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Last year, the Michigan softball team opened their season with a game against Georgia State, a team which finished last year’s COVID-19-abridged season with a record of 7-16 and the year prior at 8-46. 

This season, the Wolverines will be thrusted directly into Big Ten play come Friday, when they travel to Leesburg, Fla. to take on Purdue, Iowa and Illinois. Both Purdue and Illinois finished last year with a record of .500 or better and Iowa finished 17-5.

Michigan did finish up 2020’s opening series with a couple games against foes of a higher caliber, but the difference in opponents for this weekend’s season opening series is apparent.

“It’s definitely different starting out with Big Ten teams compared to the schedule we usually play,” senior pitcher Meghan Beaubien said. “But, we can’t really look at it like ‘Oh no, we’re starting Big Ten play.’ We are kinda ignoring the opponent and focusing on how excited we are to get out there and play softball and compete against an opponent that isn’t our own teammates during scrimmages.”

The players aren’t just excited to simply be back, though, the thought of a Big Ten game just a few days away is huge for them. The Wolverines’ last Big Ten game came on May 11, 2019 — almost two years ago. There isn’t a sophomore on the team who has stepped out onto the diamond for a conference bout.

“We’re excited because we didn’t get to play a Big Ten season last year since we got cut short just a few days before getting into our opening weekend at home,” junior outfielder Lexi Blair said. “So for (the freshman and sophomores) to be out there and getting to compete with these great teams is really exciting and we’re really looking forward to it.”

While the result of this new type of opening schedule is still yet to be seen, off the field it’s apparent that the Wolverines aren’t nervous. The focus is entirely on the opportunity to go out and play again. 

“The only competitor I care about is Friday’s, whoever that is, we worry about one game at a time and they all count the same,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “We just play the game of softball. Period. That’s my philosophy and that will never change.”

So, come Friday, when the Wolverines step out onto the field to compete for the first time in 354 days, the thoughts in their minds will be those of excitement. There will be little concern for the dangers of starting the season against Purdue rather than Georgia State. That just doesn’t matter to them, because only one thing does.

They’re playing softball again.

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