to play football, not to play trumpet
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.
Continuing the positve Maize & Blue momentum on the weekend from the BYU game, Team 39 saw it's first unofficial action of the year in their annual trip to Traverse City. Over the weekend the Maize & Blue took on CMU, WMU, and Oakland (who rode an auto-bid to a tourney spot last year) in a mini-tournament. The teams played a round-robin, followed by a championship game for the top two teams.
As expected, Michigan cruised through their over-matched opponents without any serious difficulty. All 4 games ended in shut-outs for the Wolverines, topping Oakland 12-0 & WMU 10-0 on Saturday. On Sunday, Michigan pounded CMU 9-0 before meeting WMU again in the championship game. An 11-0 run-rule thumping ended the weekend early. This is a tournament that Michigan should win every single year, but even so, doing so in such fashion is encouraging - especially the goose-egg on the scoreboard.
Stats are a little thin on the ground due to the fact that it's exhibition softball & only crazy people like me want stats, but a few stand out. Sierra Romero showed that she still has plenty of pop in her bat with a grand slam & Kelly Christner had multiple hits in several games. A wide variety of players tallied multi-hit games, proviing an early indication that last year's record-breaking offense should be carrying over into 2016.
Finally, the pitching couldn't be beaten - and it wasn't just Megan Betsa. Tera Blanco & Sara Driesenga also got significant playing time & got the job done. While you can't take much away from a walk-through like this weekend, if there is one positive to focus on, it is the pitching. The biggest question mark for 2016 is whether Blacno & Driesenga can fill some of the void left by Haylie Wagner, and this weekend was the first small step towards indicating that they might be able to do so.
Fall ball continues on Wednesday, Sept. 30 at Alumni Field. If you're in Ann Arbor, get yourself down there for a free sneak peek at the team! I'd love it if someone could go & let us know a bit about who's playing where, etc.
What better way to get over the malaise of realizing how much work is ahead of us in football (although major progress has clearly already been made & the rest is underway!) than a reminder of the payoff that patience can have? Carol Hutchins took over a program in a low place in the softball pantheon and built a perennial powerhouse in Ann Arbor, but it took her years of steady improvement to do it. Now we get our first glimpse of the 2016 edition of her work, although things will look very familiar to those fans who followed the 2015 season.
The team will play 6 fall exhibition games, 4 in a mini tournament in Traverse City against Oakland, WMU, and CMU (round robin + championship/consolation games) and 2 more in a home-and-home with Sparty. Not as exciting of a slate as last fall, when we hosted Kentucky is what was billed as a "fall super-regional", but it'll be a good chance to get a first look at the team. The number 1 question will be who is behind the plate on defense. If we settle in with a catcher early on, especially one with a solid bat, we're gonna have a good time.