Accuracy for a pitcher usually means painting the corners of the strike zone. When Michigan’s athletics pause sidelined formal practices for the No. 17 Michigan softball team last month, accuracy meant not nailing someone’s car with a stray pitch.
That’s because the shutdown included formal team conditioning. No live at-bats, no outfield relays, not even pitching drills could be conducted in University facilities. The gains Michigan made in spite of already unfavorable circumstances seemed to be in jeopardy just under three weeks from opening day.
“It was a big bummer when we were paused in late January,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins told reporters Tuesday. “But the bottom line was, after I spent one evening of resisting it, I recognized what could we do. … You just take what you have and make the best of it.”
Making the best of it meant players would practice at home. There was one problem: Many didn’t have much equipment to train with. The Wolverines got creative — dropping off weights, nets and even spin bikes to make each household a personal gym.
Space heaters cut down on the chill of a Michigan January as pitchers like senior Meghan Beaubien fired into sock nets. Fielders nabbed fly balls in snowy yards. Batters hit balls off of tees.
But, as much as the adaptations showed Michigan’s growth mindset when facing adversity, the Wolverines noted that they can’t replace real practices with an improvised set-up. Those reps came when Michigan resumed regular training, building on the progress the at-home drills preserved.
Adapting takes a major place in Michigan’s mentality. In a season where nothing is certain, rising above the circumstances helps foster success.
“People with a strong mindset will get through, and we’ll get to our goals if we just keep telling ourselves every day that this is what we’re working towards and it’s going to work,” junior outfielder Lexie Blair said.
Michigan worked around one shutdown successfully, but potential pauses could happen in the future. With the unpredictable pandemic and unavoidable travel, the Wolverines face a murky future as the season begins.
After the bubble in Leesburg, Fla., the season consists of playing Big Ten foes in three-day marathons with Saturday doubleheaders. That means that in two weeks, the team plays eight games. Any pauses could derail a significant portion of the season — and that’s not counting lost practices.
The effects of the pandemic on other schools could also throw a wrench in Michigan’s plans. In an already dense season, rescheduled events could make those weekends even more grueling.
However, those threats don’t get much attention from the Wolverines. Michigan’s mentality revolves around taking it one game at a time, focusing on what the Wolverines can do to reach their team goals.
This perspective helped Michigan reap benefits from the pause, as did practicing in winter weather. The cold conditions they trained in could serve as a fire for the Wolverines to forge their tenacity.
This adversity could help sophomores and freshmen who have never faced Big Ten opponents. Navigating the shutdown shattered the comfort zone they have occupied and helped ready them for what could be a long and grueling season. For Michigan as a whole, this baptism by fire could be the difference-maker when facing an uphill battle.
“We always like to be ahead in the game, but I bet we’re going to be behind,” Hutchins said. “We’re going to need to not be ideal and just fight and do whatever it takes to get what we want.”
The Wolverines will come into its first game on Friday with the open mindset needed to compete in a chaotic year. They won’t have to fish balls out of snow or pitch around a Honda Civic, but the gut check the pause provided could prove invaluable to the team when they take the field.