Lexie Blair stands on the infield holding a bat over her shoulders with the team in the background in the dugout.
Michigan will compete against UCF, South Dakota State and Villanova in the NCAA Regional. Selena Sun/Daily. Buy this photo.

This Friday afternoon, the Michigan softball team will kick off its NCAA Tournament run in Orlando, Fla. After winning seven of their last eight games — including a win over No. 10 Northwestern — the Wolverines climbed up the seeding ladder, ending up just one spot away from a top 16 national seed, which would have given them home field advantage. 

With its late-season hot streak, Michigan played its way into the 16th-seed hosted regional at the University of Central Florida. The Wolverines (36-16 overall, 16-9 Big Ten) will compete against the host 16-seed UCF, South Dakota State  and Villanova in a double-elimination bracket. Should Michigan win its regional championship — a feat it last achieved in 2016 — it will presumably travel to Norman, Okla. to face top-seeded Oklahoma in the super regional. 

Below is a look into the Wolverines’ regional opponents. 

UCF (46-12 overall, 16-2 American)

The Knights’ strong season earned them the distinction as the only team outside the Power 5 to host an NCAA regional while hosting for the first time in program history. UCF won both the American Athletic Conference regular season and tournament championships, taking six out of seven games from fellow NCAA tournament participants Wichita State and South Florida. 

Outside of the conference, the Knights held a respectable 13-10 record against RPI top 50 opponents. Wins over No. 3 Virginia Tech, No. 16 Texas, No. 19 Georgia and No. 25 Nebraska highlight the UCF schedule. The Knights did not finish the season spotless though, dropping one game to unranked Houston.

Michigan also already occupies one slot in UCF’s loss column. The Wolverines matched up against the Knights in the SPC Elite Invitational back in February, defeating them 6-0. 

In the circle, the UCF posted a strong 2.25 team ERA, splitting most of the innings between right-handers Gianna Mancha and Kama Woodall. Mancha boasts a 1.70 ERA with 172 strikeouts, and recorded 7 shutouts on the year while limiting opponents to a .162 batting average. Behind her, Woodall delivered a 2.01 ERA, along with 92 punchouts. 

The Knights possess a deep and balanced lineup, ranking second in their conference in most major batting categories, trailing only the Shockers. Standouts include catcher Jada Cody, who led the team with a .369 batting average, 12 home runs and a 1.130 OPS, and AAC rookie of the year Micaela Macario, who batted .304/.390/.370. 

As a team outside the Power 5, UCF lacks the rigorous conference experience that SEC and Pac-12 teams face. Still, the Knights should not be overlooked, proving their mettle in non-conference play before dominating their conference schedule. UCF poses the largest threat to Michigan’s regional title hopes with its staunch pitching and explosive offense playing in front of its home crowd. 

South Dakota State (40-11 overall, 16-2 Summit)

The Jackrabbits cruised through their conference season, winning both the Summit League regular season and tournament championships handily. In the non-conference portion of the schedule, SDSU did not face any RPI top 25 opponents, but recorded a 3-4 record against teams in the top 50. Notable wins include Nebraska and Oregon State, both of whom earned NCAA tournament bids. 

For the Jackrabbits, success stems from a tandem of All-Summit League pitchers in Grace Glanzer and Tori Kniesche on the mound. Kniezer put up a 1.42 ERA and punched out 253 batters in 153.1 innings, while Glazer delivered a masterful 0.63 ERA in conference play to earn the title of Summit League Pitcher of the Year. 

On the offensive side, SDSU’s production ran through Summit League Player of the Year Rozelyn Carillo. The infielder led the conference in batting average, OPS and RBIs, slashing .372/.414/.622 on the year. Other notable Jackrabbit batters include infielder Cylie Halvorson who led the conference in home runs with 19, and fellow all-conference first team selection catcher Allison Yoder. 

Villanova (32-22 overall, 16-7 Big East)

The Wildcats enter the regional hot, winning 22 of their last 27 games. 

After finishing third in the regular-season Big East standings, Villanova shut out all three of its Big East Tournament opponents en route to securing the conference’s autobid. Although the Wildcats found success in their conference, they struggled against quality opposition, notching just a 7-17 record against the RPI top 100 and failing to record a top 50 win in seven tries. 

Villanova was mediocre in the batter’s box this season, with just four consistent starters batting over .300 and none recording an OPS over 1.000. Only shortstop Megan Kern earned all-Big East first-team honors on the offensive side, slashing .320/.403/.568 with nine home runs. 

In the circle, pitcher Paige Rauch emerged as the clear ace, posting a 2.19 ERA over 26 starts with 166 strikeouts. The Wildcats lacked a clear second starter, though. Sarah Kennedy, Kelsey White and Caroline Pellicano combined for the other 28 starts, contributing to the solid 2.63 team ERA. 

Though all three opponents pose different challenges to the Wolverines, Michigan will hope to ride its recent momentum into the super regionals.