In an interview on WTKA radio this morning, Michigan softball associate coach Bonnie Tholl said “this is the toughest week of the year.”
That may not be an overstatement.
First, the nineteenth-ranked Wolverines (12-2 Big Ten, 32-9-1 overall) are coming off two straight midweek matchups at home against Michigan State following consecutive road series at Ohio State and Maryland in the last two weeks. Second, players have been cramming for finals all the while.
All this leads to Michigan having to combat in-game fatigue and looming exams when they travel to Madison to face a tough Wisconsin team (6-8, 27-10).
“The kids do have a lot going on,” Tholl said. “Their academics are a priority and on top of that, then we ask them to be at the highest level — competitive-wise in Division I softball — so it does stress them.”
This weekend will show how much the past weeks have taken their toll on the Wolverines after Michigan clawed out a sweep of the Spartans and won two out of three against the Buckeyes and Terrapins. With the fatigue factor her biggest concern during this taxing stretch, coach Carol Hutchins has held limited practices, including giving her players the day off yesterday.
“We’re not going to practice,” Hutchins said. “But we don’t need to practice. I mean, we know how to play… I have to keep them fresh, but we won’t practice much.”
The exhaustion especially runs deep for senior right-hander Megan Betsa. After throwing 164 pitches in Tuesday’s 3-1 win over Michigan State and feeling just “80 percent” due to recurring back tightness, the dominant ace aims to stay fresh for the Wisconsin battle.
“I’m just trying to do my best to recover day to day and stay as fresh as possible,” Betsa said following Tuesday’s victory. “I’ve got some (physical therapy) and treatment plans for tomorrow, and I won’t throw tomorrow or Thursday. I probably won’t pick up a ball again until Friday.”
The Wolverines will need Betsa well-rested and ready for the tough task ahead. The three-game series is the first in several years against the Badgers, who have won three of the last five contests. Despite its recent success, Wisconsin has never defeated Michigan in Madison.
This year, the Badgers come in with a record that may not be fully indicative of their abilities. After starting the season 21-2 — even breaking into the nation’s Top-25 — they have gone 6-8 against conference foes. This poor Big Ten record includes yesterday’s doubleheader against No. 5 Minnesota, where the Badgers fell 6-0 in the 12-inning opener and 12-1 in the second game.
Wisconsin looks to play spoiler against a Wolverine team determined to momentarily push aside fatigue and schoolwork to overthrow Minnesota in a heated race for the Big Ten regular season title.
“It’s been a tough stretch,” Tholl said. “It’s always nice to be in the friendly confines of Alumni Field. … I think that’s just the culture of our sport, where we do a lot of travel… I know there are a few kids who are getting through exams right now and they’ll be carefree, that’s for sure. We’re just going to make sure that when it’s time to play, all focus is on playing and (giving) them a mental break.”