After its run to Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game, the Michigan softball team will turn their focus to the Sunshine state.
Its regional this coming weekend will be a double-elimination bracket consisting of the host American Athletic Conference champion UCF, Summit league champion South Dakota State and Big East conference champion Villanova. As the two seed, it will face the Jackrabbits to open its NCAA Tournament run on Friday afternoon.
Due to UCF being the 16th regional host in the tournament, the Wolverines will most likely be forced to travel to Norman to face the No. 1-ranked Oklahoma Sooners should they survive the Orlando regional.
The selection process faced somewhat of a return to normalcy on Sunday. Last year, reliance on the NCAA’s Ratings Power Index (RPI) while teams played restricted schedules due to COVID sparked outrage from some voices in the sport, including Michigan coach Carol Hutchins.
Outside of the Wolverines, six other Big Ten teams will be participating in the tournament this year, a substantially high number relative to other years and an indication of the conference’s depth.
This year’s selection comes after an up-and-down season for the Wolverines. Despite recording a 19-8 record against a strong non-conference slate, they began Big Ten play with four straight losses for the first time since 1991. Though they still won the vast majority of series against their conference foes, they failed to sweep a weekend until the regular season finale.
Despite uncharacteristic elements on this edition of the program’s resume, Michigan has made strides towards being a postseason danger. It fought back from deficits to win in half of its past 12 games, most recently with fifth-year third baseman Taylor Bump’s two-run blast that flipped the result against No. 1 seed Northwestern in the Big Ten Semifinal.
Only two games in that span have been losses, and although one of those was in the Big Ten Championship Game, spirits are relatively optimistic in the wake of the growth displayed.
But the NCAA Regional remains an ominous challenge. The Wolverines’ past four seasons have all ended in regional exits, the longest such stretch since their tournament appearance streak began in 1995.
This dry spell has cut short a handful of seasons and careers that were believed to have much more potential. Many veterans returned in 2022 specifically to overcome those disappointments and add to Michigan’s 18 super regional appearances, 12 Women’s College World Series appearances and 2005 National Championship.
Now, after the rollercoaster of their first traditional season schedule since 2019, those aspirations will be put to the test in Orlando.