After spending seven of its last eight weekends on buses and in hotels, the Michigan softball team is happy to be back in Ann Arbor.
And after 32 road games, the team couldn’t wait for its home opener scheduled for Wednesday, at newly-renovated Alumni Field.
But when poor conditions in the outfield pushed opening day back to today, they could barely contain themselves.
“Once our kids have had to wait to play, if they’re not excited, they’re dead,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “I mean literally, they died, because that’s the only reason they wouldn’t be excited to play.”
Problems draining excess water from the outfield forced the postponement of Wednesday’s game against Bowling Green, leaving players with more time to think about their new digs.
“I can’t wait to just be on the dirt and look out and see everybody,” senior outfielder Michelle Weatherdon said. “I’m really excited to get on the field and take it all in.”
Weatherdon’s eagerness is understandable. No. 5 Michigan (4-0 Big Ten, 29-3 overall) has crossed the country several times over the past two months for tournaments in Florida, Texas and California.
“Breaking (the field) in and getting used to it and making it our home is just going to be a great process,” Weatherdon said.
As if the ballpark’s opening wasn’t enough, conference rival Iowa (1-1, 21-11) will be the first opponent in the new stadium.
The Hawkeyes present a tough match-up for the Wolverines. Michigan has rolled over most of its opponents this season on the strength of its pitching. Sophomore Nikki Nemitz and freshman Jordan Taylor have combined for an NCAA-best 0.63 earned run average.
But Iowa is one of the few teams that can match the Wolverines’ pair of aces.
The Hawkeyes’ top two starters, Brittany Weil and Amanda Zust, come into the weekend with the nation’s fourth-best ERA (1.10).
Michigan should be familiar with Weil. The junior surrendered just five runs in two games against the Wolverines last year, but was outdueled by Nemitz each time.
Nemitz hurled 12.1 shutout innings, and Michigan won 2-0 and 3-2 (10 innings) in Iowa City.
“They’re a great team,” junior shortstop Teddi Ewing said. “We have to get up to play them. They’re going to come at us.”
The Hawkeyes also have a Michigan connection. Hutchins worked as an assistant under current Hawkeye coach Gayle Blevins while both were at Indiana University in 1981.
Following the Iowa series, Michigan will take on Illinois (1-1, 17-17) in a Sunday double-header. The Wolverines split a double-dip against the Fighting Illini last season, then eliminated them in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament.
As the Wolverines kick off the heart of their Big Ten season, the actual games this weekend will be overshadowed by the opening of Alumni Field. The complex includes an 1,800 seat grandstand, as well as a new concession stand and press box.
“We just built a $6 million facility – it’s time to play in it,” Hutchins said.
And that’s something to get excited about.
Iowa at Michigan
Matchup: Iowa 21-11; Michigan 29-3
When: Today 4 P.M.
Where: Alumni Field