It’s an annual occurrence for the Michigan softball team. Every year the Wolverines travel for more than the first month of the season as the Ann Arbor weather remains uncertain.
This season, No. 7 Michigan plays six straight weekends away from home, with its home opener finally coming on March 24.
But even with the challenges that come with playing on the road, the team has still seen a tremendous amount of success.
Last year the Wolverines were 20-9 before they ever played in Ann Arbor, and in the 2008 season Michigan went 29-3 during its early-season road stretch.
And in 2010, a similar script is being written. The Wolverines (14-4) have played well early, led by their two stud pitchers, junior Jordan Taylor and senior Nikki Nemitz.
The success is more impressive when you consider the quality of teams that Michigan generally plays before entering Big Ten play. This season, the Wolverines have had matchups against eight top-20 teams already, winning five.
“We practice indoors all year,” junior first baseman Dorian Shaw said after last week’s win at Mississippi State. “When we go out and beat a team that hasn’t had to practice indoors a single day all season, I take pride in that. I have to practice on rubber turf, with a high ceiling and crazy lighting, and we can still come out and compete with you guys.”
Though the results have been favorable for Michigan, traveling across the country every week doesn’t necessarily become easier the longer you do it. At best, it becomes tolerable – sort of.
“You don’t even know what day it is sometimes,” Nemitz said. “Having to get on buses and planes, and driving here and flying there, it kind of gets old and boring. But you just get used to it and you know how to handle it.”
Even for seniors like Nemitz, the traveling can be grueling. But for other upperclassmen like Shaw, staying on top of her academics presents the biggest challenge.
“That middle of the week when you can only go to class two days, three days in the week and then you’re gone again,” she said. “I think that that’s the hardest part, keeping up with everything, all of your responsibilities, within the three days that you’re actually in town.”
Every Big Ten team makes similar sacrifices. West-coast schools travel east to play relatively early in the morning in the eastern time zone. Even Southern schools do quite a bit of traveling, considering the same schools aren’t hosting every early-season tournament.
But with that said, Michigan still faces a unique challenge when you consider both the traveling and the quality of the competition.
“I don’t think you ever really get used to not being in your bed for seven straight weekends,” Shaw said. “Although the travel, you know, makes you a little bit weary and you can’t wait to play at home, we understand that it’s kind of a necessary evil.”
But getting away from Ann Arbor might also allow the team to concentrate simply on softball.
“Once we’re out of town, it’s like softball is the only thing we have to do,” Shaw said. “We wake up, we eat, we go hit, we go play, we come back, we eat more. It’s kind of like being a professional athlete.”
The Wolverines continue their road play in the Red and Black Tournament in Louisville this weekend.