fair point that
You are looking live at a post by some guy that used to be here all the time, but since has disappeared into the wilderness and thus returned only to probably disappear again!
Anyway, UM's baseball season is nigh upon us! In just one week, Coach Bakich continues his crusade "to catch that softball program" and return Michigan to the NCAA tournament. This year's edition of the team is very similar to that of last year's, but now with more experience!
Eric Sorenson, my former idol and still current holder of my most coveted job I will never try to get, has posted his "Top 302 Teams of 2014" post for this year, and yes, he does rank and blurb each of the 302 teams in Division 1, and he has Michigan at #71:
71- MICHIGAN (29-27, 14-10)
2013 ISR: 138
Starters Returning: 7
Weekend Starters: 3
Mid-Week Starters: 1
Key Relievers (15+inns.): 4
Coach Erik Bakich was right, “a bunch of pissed-off Wolverines” turned the program around last year. Could be even more this year as 55 of the 56 starts on the mound come back, as does two-way talent Jacob Cronenworth (.320, 12SBs & 0-3, 1.93, 7svs). Plus, the future is sparkling for the Maize & Blue as the 20th-ranked recruiting class comes to campus.
For those interested, his B1G teams are ranked as such:
48. Nebraska (*fixed after comment)
75. Michigan State
105. Ohio State
226. Penn State
Indiana is the clear favorite after making it all the way to the College World Series Last year. They return plenty and their coach is fantastic. After that, it gets all B1G Baseball-y with any team from Illinois to probably Ohio State having a decent shot at being pretty good, but no one is really sure because this is 1) college baseball and 2) mid-major college baseball.
As for this year's schedule, it looks to have quite a few solid names on the docket. The team starts with a Texas tour starting with a tournament in San Marcos with games against 2 of Sorenson's top 100 in Texas State and Washington. Then it's a 3 game set at my current graduate school, the University of Houston. Needless to say I will be attending at least one game in my Michigan jersey. Not that I'll be in UH jerseys for the other three, but my mother and wife have the audacity to both have birthdays that weekend, so I won't have much time to enjoy the old ball field.
From there is't a tournament hosted by Notre Dame in Cary, N.C. Which... yeah, sure. But top 5 North Carolina State and top 20 UCLA will both be there, along with a double header with Appalachian State and Notre Dame sandwiched between the big two. After that its a swing through Florida for our nearly annual FGCU match up, a game at UCF, and a 4 game set against a probably hapless Princeton.
We finish the southern tour in Charleston to take on Appalachain State again, followed by two against College of Charleston ad Kent State.
That's a pretty solid opening stanza. Of those teams, only Air Force and Princeton are terrible. The rest are at least top 120-ish teams.
As for the B1G season, we start it in the hardest way possible, a 3 game set at Indiana. Then its home against Iowa and Minnestoa, away to Illinois and Purdue, home against Nebraska, away to Northwestern, and then finish the season home against Ohio State. Lastly, we have a bye week with a pair of games against Kansas, who projects to be a meh Big12 team.
B1G tournament is in Omaha this year, probably as a favor to Indiana. Give them an extra couple practice games on their CWS warm up tour.
I have no particular idea myself on how the season will go down. I somewhat gave up following the team 3-4 years ago with school and work and wife and globe-trotting recently, so that's probably all I'll have on the team for a while. I may post a summary of the game from Houston if I do make it out there. Maybe I'll even catch you out there.
In case anyone is wondering what we’re going to get from Nebraska, here’s a quick breakdown of their projected starters, and the outlook for the season.
Nebraska had trouble putting points up against decent opposition. After the Missouri game, they only managed to score more than three TDs in a track meet against Kansas, Colorado and the blowout of Arizona. They do return 10 of 11 starters, so they may be more experienced. How well that will translate to offensive production remains to be seen. They should be able to improve on their 99th ranked offense numbers.
Zac Lee returns for his senior year, giving “senior leadership” and all that’s worth. Cody Green saw some play time last season as a sophomore, and seemed a little more comfortable running something spread-like. IIRC, Lee got benched against Baylor, and Green played well to win 20-10. The fans may be rumbling for Green to see more playing time and if Lee struggles, frequent changes may be possible.
Roy Helu returns, giving a solid rushing attack. He was the 51st ranked back in the nation last year. With one more year of experience, he should have another good year. Rex Burkhead was the #2 rusher. Burkhead was a true freshman, and had 81 carries and 360 yards for the season.
Go-to receiver Niles Paul returns for his senior year. He only caught 4 TDs last year, but the team only threw 16 (which is one more than Michigan). The rest of the receivers are juniors or sophomores, so lots of returning talent.
Except for one red-shirt freshman in the 2-deep, the offensive line is all juniors or seniors. The offensive line averages just under 300 lbs (297.5 going by listed weight), so there’s a lot of mass to go with the experience.
General Defense Right, that guy. The Blackshirts were back, with the #1 scoring defense in D-1. A lot of that is probably due to Suh making opposing offenses into “Ready-Snap-AAAAAHHH!-Throw It Away!” Highly unlikely to have that level of play, given some losses. But, still, a very good, top-twenty level defense?
Jared Crick and Pierre Allen return, but that’s it. The defensive line may be questionable, given the number of underclassmen in the 2-deep. The sophomore replacing Suh has some big shoes (and pants, and shirts) to fill. Allen’s presence at the other end should alleviate some of the load.
DB has the same issues as the DL: lots of underclassmen. Most of them played as freshmen, so they should have some experience, but still a question mark.
Prince Anukamara returns, to the dismay of broadcasters everywhere. Similar to the rest of the defense, they are young, but have played before.
Alex Henery, Nebraska’s Space Emperor is back for his senior year. #47 in punting, #35 in FG. Keep in mind this is on a team that scored 40 TDs, and only gave up 16! For comparison, Michigan scored 46 TDs last season. Niles Paul usually handles return duties. He returned a punt and kick for a TD last season.
Pellini is in his third year, so he should be getting his legs under him and his players on the field. Sound familiar?. The fans like him (anyone is still better than Callahan), but it would be great if they could, you know, score. They’ve won the Big 12 North two years in a row, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason that they won’t win a third, with possibly a Big 12 championship as well.
After kicking the crap out of Arizona in their bowl game last year, Nebraska starts off with Western Kentucky, Idaho and Washington. Not the hardest schedule, but not South Dakota State, either. Oh right, then they play South Dakota State and then have a bye-week. They get Texas, Missouri, and Colorado at home, but have to play Texas A&M and Oklahoma State on the road. No Texas Tech or Oklahoma this year, so the path to a Big 12 championship game is definitely there.
(thanks to http://cfn.scout.com/2/976525.html and http://web1.ncaa.org/football/exec/rankingSummary?year=2009&org=463 for the rosters and stats)
Continuing the baseball previews in a build up to opening day this Friday, I'll look at how the team is pitching is set up this year. Previous preview posts: Initial Schedule Reaction, Maloney Podcast, A Look Back.
Michigan led the Big Ten in ERA last year and returns 74.3% of their innings. Chris Fetter was a big part of, but the returning pitchers had a collective 5.08 ERA. That would have have been good enough for second in the Big Ten. Top returner Eric Katzman, the only starting lefty, is expected to top the rotation upon his return from hernia surgery. Katzman went 7-4 last season with a 3.53 ERA. He'll be in the pen until he's comfortable with longer starts. While I'm expecting more consistency from him this season, I'm somewhat concerned about entering the season late out of the bullpen. If he gets pushed into the rotation too early, the results could be disastrous.
The depth behind Katzman should be better. Alan Oaks will start the year as the Friday guy. Oaks was used almost exclusively on offense to start the year, but after the pitching depth issues of last year started to take their toll Rich Maloney moved him back to the hill. Oaks had four starts at the end of the year. In those starts, he lasted an average of just over five innings per start, but one of his early starts against Indiana was particularly short and ugly at two innings. He had two impressive starts of seven and 7.2 innings respectively with just six earned runs between them.
While I don't expect Oaks to be a lights out starter this season, he is capable of eating a ton of innings, exactly what Michigan was missing to start last season. Other than Fetter, no one could start a game and make it through the 7th inning. It will be interesting to see how spending the entire off season preparing to enter the starting rotation will affect his performance. While I'm skeptical that he has the ability to be our ace, Alan is a key player if Michigan is going to be better this year.
Along with Oaks, I'm expecting good things from Brandon Sinnery and Kolby Wood. I've took a shine to Sinnery since his start against Eastern Michigan as a freshman. The kid has potential and a pretty good combination of pitches. He's not at a dominant level yet, but I can see him being a force in the third or fourth starter. Maloney thinks he's really making a jump, so it'll be exciting to see.
Kolby Wood has just as impressive this off season as his team's closer, registering a 1.45 ERA and 4 saves over 19 games. He's got a jerky motion, but his tall frame gives him good leverage on his fastball and the splitter he added this offseason. He should be in better shape this year. Rumor had it he had a sore wrist to end last season.
Tyler Burgoon (pictured right from BostonWolverine's flickr, which you should check out if your a photo fan, great stuff*) also makes his return to the starting rotation this season after spending the last year and a half in the closer's role. Burgoon began his career at Michigan as a midweek starter during his true freshman season. He had some success, but was pushed into late innings during the weekend because he was too valuable to use just midweek. Burgoon has also fully healed his shoulder. He has a solid repertoire of pitches, most notably his fastball and wicked slider.
Matt Miller, one of our top relievers last season, will make some starts this season. Miller was 1-2 last season with 3.70 ERA, second best behind Dufek in the bullpen. He registered 3 saves in 23 appearances with 43 K's in 41.1 innings. He did start one game last season, but it was against Eastern Michigan and Michigan was just getting guys innings. He went two hitless innings, striking out one.
*(Boston Wolverine also writes Roar of the Tigers.)
The bullpen should be better this season just due to increased depth. The pitching star of the 2009 freshman class, lefty Bobby Brosnahan (pictured at right), will return from Tommy John surgery. Brosnahan is an Ann Arbor native and during his junior year he was listed in the Michigan All-State 2nd team honorees. He had a solid offseason with the Lima Locos, so hopefully that's a good start.
Brandon Sinnery, Kolby Wood and Matt Miller might be seeing time in the bullpen as long relievers, but I think we'll also think we'll see more Matt Broder, Tyler Mills, and Kevin Vangheluwe. Broder pitched well at a lower level summer ball team, the Michigan Rams, but he's yet to get any innings at UM. Tyler Mills was Michigan's Gatorade Player of the Year his senior season at Mt. Pleasant HS but redshirted last season. Kevin Vangheluwe was coming off a serious injury coming out of high school and still hasn't quite found his stuff yet. Brian actually did a solid run down of him as a recruit back at mgoblog v1.0, with this now archived Detroit News clip:
"His (right) arm was discolored," Collins said. "It was like if you held it out of a car window and lost circulation. His dad (Mark VanGheluwe) took him to get examined and they gave him some medication to disperse the clot. He contacted (U-M coach Rich) Maloney and he told them to come immediately to U-Hospital. On Thursday, he had surgery to break up the blood clot and they said his muscles were pushing against the rib cage on that (right) side. I was told it was a normal case to remove that top rib on that side. And that was done Friday. Both were successful."
Kevin looked a little bit better this summer, but he's nowhere near the level of dominance he had before the injury.
Our top regular returner that is strictly a bullpen pitcher is Mike Dufek. When away from first base, he's been used here and there as a closer. His fastball can touch the 95-96 range and his slider is pretty good. Dufek probably won't be utilized as much this year, but he'll get his chances depending on how the closer by committee goes.
Travis Smith will spend more time in the bullpen this year. He's had a rough time as a starter over the last year both at Michigan and his summer gig in the Texas Collegiate League. All of these starter/reliever combinations should be huge assets in the pen if they aren't starting on the weekend.
Rounding out the returners are Matt Gerbe and Jeff DeCarlo. Gerbe hasn't shown too much yet during his time at Michigan or his stint with the Winchester Royals of the Valley League this summer. He had an atrocious stint as a starter with the Royals that saw his ERA balloon over 36. He managed to pull it under 9 by the end of the season.
Jeff DeCarlo, well, I've always made it a point to try and not speak that poorly of him. The guy is an Academic All-Big Ten player, not a All-Big Ten player. I respect that. I just cover my eyes and cross my fingers every time I see him on the mound, partially hoping he won't give up 3 runs in an inning, the other hoping he only pegs one guy in the 1 inning he might last. And this isn't an exaggeration. His 2009 stats:
So as this season goes on, if I make references to the "DeCarlo-type outing", this is what I mean. We won't see much of him this year, but when we do, consider it a David Cone like moment, but with less Febreeze. It's a blow out one way or the other, and as a bonus, DeCarlo will have an ERA comparable to David Cone's completion percentage—not the fraction, but the fraction multiplied by 100.
Michigan has solid depth and a concentration of guys who could start or go in the bullpen. Several of those are in the running for closer, and it's always good to have a bunch of guys capable of closing out games. Hell, even DeCarlo was collecting saves with his summer team, so the future has to look brighter, no?
Michigan returns more quality pitching than the rest of the league, and it's had had a year to develop. They also get a few promising prospects back. If they stay healthy, this year's pitching could be just as good as last year's by spreading Chris Fetter's load over five or six players who weren't available for last year. The depth should be enough to keep Michigan from losing random games against conference bottom dwellers Iowa, Northwestern, and Penn State, teams that they had a 3-6 record against last year.
That makes me an optimist. An outsider's view of the pitching staff is a little bit different. Most saw Fetter as the be all end all of our staff. That was true about one in every three weekends, but again, I point to the depth issues and a couple inconsistent players. This off season was a promising one for a wide variety of pitchers. If Katzman can get fully healthy before we start to push him for innings, Fetter's loss will be survivable.
With baseball season officially starting Friday, I'm going to make several sporadic posts over this week in order to preview the team. For starters, I may suggest going back to my previous podcast with Rich Maloney or my initial reaction to our schedule, which I will probably update my outlook after completing my previews.
Last year's record came in at a less than sterling 30-25, the lowest win total since Rich Maloney stepped on campus. The 9-15 BigTen record is tied for the 6th worst conference record in Michigan history (102 seasons), and the worst since 2000 when the team went 10-18. Obviously last year was a disappointment. So much like football, hockey, basketball, or most other sports that get coverage around these parts, baseball was just as involved in the recent so called "curse of 09-10" as Brian put it in mgo.licio.us.
Michigan came into the season with the usual high expectations, but something was different than years past. After losing 4 players to the draft early, Michigan wasn't able to reload with talent it usually would have (how can you when they get drafted 4 months after signing day and less than 3 months before school starts?). Michigan was starting a true freshman at third base, a key middle reliever's career was cut short by surgery, our right field spot was wide open, our designated hitter came out of nowhere in the form of unknown little brother of MLB player Nate McLouth, and our off the field narrative in the media was "walk-ons lead the team." I think the Ann Arbor News really hit the spot last year in their preseason article:
Many of the would-be run producers are tenured but inexperienced, including corner outfielders Kenny Fellows (fifth-year senior) and Nick Urban (fourth-year junior).
"We have a lot of guys with some potential, but they don't have bios yet," Maloney said. "It's kind of a wild card."
Oh, and what a wild card it was. Consistency was never something Michigan could grasp. Eric Katzman earned the alternate persona of Evil Katzman at least once every two weeks. McLouth fluctuated wildly in terms of plate production. Third base was a carousel between John Lorenz and Tim Kalczynski. Right field was Urban, Oaks, Urban again. Burgoon was injured and the bullpen went by committee. We lost Kevin Cislo and Chris Berset for stretches of the season. Nothing seemed to go right.
Well, almost nothing. Chris Fetter, our senior ace was the one consistent bright spot. Fetter carried the team for most of the season, eating up innings and mowing down line ups. He is responsible for our BigTen best team ERA of 4.80. But there was a lack of depth behind him. Before the season ever started, we lost Ben Jenzen, one of our top relievers from the season before. Left handed freshman Bobby Brosnahan, the pitching gem of the incoming class, was lost for the season with Tommy John surgery. For a period of 6 weeks, we lost our closer, Tyler Burgoon with a shoulder bruise suffered trying to make a play on a bunt.
So while Fetter could carry us through a Friday game, Saturday and Sunday became an adventure in the bullpen. Like clockwork, you could set an implosion coming every three weeks. The weeks of Evil Katzman meant the bullpen was routinely called in during the third or fourth inning, sometimes earlier. Our Sunday starting position during the first half of the season was just as inconsistent. Travis Smith struggled, as did Kolby Wood and Brandon Sinnery.
Not until Alan Oaks re-entered the rotation did we gain any extra consistency. By then, Fetter was already showing signs of fatigue from his highest inning total ever.
Dear Ryan, please don't leave us after this season, attrition hurts.
(Photo by Jeremy Cho, Michigan Daily)
On offense and defense, preseason depth hurt here, too. Adam Abraham left for the majors after his junior year leaving a HUGE void at third base. John Lorenz would have had time to red shirt and prepare for the college game. Instead, he and walk on senior Tim Kalczynski ended up playing third base by committee. Timmy Kal had been a catcher previous to this move. That's how bad we were hurting at depth. Neither player was that great offensively, especially not compared to the great player that Abraham was.
Joining these two on the left side of the infield was a first year starter in Anthony Toth. While his size would lead most people to think of Toth as a second baseman, he was given the keys to short stop with no real back up available. Toth did alright at the plate, eventually giving a decent hitter in the 9-hole. On the field, he was about average. He committed quite a few errors, always at the worst time, but he wasn't horrible.
In right field, Alan Oaks began the season sick, missing the first two weeks of the season. This opened the door for a previous back up middle infielder Nick Urban to get the starting nod. This actually worked out well for Michigan. Urban was the better defensive outfielder with great speed. Upon Oaks' return to the lineup, he hadn't regained his swing yet either.
In all, we were missing at least four veteran players from the draft, and another 2-3 players at any particular point of the season depending who were injured.
To complicate things, Michigan's hitters really loved the strikeout this year. Mike Dufek struck out once in every 3.8 at bats, Most players average about 4 at-bats per game for a reference. That's killer for an offense when the clean-up hitter strikes out that much. He wasn't alone, however, as Toth and Oaks were nearly as bad with a strikeout every 5 at bats. Michigan finished second in the conference in team strikeouts, one behind Minnesota. The problem was that Michigan only bat .294 while the Gophers hit .314. That was the difference between a 7th place finish and a 2nd place finish.
On the whole, an outsider looking at our team would have seen one great pitcher, and depending on the weekend, either a couple of average pitchers or several really bad pitchers. On offense, they'd seen a bunch of walk on players, some better than others, and a rotating cast of fill ins.
In the next installment of the previews, I'll examine how our depth has adjusted in the last year after getting a full recruiting class, some players healthy, and some more experience.
Continuing our preseason looks at Olympic sports, aka non-revenue, today we look at the #16 ranked* women's volleyball team. The volleyball team tips off on CBS College Sports later this week, as they face off in the Runza/AVCA Showcase, the premiere early season tournament in NCAA volleyball. Michigan opens with #3 Nebraska, who is virtually hosting event in one hour from campus in Omaha, NE, at 9:30pm (EDT). The second game for the Wolverines will be against #22 Kansas State on Saturday at 7pm (EDT), yet again on CBS College Sports. Tune in and cheer on your Wolverines. And yes, there is a hype video. And it is awesome.
If you're in the Omaha area, you can get tickets for individual matches for $16.50 (plus whatever surcharges ticketmaster adds on if you go that route), or $28 (again, possible extra ticketmaster charges) for a two day pass. And yes, they can charge that amount that close to Lincoln, where volleyball is almost as big as football.
The volleyball team became a varsity sport in 1973 as part of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), the women's sports association prior to the NCAA sanctioning women's sports. As the NCAA pretends AIAW and all it's statistics don't exist, Michigan volleyball's overall record is broken down into different categories. In the AIAW, Michigan compiled a record of 148-120-7 (.553) including games against 2 year schools and Canadian schools. Since joining the NCAA, Michigan has compiled a record of 412-417 (.497) against 4-year US schools only. If you throw in the smaller schools, Michigan has a 574-552-7 (.510) record.
Michigan has 11 post season appearances, including 9 NCAA tournaments in the last 12 seasons. Eight of those NCAA appearances came under the direction of current coach Mark Rosen(pictured below and right). Rosen is starting his 11th year at Michigan, which ties him with Sandy Vong (pictured above), Michigan's first ever volleyball coach, for the longest tenure among Michigan volleyball coaches. In Rosen's time, he's amassed a 189-132 (.589), but has never had a team finish higher than 5th in conference. Despite the conference record, Michigan has made it to the Sweet 16 in the past season the last two years.
The 2008 season was expected to be a rebuilding year for the Wolverines. They lost the Michigan all time leader in kills Katie Bruzdzinski, all time blocks leader Lyndsay Miller, and all time digs leader Stesha Selsky. That's some considerable loses. Despite the loss of such all time greats, Michigan also returned a few very strong players in setting Lexi Zimmerman, middle blocker Beth Karpiak, defensive specialist turned libero Kerry Hance, right side hitter Megan Bower, and outside hitter Veronica Rood. Karpiak was as dominant as they come out of the BigTen and Zimmerman came into the season as one of the conferences best setters.
Michigan would start the season hot with a 13-0 run including the BigTen opener at Ohio State. Things were going well – then, the reality of the BigTen season kicked in. Michigan went 12-8 over the conference season tied for the second highest in Wolverine BigTen history. In individual games, Michigan went 44-15 on the year, which is damn impressive. Michigan went 9-3 in matches going 3 sets, 11-6 in matches lasting 4 sets, and 0-3 in full five set matches. This was a big step forward in BigTen volleyball for program as Michigan finished 5th in conference.
Michigan ultimately went on to the NCAA tournament to upset Kentucky and Saint Louis to reach the Sweet 16 where they ran into perennial power Nebraska. Michigan finished the year 27-9, the best season record (by percentage) in the history of the program.
This Season's Players
The Wolverines only lose two players from last year's squad in Kerry Hance and Beth Karpiak. Expectations are high and rightfully so. Michigan returns the league's top setting Lexi Zimmerman. Zimmerman made the Honorable Mention list for All American as a freshman in 2007 and made the Second Team All American in 2008. She is the unsung star of the team. Her 2008 season saw her garner 11.37 assists, 1.37 kills and 2.65 digs per set. Her assist rate was second in the conference to only Penn State's Alisha Glass.
Zimmerman's two top targets will be outside hitter Juliana Paz and left side hitter Alex Hunt. Paz, a senior, lead the the team with 3.31 kills last year with some outstanding power in her hits. The native Brazilian also ranked second on the team in service aces last season with 33. Hunt is a left handed sophomore. As a freshman, she registered 243 kills, good for fourth on the team. Hunt was named to the Freshman All-BigTen team for her efforts and joined the US Junior National team.
On the right side, Megan Bower will be returning after finishing last season with 282 kills – third most on the team. Bower offers both power and a little bit of extra height at 6"-1' to help with blocking. Also returning on the right side is Cassie Petoskey. Petoskey is a native of Ann Arbor, going to Pioneer High School and comes from a long line of Michigan athletes. Her father lettered in wrestling, her grandfather in football, and her great uncle in 3 different sports. Even her brother plays for the lacrosse team. Cassie is as tough as they come, she even wrestled in middle school. She'll see more playing time this year than the last couple.
In the middle, the loss of Beth Karpiak is huge, but we have a couple good options returning. Red shirt sophomore Karlee Bruck really came on strong last year as the second middle blocker in Michigan's rotation. Last year, she finished with 13 solo blocks, second only to Karpiak, but she also lead the team with 90 block assists. Her hitting percentage was also pretty good at .278, but there is definitely room for improvement. Middle blockers generally have the highest hitting percentages on the team as they are generally a misdirection play.
Also rotating into the middle this year will be Veronica Rood. Rood is a converted outside hitter. As a junior, she didn't see that much time on the court, but her height at 6-1 should give her a little bit of an edge on blocking. I also wouldn't be surprised to see her being a bit more of a free swinger in the middle as compared to Bruck.
In the back court, Michigan returns Sloane Donhoff and Maggie Busch. Donhoff will be making the move to libero to start the season. Last year, as a freshman, Sloane was immediately put into a position to become the primary defensive specialist on the team. She finished the year with 321 digs, tied for third most on the team. Donhoff was also a very productive server, knocking in 43 service aces, the most on the team and second most in the BigTen. Busch, a junior, saw time in 120 different sets last season, but never for very long. She registered only 42 digs and 28 service aces over the whole season.
Michigan faces a tough schedule right out of the gate this year. Michigan faces the #3 and #22 teams in the nation this weekend in the American Volleyball Coaches Association tournament in Omaha, NE. This will be the eighth time in fifteen years that Michigan opens with a top 15 opponent. In all, Michigan will play 6 different teams ranked in the AVCA preseason poll and another three also receiving votes.
After the first weekend, the rest of Michigan's non-conference schedule shouldn't be too difficult. Tennessee is the biggest name on the list, but they are only in the receiving votes category of the current preseason poll. Heading into BigTen play, one would expect Michigan to have at least a 10-3 record, but even that might be a slight disappointment.
The conference season will be a bit tougher. The BigTen is a big volleyball conference. Penn State is the obvious favorite as they have not lost a game since September of 2007. They also return 4 All Americans and 10 letter winners. Illinois, Purdue, and Minnesota are also projected to be strong this year. Michigan has not won a game in Madison, WI in over 16 years. Even Michigan State has a strong team.
Looking at the schedule, I think Michigan could start the BigTen season 4-4. Each week has one very winnable game and one that could be extremely tough. In Michigan's favor, though, is the 4 game home stand from November 13th to November 20th. This stretch will help Michigan lessen any possible gaps that may form in the standings, setting up a season finale with Penn State that could potentially mean something. That might be a pretty lofty goal (challenging Penn State for the conference title), but it's not totally out of the idea either.
If you haven't been out to Cliff Keen Arena for a volleyball game, you are really missing out. Volleyball has some of the loudest and most loyal fans at the university, averaging just over 900 per match. Even the old blue hairs get up and cheer on the maize and blue. Just ask anyone about the super old guy that used to always be in the front row dancing along. I'm not sure if he makes it out to every game, but he was always one of my favorite UM personalities. Even "The Zone" is one of the strongest student sections on campus. It's its own mini-Maize Rage.
As mentioned, the team starts the season off against Nebraska in Nebraska's own back yard. The tournament is being hosted in Omaha, NE, just over an hour from Lincoln and the University of Nebraska. The CornHuskers take volleyball very seriously and will easily fill up 15,000 seats or more. The crowd will be hostile, but Michigan will be hoping to do the same thing they did to #10 Hawaii in 2007 by going up early and taking the crowd out of the game. A win over Nebraska isn't very likely, but if it would, it would be one heck of a statement to start the year. The game against Kansas State on Saturday will be a much bigger litmus test on just how ready this team is to compete past the Sweet 16 this year. If the Wolverines handle KSU, they will be serious contenders not only for the BigTen conference, but in the NCAA as well.
We had a busy posting day on Sunday, so some of the Olympic sports coverage will be posted as diaries for the time being. Field hockey will be starting their season this Saturday in the ACC/BigTen challenge held in Iowa City, IA where they will face off with #2 Wake Forest and #4 North Carolina.
The field hockey team was created in 1973 and has been very competitive, especially in the last 12 years. Overall, the Michigan team has a record of 391-274-25 (.585) in 36 seasons of play. In the 28 seasons of BigTen play (1978-88, 1992-present), Michigan has only posted a 91-98-8 (.482) record. Most of that sub .500 record can be placed on our first stint in BigTen play where the team went 11-44-8.
The big turning point for Michigan was the hire of Marcia Pankratz in 1995. Pankratz, pictured on the right from mgoblue.com, was a former All BigTen field hockey player at Iowa and an Olympian in 1988 and 1996. She remained a member of the US National team right up until her head coaching debut with Michigan in the fall of 1996 – she had worked at field hockey power University of North Carolina as an assistant coach as well.
After a rocky 7-11 start in 1996, Pankratz would lead Michigan to a BigTen co-title in her second year on campus and by her fourth year, a 2nd place finish in the NCAA tournament. That NCAA appearance was the first of 7 in a row, including a national championship in 2001. Her tenure saw Michigan compile a 147-55 record.
Pankratz retired in 2004 in order to start a consulting firm for students being recruited to play college athletics and handed the reigns of the program over to Nancy Cox. Cox continued the winning tradition at Michigan, compiling a 51-36 record over the last four seasons, including two NCAA berths.
Last season, Cox announced her retirement from Michigan, opening the door for a familiar face to take over the head coaching position – Marcia Pankratz. Yes, Michigan's winningest coach has returned for the 2009 campaign after a four year absence.
The 2008 season was a down year for the field hockey team. The 8-12 record was the first losing record since Coach Pankratz took over in 1996. Michigan finished 3-3 in the BigTen Conference, good for 5th out of 7. They would also tie for 5th place in the BigTen Tournament.
Michigan was lead by then-sophomore Meredith Way (pictured below). Way tied for 9th in the BigTen last year with 29 points on 12 goals and 5 assists. Setting up Way was Sarah Wilhite, who has since graduated. Wilhite lead the BigTen last year with 16 assists. Wilhite would finish the year tied for 11th in the BigTen with 28 points.
Despite the sub-.500 record, Michigan finished with the #27 RPI out of 78 teams ranked. Eleven of their 20 games were against ranked teams, including seven against top 10 opponents. To put Michigan's scheduling into perspective, in the first two weeks of the season (four games), they faced off with the #1, 2, and 3 teams in the nation. You've got to admire the tough scheduling.
Three senior players were chosen to captain to this year's field hockey team. Midfielder/Forward Kelly Fitzpatrick will be making her fourth year as a regular starter. Fitzpatrick has started 48 of the 58 games she has appeared in, netting 24 goals and 3 assists. While her sophomore season was her most productive point totaling season (10 goals, 1 assist), her junior season was still very productive with 8 goals and 1 assist.
Jenner Johnson is the defensive captain for the Wolverines. As a back, she doesn't total many statistics, she netted one goal as a freshman in limited time, but Johnson has been a solid contributor on defense. She started 19 of the 20 games last year, including the 5 games Michigan shut out their opponents.
Paige Laytos is third captain. Laytos is a midfielder/forward who started every game as a freshman and sophomore. Laytos would red shirt last year, breaking her streak of 43 straight games started. She did make it into 3 games last year, including two starts, but she would only gain one assist before ending her season. Despite missing the year, she has accumulated an extensive resume at Michigan including All BigTen second team as a freshman, All BigTen Academic team, All BigTen first team, and NFHCA (coaches poll) All American third team as a sophomore.
All three captains and junior forward Alex Zeringue represented the Midwest this summer at the US Field Hockey National Championships. The Midwest squad would finish 4th out of 6th, but it is still encouraging the number of Wolverines picked to the squad.
Other Top Returners
Michigan might have lost Wilhite, but they do return many of their starters. Alicia Mayer returns the second highest point total on the team behind Meredith Way. Mayer started all 20 games last season and netted 6 goals and 3 assists.
Heather Wiley also started all 20 games as a forward last season. The fifth year senior will be looking to boost her assist total from last year (8) as well as gain her first goal as a starter (she had two as a reserve as a red shirt sophomore in 2007).
Other returning starters include goal keeper Paige Pickett (pictured to right), back Hannah Johnson, and red shirt sophomore Katie Adams. Adams started all 20 games last year, but played a little bit of forward, a little bit of midfielder, and a little bit of back.
With the transition at head coach, I could see Michigan struggling a little bit to start the year, especially facing off in the ACC/BigTen Challenge next weekend. Michigan starts with Wake Forest, who finished as the #2 team in last year's poll and then plays North Carolina who ended #7. That said, Michigan is ranked #19 in the preseason coaches poll.
BigTen play will be tough pickings. Iowa will be attempting to win the conference crown for the fourth straight year. They did lose 8 seniors from last year's Final Four squad that ended the season with a #6 ranking. Michigan State finished the year at #10 and returns their two All Americans Rijpma (first team) and Deacon (second team). Penn State finished the year ranked #11, but lost it's top four stars. Ohio State also finished last year ranked, and they didn't lose too much, so should be in contention as well. Each of those teams are currently ranked ahead of Michigan.
All-in-all, Michigan will play 11 of the 20 teams ranked to end last season, plus two who received votes. That's 12 games of the 20 scheduled. To make it worse, only 6 games are at home. Field hockey generally sets up several teams at one school over a weekend. Michigan hosts two weekends in September, a mid-week game against Kent State in October, and the last game of the season against Indiana.