It’s no secret that for the Michigan softball team that the way its last season ended was more than just painful.
It was devastating.
Up until the last game, everything had gone just as they’d hoped. The Wolverines were the Big Ten’s best, boasting a 36-6 regular season record and accumulating accolade after accolade. Not only did Michigan have the Big Ten player and pitcher of the year, but it also won a third-straight Big Ten title.
But in May, holding a four run lead and just innings away from advancing to the Super Regional, they fell apart.
The pitching crumbled, the hitting faltered, and the team left the field the exact same way it had the previous three seasons: Big Ten champions who couldn’t get over the regional hump.
This year’s team hasn’t forgotten last season. In fact, clearing that final hurdle that has evaded Michigan these past four years is a major part of what motivates it.
“There’s a lot of goals that I set for myself in each year that I haven’t been able to achieve yet,” fifth-year left-hander Meghan Beaubien said. “That’s a big reason I’m back. I’ve never been (to Oklahoma City), I’ve never made it out of the regional, and I’m not happy with that. No one who has been here for five years is happy with that.”
The Wolverines, and especially their upperclassmen, come into this season with a chip on their shoulder. They have something to prove — not just to their fans, not just to the RPI rating system which they felt snubbed by last year, but to themselves. They have goals that they haven’t achieved yet — ones they believe are attainable.
“I have a group of upperclassmen… that I know are not satisfied,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “I know that they felt good about their year last year and felt that it ended too soon, I hope they bring that with them. I like a chip on your shoulder as long as you know how to manage it.”
The Wolverines come into the season in the exact same position they have entering the past three years — loaded with potential. The team is returning almost all of last year’s major contributors, including the dynamic pitching duo of senior right-hander Alex Storako — last year’s Big Ten Pitcher of the year — and Beaubien, who finished with a 1.24 earned run average (ERA) in 23 starts. At the plate, the team has retained the reigning Big Ten player of the year in senior outfielder Lexie Blair.
Hutchins also added two graduate transfers with explosive hitting ability in outfielder Kristina Burkhardt and utility player Melina Livingston. While these transfers may not have been present for the team’s heartbreaks, they are nonetheless completely bought into the program. They too have goals for their career that they have not yet achieved. Like Beaubien, they are in Ann Arbor to take care of unfinished business.
“I played five years (at UNC), and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue to play,” Burkhardt said. “But I was missing that piece of winning a conference championship and making it far in postseason. We want to get back to the Women’s College World Series … everyday that’s our goal, that’s what we come in and get work done for. And everyday they expect nothing less from me.”
The team has more than enough potential to do everything it did last year. It has the pitching, hitting and experience to win the Big Ten.
But for this year’s team that won’t be enough. Just another trophy to add to a case full of trophies won’t satisfy Beaubien, Storako, Blair or Burkhardt. Only the one in Oklahoma City can do that.
“I don’t care what anybody’s perception is,” Hutchins said. “Bottom line is when you get (to the NCAA tournament), you gotta win.”