After weeks of practice inside Oosterbaan Fieldhouse, the No. 15 Michigan softball team will finally take to the field this weekend in sunny Florida at the USF Tournament.

The Wolverines will play four games between Friday and Sunday, including a doubleheader against Florida Atlantic and No. 10 South Florida on Saturday. Play begins Friday afternoon against Marshall and will conclude on Sunday against Samford.

“Week to week, we’ve had a lot of growth throughout the entire team and people have been stepping into their new roles and positions as leaders on the team,” said senior co-captain Jaclyn Crummey. “The potential for our success is growing every day. We’re all so excited to see it come out on the field this weekend.”

Michigan’s ‘Team 36’ enters the season as the five-time defending Big Ten champion and the only Big Ten team to appear in the preseason Top 25.

Having lost a former Big Ten Player of the Year in Amanda Chidester, along with both a starting infielder and outfielder, this year’s starting lineup will feature new faces alongside seasoned veterans. Among the team’s 14 returning players is last year’ s Big Ten Pitcher and Freshman of the Year, sophomore Haylie Wagner. Wagner is currently one of 50 players on the preseason watch list for USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year.

“Haylie is a hard-working kid,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “I told her that this year we’re going to want her to up her strikeout ratio, to develop pitches. Our goal is to develop another pitch. She has a job to do to help us win.”

Freshman Sierra Romero is slotted to start at shortstop in place of senior Amy Knapp. Knapp, who will make her career debut at third base, has embraced the transition.

“I think at third base you really just control the field and it’s really easy to be the voice out there,” Knapp said. “That’s my main role on the field right now, is to let everybody know where the play is. I really enjoy it.”

At least for the time being, the starting job at first base is up for grabs. Hutchins mentioned four players with the potential to fill the void, including freshman Kelsey Susalla.

“First (base) is the wide-open position. We’ve been working a bunch of our players and that’s something we’re going to find out,” Hutchins said. “We’re looking to see who steps up in gameplay. We’ll make decisions based on what we need and who we’re up against. I think competition’s good. They’ve been pushing each other.”

The Wolverines will face its toughest opponent in No. 10 South Florida on Saturday . The Bulls will be led by a Player of the Year candidate of their own in ace left-hander Sara Nevins.

Both Hutchins and the captains are confident going up against one of the nation’s best.

“It doesn’t matter how good we are right now, it only matters how good we become,” Hutchins said. “We’re going to take every lesson from this weekend, the good and the bad, and we’re going to be a little bit better. And that’s all we’re looking to do.”

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