Senior catcher Katie Alexander blamed "mental toughness" for the Michigan softball team's offensive struggles in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

What seemed like a promising weekend of improvement turned sour quickly.

After the shutout win over Louisville on Friday, Michigan (4-5) mustered a measly six runs over the course of its next three games, losing the North Carolina (5-3), 8-3 and 4-2, respectively, while dropping a close one to Louisville (4-5), 2-1.

Michigan coach Carol Hutchins and the softball team went 1-3 this weekend.

After dropping three of its four games at the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Michigan (4-5) returned to Ann Arbor with a sub-.500 record through at least five games for the first time since 2001. The losing record isn’t the only issue the Wolverines brought back from Chapel Hill — mounting frustrations have manifested, too.

Sophomore left-hander Meghan Beaubien and the Michigan softball team will play in its fourth straight ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

When the No. 17 Michigan softball team takes the field this weekend, it will see a pair of unfamiliar foes on the other side of the diamond.

The supportive and welcoming culture of Michigan softball has made the transition to collegiate play easier for freshman outfielder Lexie Blair and freshman right-hander Alex Storako.

The team’s emphasis on supporting younger athletes off the field isn’t just during the season. Upperclassmen moved freshmen into dorms in the fall, starting to integrate players as soon as they got to Ann Arbor. That mentorship has played a key role in developing effective communication on the field with freshmen starters.

Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins was left with more questions than answers on offense in her team's first weekend of play.

On Tuesday, the No. 17 Michigan softball team spent most of practice doing one drill: batting with the bases loaded.

Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins looks to have found her No. 2 starter, freshman right-hander Alex Storako

After last weekend, one thing was cleared up for the No. 19 Michigan softball team: who will back up sophomore left-hander Meghan Beaubien in the pitching rotation.

Alex Storako answered that question when the freshman right-hander made her collegiate debut in the first game of the season on Friday. Storako’s entrance at the top of the fifth inning, when the Wolverines were trailing North Carolina State by two, was a testament to the confidence she has earned from Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. She didn’t disappoint, pitching the final three innings without allowing a single hit, which allowed Michigan to squeeze out a narrow 4-3 win.

Coach Carol Hutchins and the softball team went 3-2 in opening weekend.

In the USF Opening Weekend Invitational, Michigan went 3-2, beating North Carolina State 4-3, South Florida 10-1 and Illinois State 11-4 but dropping games against Arizona and Florida, 2-1 and 6-0, respectively. Despite maintaining strong defense throughout most of the tournament, the team’s offense fluctuated, starting slow and building up to strong, high-scoring wins to end the weekend.

Sophomore outfielder Haley Hoogenraad led the team defensively in Michigan's opening weekend.

While Michigan didn’t win, strong defensive plays like that by Hoogenraad were instrumental to the success of the team all weekend, as she made several important catches in each game.

Junior third baseman Madison Uden believes her team can still succeed with a consistent offensive approach, rather than a power-first one.

Ranked No. 19, according to the USA Today, Michigan once again is predicted to come out victorious in the Big Ten with No. 21 Minnesota being the only other team from the conference appearing in the rankings.

Senior catcher Katie Alexander had a .314 batting average last season with 24 runs batted in.

Regardless of how playing time is split, 2019 has the potential to be a special year behind the plate in Ann Arbor. With Alexander’s career set to come full circle, perhaps there isn’t a more fitting way to leave a lasting legacy than by setting an example for her successor.