It’s not an easy task to get Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins to open up to the public: she’s incredibly protective of her players.
But for one hour on Monday night at Ann Arbor’s Pizza House, she and a few of her All-American athletes were featured on the “Michigan Athletics Coaches’ Show” on WTKA 1050AM to give a behind-the-scenes look at the team.
And for that hour, fans got to see the animated side of “Hutch” that’s typically reserved for her players.
She laughed and occasionally teased one of her players in the audience. She was enthused when she talked about the newest bleacher additions to Alumni Field. And she even revealed the girls’ secret formula for success — listening to Lady Gaga in the clubhouse before games.
Even she admitted that the 2009 breakout artist gets her worked up.
What a season: The second-ranked Wolverines (3-0 Big Ten, 26-5 overall) have impressed everyone so far on the 2010 campaign. And as they head into their two-month stretch of Big Ten play, they are stronger than ever, having won 18 of their last 19 contests.
They’ve been beating other ranked opponents and humiliating unranked ones.
Those accomplishments beg the questions — is this the best team Hutchins has coached in her 26 years at the helm? Are they even better than the 2005 NCAA Championship team?
And although she didn’t necessarily make that claim, she did draw comparisons.
“It really does remind me of 2005 when the bottom of our order — the eight and nine hitters — are so productive,” Hutchins said. “They’ve done such a great job. When you got somebody that’s as potent as Nikki Nemitz hitting in the seven-hole, the pitchers just don’t get a break when they face us.”
But praising her formidable lineup doesn’t mean the coach has thrown modesty out the window. When asked if she thinks the team would top off this week’s NCAA rankings after No. 1 Washington’s loss to No. 5 UCLA last weekend, Hutchins bluntly denied it.
The house that Wilpon built: The Michigan softball team plays in one of the plushest college facilities in the nation.
Alumni Field, part of the Wilpon Softball and Baseball Complex, has experienced renovations over the last few years with the $4 million it funding provided by the Judy and Fred Wilpon Family Foundation.
But some of the upgrades took some getting used to. At the close of the 2009 season, renovators went to work on constructing the new right field bleachers, which effectively stripped the grassy knoll seating that players’ families had grown to love.
“I used to sit out in right field on lawn chairs and get there three hours early to get my spot, so I was a little sad to see that go,” Nemitz said. “Now that I saw what they did, I’m not sad at all. I love it.”
A team vacation: For Hutchins, few things are more important than team chemistry.
And to foster that chemistry, she took her team on a spring break trip to Fort Benning, Ga., where she and the players had an opportunity to talk to Army officials and explore the National Infantry Museum. They even got to ride in a tank and take some shots at a firing range.
And this trip was particularly meaningful for Hutchins, whoes nephew is currently in Afghanistan.
“I just thought that the whole thing was very educational,” Hutchins said. “They say these guys spend up to 14 hours at a time in the tanks. The temperature gets up to 140 degrees when you’re in a desert. So it’s good for our kids to see what the rest of the world is doing.”
In Hutchins’s mind, this type of experience was the perfect opportunity to instill a sense of team unity in her players.
And time will tell if it pays off, as the team heads down the season’s home-stretch in the ensuing weeks.