The preseason softball poll is out, and it looks like MGoSoftball & myself aren't the only ones with high expectations for the team this season! The owners of six straight Big Ten Championships clock in at #5 in the preseason poll and are the highest-rated Big Ten team. Nebraska is the only other ranked Big Ten team at #9 in the country. Obviously preseason rankings never mean a whole lot, but it is nice to see the ladies ranked so highly. Hopefully they live up to the expectations!
Season opens in about two and a half weeks with games against #4 Florida and #25 USF. I'm working on a full season preview, which I will post once we get a little closer to first pitch.
As we now sit exactly one month before the beginning of softball season, Mgoblue.com coverage is starting to ramp up a bit. Today they posted a nice interview with Coach Hutch, addressing a number of aspects of the upcoming season, including the pitching staff (now with three legit pitchers, given the addition of freshman Megan Betsa), the strength of the Big Ten conference, and who she expects to make the leap forward. I was happy to see Kelsey Susalla get mentioned there, as she's someone I've had pegged as a potential break-out player since last season.
For those of us ready to see a Michigan team that will win a pile of games & represent the University in the best way, softball season can't get here soon enough!
One of the last pieces of softball news to come out before things get started in February, the team has released it's 55 game slate for the 2014 season. (LINK: http://www.mgoblue.com/sports/w-softbl/spec-rel/110513aab.html )
I really like the non-conference schedule, which features a good balance of some games where we'll have an opportunity to get warmed up, test out some different things, etc. along with a number of top-shelf opponents so we can prove ourselves against the best & hopefully build a great tournament resume. Highlights include a season-opener against Florida along with rematches against tournament foes Lousiana Lafayette and Washington.
The conference schedule is an interesting one, as the B10 continues to use the three-game series format that leads to more teams being left off the schedule entirely. Notably, Michigan misses out entirely on Nebraska, the only team to hand us a regular-season in-conference loss last year when they took 2 of 3 in Lincoln en route to a 2nd place finish in the B10. They are replaced on the schedule by a strong Wisconsin side that Michigan will face in the final series of the season. Depending on how things shape up, that could provide a fantastic finale to regular season play.
All in all, another exciting season lies before us. Hopefully the ladies can rise to the challenge!
Michigan rounded out its set of fall scrimmages on Tuesday (and then Mgoblue.com took two more days to post any results) with a 16-3 drubbing of EMU, the encore performance to last Thursday's 17-1 pounding of the Hurons. This puts Michigan at 7-0 for the fall, scoring 62 runs while allowing only 8. Obviously we're dealing with scrimmages against over-matched competition, but it is still encouraging to see the team put such a great effort on the field.
Mgoblue posted a brief Q&A with Coach Hutch & junior pitcher Haylie Wagner (http://www.mgoblue.com/sports/w-softbl/spec-rel/101113aaa.html). I was not at all surprised to see Hutch talking up the senior leadership of Colie Sappingfield, who has been a key part of Michigan's team for several years now. Hutch also praised the pitching, especially singling out the addition of freshman Megan Betsa. Everyone knows this Michigan team can score runs, even with the loss of Ashley Lane's power, so if the defense can improve to match, we could be in for a fun season.
That's just about it for softball news until the season starts approaching in a few months. I'm expecting this team to do some great things as they look to defend their Big Ten Championship and get back to Oklahoma!
Michigan softball team 37 saw their first action over the weekend, breezing through an exhibition tournament in Traverse City 5-0, racking up 29 runs while allowing only 4 against CMU, WMU, and Oakland.
It sounds like Hutch was pretty happy with the team overall. I am especially encouraged by her comments regarding the pitching, as she noted that Wagner "looks strong, she looks fitter and better" and that freshman Megan Betsa looked like an immediate contributor. I stand by my view from last year that Wagner's sophmore slump was just a factor of the nagging injury, and that now that she's had time to heal from that, she'll be back to the high level of play she showed as a freshman.
There is a lot for this team to work on of course, and it will be one of the youngest teams we've seen in a while, but I think there's is tremendous potential here. With talented freshmen coming in, two returning pitchers, and a whole pile of offense including the landslide Big Ten Player of the Year award winner, we should have a great season ahead of us.
Hutch's full comments available here: http://www.mgoblue.com/sports/w-softbl/spec-rel/100113aad.html
Just a couple weeks after wrapping up another successful season (51 wins, B10 title, WCWS appearance, #6 ranking in final polls), some more good news for the softball team. Two players who will be joining the Wolverines this coming season were honored as the Gatorade Player of the Year in their respective states (Illinois & Georgia). One looks like a complete hitter, hitting for power & average very impressively, while the other looks to be another great pitcher. I'm especially excited about that, because if she produces immediately, we'll be the rare team that can throw 3 different pitchers successfully, and if it takes her a bit, she's got time to come along & play understudy to Driesenga & Wagner. The future remains bright under Carol Hutchins' guidance!