Take the highs with the lows.
It’s something the Michigan softball team has come to live by. With a rocky start to last season and an early loss in the Regional round of last season’s NCAA Tournament, the Wolverines are not without their rollercoaster moments.
Before Michigan’s fall break trip to Cuba and ax-throwing outing was its short stint in fall-ball. Without their annual trip to the Traverse City College Tournament in September, the Wolverines only played in two fall series.
The first was against Kentucky, who Michigan most recently played in 2017, when the Wildcats swept the Wolverines over three games at Alumni Field.
This fall, in an offensive struggle, Michigan’s younger talent failed to capitalize on its opportunities. With a combined six runs over three games, the gap in its line-up was evident after the graduation of six seniors last season.
“I think we struggled a little bit to just find out bats, find out (who was) pitching, you know just find ourselves as a team,” junior left-hander Meghan Beaubien said. “We graduated a lot of people and starting the year together, I think we learned a lot from those games.”
In their annual matchup with Michigan State, the Wolverines’ young line-up was also exposed. Going 1-1 on the weekend, Michigan couldn’t generate the power necessary to get over the hump.
“Those were the things the team needed in order to grow,” senior infielder Madison Uden said. “We needed those experiences in the fall, we needed those rollercoaster moments. And although the games didn’t turn out the way we wanted them to, the team as a whole is developed where we need them to be right now, ready for the season.”
But through it all, Michigan is unconcerned with its fall performance. Since fall-ball games don’t yield meaningful stats, the rollercoaster moments the Wolverines faced this fall left the coaches with perhaps something more important — a benchmark showing places for improvement.
“Fall ball is meaningless,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “As a coach, you can set your compass, and you can gauge what you need to get better at. And my book was full, so we’re still working through those pages. There’s a lot to get better at for our team.”
Another benchmark the Wolverines are looking to improve upon is their USA Today preseason ranking — No. 17.
“I think it’s motivational,” Uden said. “I think it’s not where the seniors want to be, it’s not where Michigan softball wants to be, and there’s a higher standard to that ranking and so I think that it’s a little bit hard on the tongue. I think that we have a lot to prove this year.”
Added Beaubien: “The standard for this program is to be in Oklahoma City and it is to be a national contender. We’re definitely aware that that’s not where we’ve been the past few years. We don’t think that’s acceptable.”
Despite their No. 17 ranking and less than stellar fall performance, the Wolverines are unconcerned. Michigan is looking forward, not back. It’s using the rollercoaster moments from the fall to propel it.
“We’re all on one heartbeat, one page,” sophomore right-hander Alex Storako said. “We’re all really connected with each other, I don’t really think rankings mean anything as much as others’ opinions, so I think just once we’re all on the same page and one heartbeat it’s really kind of what makes the best part of the chemistry.”
Michigan will have the chance to prove itself and dispel the No. 17 ranking, as it plays multiple ranked opponents in the non-conference season. These include No. 1 Washington, No. 4 UCLA, No. 6 Texas and No. 7 Florida.
Michigan’s response to the highs and the lows of that gauntlet could determine the rest of their season.