The college softball season is a lengthy, 50-game affair that brings with it a little bit of leeway. No game before April can be considered a must-win, but that does not change the way the No. 16 Michigan softball team views its opening weekend.
After a long offseason of practices, the Wolverines will at last get some in-game experience. The Rawlings Invitational will replace the intra-squad scrimmages of the last seven months and provide an invaluable learning experience. And regardless of wins or losses, Michigan will have much to work on and much to build off of.
“We need to play some games,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “(We need to) get some games under our belt, get some at-bats under our belt and get some of the young kids some experience.”
Even in the difficult practice conditions that come with Ann Arbor’s inhospitable winters, Michigan has gained some confidence in the offseason, and the Wolverines are ready to prove their might. The first step towards that: putting on a show during its first weekend.
“I’d like to win the first game and the last game and every game in between,” Hutchins said. “All I can tell you is that we want to continue getting better as a team, and we do tend to get better as we go.
Though not season-defining, this first stretch of games is an important litmus test: not only can Michigan use these games to gauge where it stacks up against elite competition like No. 6 Florida, but they could also act as a valuable springboard to build momentum.
But even if all does not go according to plan for the Wolverines, they will only be in familiar straits. Over the past five complete seasons, each Michigan team has lost more than one game during its opening weekend. And every one of those teams eventually won a Big Ten championship, too.
These teams bonded through early-season adversity. It’s not just Big Ten champion teams that experience creates, but championship-caliber players as well.
Graduate pitcher Meghan Beaubien understands this as well as anyone. In her five years under Hutchins, she has made massive strides. Even though she was the Big Ten Player of the Year as a freshman, she was still unsure about her play at times and has fallen short in big moments.
Now those feelings are gone.
“As a pitcher I’m more confident, well prepared (and) feel like I can do anything,” Beaubien said. “I have confidence in myself that I can succeed at the highest level, against any hitter, any team in the country. I’m not afraid of not doing well anymore.”
With players like Beaubien leading the way, Michigan is ready to make its mark on college softball. And even if things don’t start according to plan, the Wolverines certainly believe that everything will fall into place.