lot of time has gone by and we just try to get better every day.”
One thing she has worked on this year is increasing her confidence in not only herself but everyone around her — especially her defense.
“I went back to having fun and really enjoying the people I’m around,” Driesenga said of her start against Eastern Michigan last week. “I wasn’t trying to be too careful about my pitches, especially around the corners. Just really getting ahead of the batter and going right at them. If they hit it, I know my defense is going to do their best to get the ball behind me.”
Hutchins, meanwhile, agrees that the key in Driesenga’s resurgence has been her confidence.
With the Wolverines rolling and poised to contend for another championship, it’s safe to say Driesenga has no regrets about returning. But she wouldn’t have had any regrets even if the team wasn’t successful.
“Who wouldn’t want to be around all these people again?” Driesenga said. “Even the alumni say, ‘It’s the greatest four years of (your) life,’ so I get the greatest five years of my life here.”