Coach Carol Hutchins tells each freshman the same thing when they set foot on campus.
“Leave the program better than you found it.”
When the current upperclassmen first arrived in Ann Arbor, there wasn’t much to improve. Michigan had consistently been ranked in the top-10 and was graced by the presence of 2016 National Player of the Year Sierra Romero.
It’s been three years now since Romero graduated — the program has struggled to reach such heights since. And Hutchins thinks it’s incumbent on the upperclassmen to help bridge that gap.
Junior Madison Uden is one of those upperclassmen Hutchins thought she’d be able to count on.
After a breakout year when she was second in batting average for the Wolverines, the third baseman was primed to lead the team both on and off the field. As one of the team’s captains, Uden started the first weekend in the heart of the lineup, batting somewhere between third and fifth. Expected to drive in runs and be one of the anchors on the offensive side of the ball, Uden has done the exact opposite.
Across nine games, Uden has had a lackluster hitting performance, going 4-for-21 with one run-batted-in and no extra-base hits — giving her a spot in the dugout instead of the lineup.
But Uden isn’t the only upperclassman in a slump.
“To be honest, we’re all kind of struggling,” said senior second baseman Faith Canfield. “But let me tell you, (Uden’s) supporting the team the way she needs to be. She’s all in, the way she needs to be even if she’s not starting.”
Canfield, who led the team in batting average and doubles last season, is yet to have an extra-base hit this season. On top of that, senior outfielder Natalie Peters is a mundane 5-for-22 in the box while senior first baseman Alex Sobczak has hit her way out of the starting first base position, batting .125 in five games.
“You know you have to rely on the experience of your upperclassmen because the underclassmen have to learn how to handle this pace and intensity of the game,” Hutchins said. “I’d like a little more certainty from our upperclassmen. They know not only what this field battle is about but they understand how to play at this level.
“We need them to walk on the field every day, and I’d like everybody on our team to walk on the field, with authority and we’ve been a little uncertain and it shows.”
The lack of veteran leadership isn’t just limited to the hitting positions, however. Sophomore left-hander — and most experienced pitcher — Meghan Beaubien has had her fair share of struggles as well.
After bursting onto the collegiate scene with an earned run average of 1.16, an atrocious performance in Chapel Hill this past weekend has her ERA at a 3.00 with only one win on the year.
One veteran, however, that has been piling up the box score is senior catcher Katie Alexander. After just five home runs in her junior season, Alexander has three thus far.
More importantly, Alexander is molding into the leader Hutchins wants to see out of her experienced players.
“On the field, (Alexander) is a beast,” Hutchins said. “She’s been in a stalwart for us, I’ve been really pleased. I really liked her best probably this past Sunday because she was mad.
“She’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. She’s a great teammate, her teammates love her. She’s a nice kid. But on the field, she wants to beat you. And that’s the kind of kid I want on the field.”
Right now, Michigan has no reason to panic. There are at least 47 games – if not more – for the team to turn it around. The veterans know that. And if there’s any chance for the leaders of this team to leave the program better than they found it, they all know it’s going to start with them.
Time is ticking.