Last year, Michigan”s softball team opened its season in California, posting a 2-4 record.
The Wolverines ended up 43-17-1 and tied for seventh at the women”s College World Series.
So much for the first week determining how well a team plays in May.
Today, No. 11 Michigan will open its 2002 season by traveling to the Campbell/Cartier Classic in Poway, Calif., where it will compete against five other teams over a three-day period.
Even with the loss of three vital players from last year”s team outfielder Melissa Taylor, shortstop Rebecca Tune and catcher Kim Bugel Michigan returns a talented nucleus. First-team All-America Kelsey Kollen leads the infield from second base and is joined on the right side of the infield by first baseman Stefanie Volpe, who earned third-team All-America honors last season.
In the outfield, the big hole left by Taylor (second-team All-America with a .455 batting average) is likely going to be filled by Meghan Doe, according to coach Carol Hutchins.
“You can”t replace a player like Taylor,” Hutchins said. “We need someone to step up. The starters who are All-Americans, you count on them to lead on the field and statistically.”
Doe is one of the players making a huge leap from last season. She will be moving from the ninth spot in the batting order to second in the lineup and will continue to start in center field.
On the mound, there is no question who will be leading the rotation. Earning All-Big Ten honors last season with her 21-8 record and 1.06 E.R.A., junior Marissa Young will be the team”s ace for another season. The only position on the pitching staff not yet set in stone is the No. 2 spot, which will either go to sophomore Meghan Ritter or freshman Nicole Motycka. And although both pitchers have done well during the offseason, Hutchins will give Motycka the nod to pitch the No. 2 slot this weekend.
“Everything will be dictated by how well they do on the field,” Hutchins said. “When we go out there to play, we”ll know who”s ready. (Motycka) throws the ball hard, and she”s really an unknown for us right now.”
Calling the signs behind the plate will be Monica Schock and Lisa Mack, a converted outfielder who impressed Hutchins during training to earn a shot at the starting role. Also looking for playing time are freshmen Lauren Holland and Jennifer Keinbrink.
The Wolverines will take on Loyola-Marymount and Pacific today, Cal-Santa Barbara and Utah State tomorrow and Pittsburgh on Sunday.
No. 19 Pacific appears to be the biggest obstacle this weekend, as it has already defeated No. 5 California and lost, 2-1, to No. 3 Stanford. The Tigers will send their ace to the mound to combat Young. Senior Cindy Ball recorded her 31st career shutout in Pacific”s win over the Bears.
Pacific “is a solid team and is the type of team we want to be playing,” Hutchins said. “It”s good for your power ranking, and they”re a bona fide squad. We like to schedule (teams like that) throughout the season to get us ready for the Big Ten schedule.”
Overall, Hutchins is looking for her team to gel this weekend and show some consistency throughout the Classic. She is also hoping her team will not hold back anything and just go out on the field and play. And although she is always concerned with her team”s health, Hutchins wants “a team with no fear.”