Several freshmen have made major contributions recently. Sydney Verlinde/Daily. Buy this photo.

It’s far from secret at this point. The No. 22 Michigan softball team is not having its typical regular season.

After ending 12 of the last 13 regular seasons as conference champions, the Wolverines have found record lows this season: Prior to this year, the last time they came up short of a sweep on four straight Big Ten weekends was 1989, and the last time they lost more than five Big Ten games in the whole slate (let alone within those first four weekends) was 1995. 

Yet, summarizing this with the term “off-year” doesn’t just feel too simplistic, but incorrect. This enigmatic state comes from inconsistent results, in spite of displays of talent from veterans to newcomers.

Now, in a positive side effect of this otherwise negative start, the Michigan freshmen have demonstrated an uncharacteristic jump in maturity to round out their talent.

“I’ve never been surrounded by such a young group that carries themselves like they’ve been here for five years like me,” fifth-year third baseman Taylor Bump said on Saturday. “That inspires me and I know it inspires the rest of our senior class, and it’s so fun to be on the field with everyone right now.”

And in a series win in College Park this past weekend, this observation manifested itself not only through their demeanor in the dugout, but also with steady output on the field.

When senior right-hander Alex Storako’s outing came to the end at the hands of Maryland’s final scoring outburst in the Terrapins’ 5-1 win Thursday, it was freshman utility player/right-hander Annabelle Widra who stepped into the circle and silenced them the rest of the way, keeping Michigan in the game. In a game characterized by the Wolverines’ inability to convert offensively, Widra did her job at the plate as well, and was stranded on base twice.

Just as Michigan entrusted freshman right-hander Lauren Derkowski with added pitching duty in the week prior, Widra’s performance Thursday granted her 2.2 innings on Friday. Though not as much of a success as the day before, these decisions themselves becoming a pattern is still telling.

“(She’s) telling me to stay relaxed and that I know what I’m doing,” Derkowski said of Michigan coach Carol Hutchins’ message after her start last Tuesday. “I’m out there for a reason.”

This steady output from younger players was not limited to the pitching staff. Freshman outfielder Ellie Sieler tallied five hits and two RBIs on the weekend — one of which scored the final run in Friday’s extra-inning win — as well as five putouts and a perfect fielding percentage.

Freshman shortstop Ella McVey picked up two hits and a walk of her own. In the field, it was the same story: five putouts, good for a perfect fielding percentage.

“You can highlight Ella McVey all day long,” Bump said. “I mean, she’s a veteran shortstop trapped in a freshman body. And that

A softball powerhouse focused on program continuity, the Wolverines are well-versed in a collection of Hutchins’ biggest mantras. 

A lot of them highlight the irrelevance of age on the field.

“She always says the ball doesn’t know who you are,” McVey said in February. “So just stay processed, focused and good things will happen.”

With the energy and play exuded from Michigan’s freshmen as of late, it is clear that this convenient ignorance now goes beyond the ball itself. 

And after all the challenges the Wolverines faced, they had no other choice.