Through a lengthy softball season, many hitters invariably experience ups and downs, streaks and slumps.
But only the sophomore slump is so uniquely frustrating that it’s actually earned its own title.
The sophomore slump is like quicksand. The victim does everything in her power to free her mind from recent struggles, but she ultimately falls deeper and deeper as she tries to correct previous errors. And even worse, the idea that her production has dipped following a dominant freshman season continually eats at her.
Wolverine second baseman Amanda Chidester has gotten to know the phenomenon up close and personal over the 2010 season.
Last year, she was the highlight of the freshman class — a talent-laden group that included leftfielder Bree Evans and shortstop Stephanie Kirkpatrick.
Chidester was a valuable asset no matter how she was used. Through 58 games played, she made appearances in the outfield, middle infield and behind the plate, finishing up the season with a team-leading .350 batting average and a share of the team lead in RBIs with 38.
At the end of the season — the first season in 14 years in which a freshman led the team in batting — she earned a second-team All-American selection.
Chidester’s future was as bright as the 24 Wolverine All-Americans that preceded her.
But the start of the 2010 season didn’t go as smoothly as the season before, when she opened up her collegiate career with three straight multi-hit efforts.
Through the first nine games, she was batting a meager .214, not even close to the average that should characterize a five-hole hitter, let alone a Wolverine starter. On February 26, after the Wolverines were held to one run in a loss to then-No. 6 Missouri, Chidester dropped to sixth in the lineup, and that’s the look that Michigan coach Carol Hutchins has gone with ever since.
“You get so frustrated so easily out there because all your life you’ve been so used to doing so well,” Chidester said. “And then, one time, you just start fumbling, and it just keeps happening. You try everything you can to turn around. Sometimes it just doesn’t work.”
But over the past few weeks of play, Chidester has become the most consistent hitter in the lineup, and she appears to be coming out of a season-long slump.
She’s currently riding a seven-game hitting streak heading into the NCAA regionals, batting a .455 with 14 RBIs over that span. Those numbers include a seventh-inning grand slam that handed Michigan a 4-1 victory at Michigan State.
“(Chidester) is starting to relax,” Hutchins said. “We debated whether we’d give some other kids time, and I said no — I want to keep (Chidester) going and just let her get feeling good.”
Ironically, though, Chidester credits her late-season turnaround to the notion that she doesn’t have to be good.
It was the realization that Michigan’s lineup is as deep as any in the nation. Five batters possess a .350-plus average. Only one is batting below a .280, and as a group, they’ve averaged 7.28 runs per game.
Chidester doesn’t have to come through in each and every game in order for the team to win.
“(Hutchins) told me at the beginning of the year, when I was really struggling, ‘You know what? Our team is doing really well right now with everyone else — it’s not focused on you,’ ” Chidester said. “She goes, ‘Your turn will come.’ ”
With that in mind, it seems that Chidester’s turn has indeed come.
And with the playoffs just four days away, it’s come at just the right time.