Last Thursday, the Michigan softball team announced the postponement of that weekend’s games against Michigan State due to COVID-19 in the Michigan program. Since last Wednesday, the team has not had a full-team practice. The Wolverines have been permitted to train outside in groups of no more than six, so practices have continued in an abridged capacity, and they are expected to return to full-scale practices this Wednesday.
When asked, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins would not go into detail about where in the program the virus was found, but she did mention that it is unlikely that the team will have a full roster in this upcoming weekend’s games against Ohio State.
That said, both Hutchins and a team spokesperson stated they are optimistic that the series in Columbus will happen, avoiding another postponed set of games. But going into Friday, Michigan will have not played a game in nearly two weeks, will not have a full roster to utilize and will have accumulated only two days of real practice in the past week.
“I don’t know if their spirits are high, but they’re plugging away,” Hutchins said. “They’ve been through a lot. … They’ve had to just get knocked down and they’ve gotten up every time. I’m their biggest fan, (and) they can get up every time.”
The Wolverines are prepared to get back up, as Hutchins said, because they’ve been through it all before. Back in January, when a case of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant from the United Kingdom was traced to the University athletic department, every single team underwent a two-week pause. This barred the softball team from some crucial practices leading up to the start of the season.
But the players and coaches alike adapted to the situation in front of them.
“They were out in their sneaks on their snow-covered street making long throws over the cars,” Hutchins said Feb. 23. “And (sophomore outfielder Lexi Voss) said, ‘You know it really struck me that I had to be pinpoint accurate so I didn’t break any windows.’ … I think they realized that un-ideal situations can work in their favor when you frame it that way.”
The players remained distanced and no formal practices were held during that time, as per the recommendation that paused the program. But, Hutchins and other coaches filled trucks up with equipment — bikes, sock nets, tees, balls, dumbbells and everything in between — and delivered them to the players’ houses and apartments. They couldn’t be forced to use any of them, but they certainly wanted to.
Pitchers threw from junior right-hander Alex Storako’s garage, warmed by a space heater and aiming at nets at the end of the driveway. When they couldn’t make it out to the garage, they threw spinners in their own basements.
The hitters set up nets in their houses cushioned by blankets in order to hit into them. Everyone, it seemed, did anything they could to stay in shape and get better.
“Actually I think going through that shutdown has kinda helped us know what we need to do if that happens again,” senior left-hander Meghan Beaubien said on Feb. 23. “ … And obviously it’s not ideal, but what we learned is that we can work through it, and we can get back to practice just fine.”
And now, a pause has hit the Wolverines once again. Though not as drastic as the one from the winter, this pause came in the middle of the season and has affected more than just practices. Michigan has been forced to adapt and change the way it’s preparing for its upcoming series, all while avoiding the landmine of spreading the virus further.
Crucially, the Wolverines claim to be mentally prepared this time, so returning after a short hiatus should have lesser effects than it did in January. And Michigan’s bounce-back mentality will be put to the test against Ohio State this Friday.
“I think they made the best of (the January pause),” Hutchins said in February. “And that’ll come up many a time in the team motto. You know what? Things aren’t ideal. … We’re going to need to not be ideal and just fight and do whatever it takes to get what we want.”