For Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins, this weekend’s start of the Big Ten season will mean her team will face some of the strongest competition it has seen to date. But Hutchins is worried less about how her opponents will come out and play and more with how her own team will get out of the gate.

“We’re all about Michigan,” Hutchins said. “We’ll take a look at a couple of (scouting reports) we get from our scouts, but in general, we’re all about what we do.”

What the Wolverines do will be important to a team that will play its first home games of the season at Alumni Field this weekend – squaring off against Illinois today and tomorrow before taking on Northwestern on Sunday.

While home field advantage would usually come into play at this point in the season, the softball team will have no such luck today. Poor weather has forced the team to practice indoors over the past few weeks, with its first real practice on Alumni Field not coming until yesterday.

Making things even tougher for the No. 15 Wolverines (16-6), their opponents are both playing well as of late. The Fighting Illini (19-5) have won nine of their last 10 games and received votes in the most recent top 25 poll. Meanwhile, the No. 24 Wildcats (17-6) are coming off a 4-0 week and have defeated four top-25 teams already this season, including a victory over preseason No. 1 California.

Hutchins hopes that her team’s competitive non-conference schedule will prepare it for the tougher Big Ten stretch.

“The difference is the intensity that goes with the competition,” Hutchins said of the conference season. “We have nothing but top notch teams coming in to play us. There’s something at stake (now). In the preseason and exhibition games, there’s not as much at stake.

“Our kids need to keep in mind that nothing’s changed, except possibly the importance that they put on the games. It’s my job as a coach to keep them one-game focused and not worrying about anything else.”

In its last outing on Tuesday, Michigan split games with Bowling Green. While the loss to the Falcons (9-14-1) may have been cause for concern, Hutchins was pleased with how her team looked.

“I thought we played great softball in the doubleheader,” Hutchins said. “We didn’t happen to win one of the games, but we really did play well.”

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