alternate headline: man does job
[Bumped (and added some photos) because it's good and so is our softball team. --Seth]
Sprinkle the cheese
It’s hard to put the experience of Michigan’s 2015 softball season into words. It was totally unique in so many ways. Michigan fans were desperate for something to go right after hockey, basketball, and football all came up well short of pre-season expectations. Jim Harbaugh was making headlines, but concrete results were still months away, and the Michigan community was still convalescing from its long bout of Brandonitis. It was the perfect time for niche sport to make a bid for mainstream status, as fans needed something, anything to go right, to make things feel like Michigan again.
Into this void stepped a group of twenty young women, swinging bats and making pizza as they blasted their way through the country and the Big Ten, into the record books and Maize and Blue hearts nationwide. The team combined absurd offensive production and strong pitching with an unmatched rootability factor. Whether on TV or in person, this team was fun. When Lauren Haeger’s Gators bounced them in the last game of the season, it felt like an injustice, just like Trey Burke missing out on his crown or the Legend of Shawn Hunwick falling short against Minnesota-Duluth.
The difference between those crimes and this one, however, is that Michigan has a chance to put things right. Almost everyone is back from the 2015 squad, and there’s no question that they’ve been working harder than ever all offseason to earn what was denied them a year ago. It’s a new year with fresh faces and stiff competition, but this is a team on a mission. Below, we’ll break down roster changes, offense and defense, and the opposition Michigan will face in the season ahead. 2016 isn’t going to be 2015 all over again, and Hutch and her crew are smart enough not to try to make it that. It just might be a little bit better.
[Hit THE JUMP to see what that team lost and what to expect from this one]
Flosoftball web-video interview with Coach Hutch
She mentions pitchers being banged up, but rest of team anxious to get going. Also some discussion of her development of the program from the ground up. I love the Team 38 pizza paddle behind her.
"Only 24 women in the universe get to wear Michigan Softball"
Michigan is lucky to have her.
Florida is #1 by default after they defeated Michigan in the World Series final last season thanks to the dominant play of their now-graduated NPOY and the ability of UF players to get hit by pitches. But they bring in the top ranked recruiting class in the country and will be aiming for their third straight national title.
Michigan, meanwhile, is absolutely loaded with talent. This season's lineup has the potential to be even better at the plate than last season's, which was the most explosive in the nation. In the circle, Michigan loses Haylie Wagner, but returns two pitchers who have each led Michigan to the World Series as the staff ace in separate years.
Which team will be better this season? We won't have to wait long to get an idea, as Michigan faces off against UF on February 13th, the third game of their season.
Update: Link above is to the USA Today/NFCA poll. The ESPN/USA Softball poll also came out today with Michigan and UF in the same positions.
The Michigan softball team dropped their 2016 slate today, and as usual the non-conference schedule is brutal. The Maize & Blue will spend 24 games on the road before getting their first taste of home field advantage at the Wilpon Complex. There are a number of teams who made deep post-season runs last year on the schedule, headlined by Oklahoma, Florida State, and best of all, defending-national-champions Florida. As always, the Wolverines will be tested hard in the early going, but that also means they'll have many opportunities to prove themselves to the pollsters & selection committee. The non-conference schedule is always nerve-wracking for us, but this year I have so much confidence in the team that I'm not too worried.
After the brutal road trip, Michigan gets a pair of tune-ups against Eastern at Wilpon before diving into the Big Ten slate. Once again, the yahoos at B10 headquarters have given us a wonky schedule. We don't face Minnesota at all this year, barring a potential post-season match-up. The Northwestern & Nebraska series early on may well determine Michigan's fate in terms of the Big Ten regular season crown. Other than those two teams, only OSU among Michigan opponents was above .500 in league play last year (12-11). Penn State, Maryland, and Rutgers were middling, while Indiana and Sparty were just dreadful.
Michigan softball concluded fall exhibition play last night with a trip to East Lansing. In their first fall match-up, MSU scored the only 2 runs Michigan had given up in fall play, and the Wolverines' defense was not about to let that happen again, especially with recently-graduate star pticher Haylie Wagner watching from the stands! All three pitchers (Blanco, Driesenga, and Betsa) saw action, and they combined for a complete-game shut-out.
On offense, today was a chance for the young guns to try their hand at college ball. Freshmen Sobczak, Alexander, Peters, and Canfield all got starts, and the inclusion of Falk & Blanco as well made it a majority-underclassmen line-up. Birthday-girl Kelsey Susalla was the lone senior in the order, and she was without doubt the star of the day. She hit an RBI single in the 1st, a solo HR in the 3rd, and another RBI single in the 7th, going 3-3 with 3 RBI on the day.
The offense as a whole did not completely break out until the 7th, when Michigan plated 4 runs to open up and 8-0 lead, but with the quality of Michigan's pitching, the outcome was never in doubt. It appears from the twitter feed that a few substitutions were made along the way, not all of which were necessarily mentioned (Swearingen got in the action somewhere along the line).
One item of interest is Abby Ramirez playing the lead-off role. Bonnie Tholl talked about this as a possibility on WTKA recently, and it's definitely something the coaches are going to play around with. Last season, Ramirez hit in the 9-spot and did an excellent job turning over the line-up with a .446 OBP on the strength of slap-hitting and speed. The coaches seem to think she's ready to shoulder a little more of the load & a little more of the spotlight this season. At the end of the day her role will be similar to last year - setting the table for the murderers' row of power hitters Michigan can send to the plate.
The only sad news on the night is the fact that we have no new softball content coming until 2016! Thankfully, Harbaugh has our full attention at the moment, and the winter sports are just about to get underway, so we should be able to make it to spring. Even a snow-lover like myself, however, will be eagerly awaiting the warming temperatures that signal a new season of Michigan softball!
Reminder: FREE Michigan softball game tonight (WED) at 6PM against MSU. Also, I made a website previewing next season's team.
The game is at Alumni Field and admission is free.
Link to the website is below. I wanted to post it before the game tonight with enough notice that people could get there on time, so it's a bit rushed, but should work fine and hopefully you'll get the gist (if it doesn't, try Chrome/Chromium). Works better on a desktop monitor.