Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins has noticed a simple theme plaguing her team.
“I think when the kids feel the pressure, they try too hard,” Hutchins said. “That’s exactly what is going on with them."
Despite the success that the 17th-ranked Wolverines typically enjoy against the nation’s elite programs, Michigan has gone just 2-5-1 against ranked opponents this season — including three shutout losses in California over Spring Break.
So in this weekend’s Jim Cropp Classic, which features two matchups against No. 19 Kentucky and contests with Evansville and Kent State, Hutchins simply wants her hitters to relax at the plate.
“This year’s been tougher than previous years — we haven’t started the way we wanted to,” said senior right-hander Megan Betsa. “One of the biggest things (Hutchins) keeps stressing is do less. One of the biggest things we need to focus on is that it’s just a softball game.”
Thus, this week’s practices were centered around mental composure and hitting under pressure — both of which have developed into significant shortcomings in the opening month. Michigan even took two practices off at the beginning of the week following a 10-day California trip in hopes collecting themselves.
Junior first baseman Tera Blanco has fallen victim to this tension more than any Wolverine, as her batting average has plummeted 180 points from last season’s .404 mark. Blanco — statistically Michigan’s best returning hitter from 2016 — has especially been a focus of the relaxed approach Hutchins is trying to instill in her team.
“Tera tries too hard, and tried so hard that her swing gets really big,” Hutchins said. “We did a couple good drills that helps you stay short to the ball and smack it, and she was better at my station today, but she’s got to quit trying.”
Sidelined with an injury, sophomore outfielder Natalie Peters didn't play in the second California tournament over spring break. Hutchins said that she hopes to use Peters this weekend and will continue to tweak the batting order until Michigan finds consistent offensive production — not a single lineup was repeated in the team’s five games last weekend.
Sophomore second baseman Faith Canfield combated the sluggish trend set by Wolverine hitters last week, suggesting that she could see more at-bats near the top of the order. She hit .538 and provided the team with its only two runs in a 2-0 victory over Cal State Fullerton last Friday.
While Canfield has enjoyed recent progress, a matchup with a ranked Kentucky team provides Michigan with the challenge the Wolverines has faced all season, balancing pressure with performance.
But for the team to have success, as Hutchins has reminded them all week, it’s as simple as not trying too hard.