“Coach speak” has a bad reputation. The media hates it, fans are bored of it, and players seem brainwashed by it. But when it comes from the mouth of Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins, it’s far from just lip service — it’s the culture she creates for her players.
In 2014, the Wolverines are stacked with enough talent and depth to elevate her words from soporific coach speak to a bonafide blueprint for victory.
Hutchins is on the University’s pantheon of prolific coaches. She sets the standard for how a system can cycle talent in and out and hardly miss a beat. She instills the same mantras in every player, every year, and they all buy in without fail.
So when you talk to anyone affiliated with the program, you can count on them to steer the conversation toward “one-pitch softball,” that “champions adjust” or that “the game doesn’t know.”
This year, Hutch’s team has all the pieces to execute the phrases they echo so readily. And with the bulk of the non-conference schedule over, Michigan has already had its mettle tested when it comes to sticking to the Gospel of Hutchins.
In the season opener against then-No. 4 Florida, the Wolverines led, 4-0, with two outs in the seventh inning. Junior right-hander Sara Driesenga had held the Gators to just two hits and appeared to be just a few pitches from a season-opening win.
That was the problem.
Driesenga seemed focused on finishing the game, not making the best pitch for the count. Then Florida got a hit. And another. And another. And another. Suddenly, it was a 4-4 game going into extra innings, and then a 9-4 loss.
Game over. Lesson learned.
Flash-forward to Feb. 22, with Michigan leading No. 5 Kentucky 3-0 in the seventh inning, and junior left-hander Haylie Wagner having given up just two hits all game.
This time, Wagner made her pitches, one at a time, and the Wildcats went down 1-2-3. It was textbook one-pitch softball.
In an attempt to escape the fickle Ann Arbor weather, the Wolverines went to the Louisville Slugger Invitational in Lakewood, Calif. the last week of February.
Surprisingly, though, four of their five games were canceled due to inclement weather, and they weren’t even able to be outside long enough to run a practice.
“You either let it defeat you, or you defeat it,” Hutchins said then. “You have to rise above it.”
And rise above it they did. Michigan emerged from the storm to split a pair of games with then-No. 4 UCLA.
But adjustment is perpetual. It means being quick to identify problems and starting on a solution immediately.
With this Wolverine team, there’s enough talent that when one position group is down, any other group is strong enough to buoy the team while it recovers. In that way, it can be hard to differentiate between what is adjustment and what is a good team covering up its few problems with a surplus of star power.
The game doesn’t know:
If there’s one “Hutchins-ism” sure to ring true for this team, it’s this one.
Between sophomore ESPN Preseason All-American shortstop Sierra Romero, freshman right-hander Megan Betsa and sophomore outfielder Sierra Lawrence, Michigan is loaded with high ceilings.
Hutchins hasn’t eased them into competition to maximize their potential; she has thrown them right into the fire — because she can.
“We didn’t recruit anyone to come in and take a year off to be a freshman,” Hutchins said. “The game doesn’t know whether you’re a freshman or a senior. The game only knows how you play it.”
With how Michigan’s younger players have performed early on, it’s hard to argue otherwise.
Betsa is 6-3 with a 2.27 ERA and a team-leading 63 strikeouts in 49 innings pitched. Romero leads the Wolverines with six home runs and 31 RBI, slugging .791. Lawrence isn’t far behind those numbers.
These are players who are going to make or break the season for Michigan, and they’re hardly any older than the recruits who come and watch them play.
And that’s all by design.
A Hall of Famer with 15 Big Ten titles under her belt and a Women’s College World Series ring on her finger, there’s no question Hutchins knows what she’s doing in the dugout. This year’s group of players has all the talent to back up her classic rhetoric. As they keep delivering on it, the seemingly mundane echoes will only get more emphatic.