Thirty-four winning seasons. Seventeen consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament. Four consecutive Big Ten Championships. Three returning All-Americans.

With such prestigious program history, you might think that the Michigan softball team has a lot of pressure to perform well this season. But for Michigan coach Carol Hutchins, none of that matters.

“Our expectations for the year never change,” Hutchins said. “Our goal this season is to be the Big Ten champion and contend for a College World Series. It has nothing to do with last year’s accolades, last year’s championship. The last four championships mean nothing. We’re all about now.”

The 15th-ranked Wolverines will enter this season without three-time All-American and U.S. National Team pitcher Jordan Taylor. But they do return seven starters, four of whom are seniors, to what should be a strong offensive squad.

Michigan will be led by a strong trio of All-Americans to carry the team through the season — seniors Amanda Chidester and Bree Evans and junior Ashley Lane. The three combined for an impressive 172 RBIs last season.

To Lane, a power-hitting second baseman, getting better throughout the season is as simple as playing and practicing with effort everyday.

“Everyone’s trying to do their part, work really hard and give it their all,” Lane said. “Eventually, our team will evolve and we’ll see what we got. “

For Chidester, though, one of the most important things the team can do to have another successful season is being consistent and avoiding mental errors.

“If a mistake happens a mistake happens, but we can’t continue to let it escalate,” Chidester said. “ The second we get down, and the second we start putting pressure on ourselves, everything just falls apart.”

Figuring out roles on the team will be integral to maintaining that composure as new players become starters for the first time. The Wolverines also have a young pitching staff and, which will have to deal with a learning curve before they hit their stride.

Hutchins realizes her team needs be mentally ready to compete.

“We simply have to play for Michigan,” Hutchins said. “We’re going to have to be very team-focused and resilient. The only way we’re going to have a chance to make the World Series is to be resilient in every game, especially if we get down to the wire. I think that’s the difference between the people that continue forward and the ones who fall short.”

Following the trend of several other Michigan coaches, Hutchins has taken a page out of football coach Brady Hoke’s playbook, referring to her team as “Team 35.” With a tradition as strong as Michigan softball, it’s only fitting that they take the same approach as a program with an even steeper legacy.

Chidester knows that while this team may not be the strongest in program history, it’s very talented and full of potential.

“I think every year it’s within reach,” Chidester said. “It’s a ritual for anyone that’s a Division-I team. It’s a matter of working hard and doing our parts all the way through the season. We have the players to do it.”

Though Hutchins also believes her team will continue to be successful, she is more concerned about this weekend, when Michigan travels to Louisiana for the LSU Tiger Classic. Her approach of “one game at a time” echoes throughout each player’s mind, and their minds are set on Louisiana Tech — a team the Wolverines have never played.

But perhaps more important is Saturday’s match-up against No. 20 LSU, which looks to provide an early test for the Wolverines. Hutchins insists that the ranking in front of the team doesn’t matter, though.

“We’re not a team that spend too much time worrying about our opponent,” Hutchinson said. “We’re focused on us. We don’t worry whether they are ranked or aren’t ranked.”

Regardless of the outcome of the early season, Michigan will face a less challenging Big Ten schedule later in the year, as only Nebraska — in its first year of Big Ten play — is ranked in the top-25. The key will be how long it takes before everybody becomes comfortable. Building confidence and trust among players in the early games will be critical to how the team performs later in the season.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.