When the Michigan softball team entered the conference season, it had already suffered ten losses and struggled against the likes of South Dakota and Louisville. While the pitching staff gave the Wolverines a chance in most games, especially in wins over then-No. 2 UCLA and then-No. 5 Washington, the offense struggled to produce any sort of traction. Failing to find hits with runners on base became Michigan’s Achilles heel and a run at the Big Ten seamed bleak.
But then the Wolverines caught their stride and they look like an entirely different team. Winning the Big Ten with a 22-1 conference record, Michigan has turned its most glaring weakness into one of its most reliable strengths in only two months — throughout Big Ten play, the Wolverines boasted league-highs in batting average (.355) and RBIs (174).
Winning its conference during the regular season isn’t out of the norm for Michigan, though. Since 2008, the Wolverines have won outright or grabbed a share of the Big Ten every year except for one. In that same time span, Michigan has won the Big Ten Tournament only once. And if the Wolverines want to prove that they deserve home field advantage for the NCAA regional, it could very well come down to the team’s performance on a weekend that has historically been their kryptonite.
However, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins feels there is something different in the air this season compared to teams of the past when the Wolverines fell short of a postseason conference title.
“This year’s team has been extremely player-driven and, I would say, very much led by our senior class,” Hutchins said. “Our seniors have been outstanding all year from the moment they got back to campus in late August and made their statement that they wanted this team to be different than the last couple teams and they wrote out their own game plan for that.”
The shift in culture from previous years to now not only has started with the leadership and experience this team brings. Perhaps the most important quality Michigan possesses is its selfless dynamic.
“Honestly, from the minute we got back from our preseason travel, our team had kinda found its way through some really difficult early season games,” Hutchins said. “The seniors put the team on their back and said, we’re gonna get this done. And they’ve done it, of course, on the field. And when somebody isn’t getting it done, because inevitably every game, some people are on and some aren’t, they pick each other up. They’ve stepped up for each other and they never quit.
“This team has reminded me all season, especially in our last 28 games, that they’re just one big selfless amoeba.”
So if the Wolverines are able to combine this culture with their season-long trend of righting their wrongs, both past and present, they could very well find themselves holding that Big Ten Tournament trophy that has eluded them year after year.