The seniors thought they’d never get a chance to play at Alumni Field again.
As a fringe top-16 team entering the Big Ten Tournament, the Michigan softball team had to win it all in order to be considered as a potential host for a regional. The Wolverines did just that, earning the No. 15 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament, and the seniors are thrilled to have one more shot with the home crowd.
“I thought my senior weekend was going to be the last weekend that I got to play (at Alumni Field),” said senior second baseman Faith Canfield. “Just so ecstatic to have another shot at it. It’s the best place to play.”
It’s no secret Alumni Field has been key in Michigan’s success this year. The Wolverines are 15-0 at home, and the offense, after struggling for most of the nonconference season, averages nearly nine runs per game there. But with relatively fewer games at home than other softball powerhouses around the country, Michigan has been forced to take advantage of every opportunity it’s received to play on its own field.
“We just really cherish our opportunities to be at Alumni Field,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “We had 15 home games this year. I don’t know how many Arizona had or UCLA had or Florida, but I guarantee you it’s close to 30. And so our kids are extra excited to get to be at Alumni Field.”
“It’s like 2,000 people going to battle with you,” Canfield added. “Having those people on our side is awesome. I know we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else because it’s like we would have to deal with that.
“It really reminds me of the Indiana game when the crowd was really supporting us. It was the whole stadium versus that other team out there on the field, and I think it can be really intimidating. I think it’s huge and it’s a big help.”
But the team’s appreciation for Alumni Field is the driving force behind its success at home. Yes, the Wolverines get to sleep in their own beds and reap the benefits of not being on long commutes before games. But stepping onto Alumni Field is a privilege they don’t take for granted regardless of how many times they have played there, even for players like Canfield and senior first baseman Alex Sobczak.
“I don’t think that feeling (of stepping on Alumni Field for the first time) ever goes away,” Canfield said. “It really hits me when the national anthem is being played and just looking around, just in awe that that many people are coming to a softball game.”
Added Sobczak: “You come on as a freshman and you’re a little bit like a deer in headlights, whether you like it or not. And over the years, you start to use the fans and everything as a strength and you build into it, it’s awesome.”
And though taking the field in Ann Arbor carries great expectations and success for Michigan, emotions also run high. From the video played before starting lineups to drawing in their own dirt, the players often show the crowd how excited they are for the first pitch.
Meanwhile, Hutchins often takes a moment standing to the side near the dugout and observing her surroundings. She coached on both of the fields the program has played on in its history and understands that playing at Alumni Field is more than just another key to winning.
“I walk on that field every day, and I look at it like it was the first time I ever walked in it,” Hutchins said. “I played on that other field for so many years and when I came here, we didn’t even have an outfield fence.
“There’s not a day that I don’t walk out there and really just stop and gaze and take it in that we play on one of the finest facilities in the world.”
As Michigan opens play Friday against Saint Francis in the NCAA Regional, they know they will have the support of the Alumni Field faithful behind them at least one more time.