[This started out as a board post, but obviously got way too long. Hope there are a few other folks as excited as me for a Michigan sport where we still own fools mercilessly!]
Other excited folks / Detroit News
Michigan's softball team returns to action this afternoon with a pair of games against Southern Illinois & Houston. As always, expectations are high at the start of the season for us, being one of the elite teams nationally, and still the only team East of the Mississippi to win a National Title.
Last year, UM won the Big Ten championship for the third year running, but the playoff run came to an end all too early in the super-regional, dashing hopes for a second National Championship. This year, Hutch and the team have been clear that the goals (Big Ten & National Titles) are the same as always.
Ranked #8/#11 in the preseason polls, the Wolverines will have a lot to do in order to climb those mountains. Last year, Michigan was led by a large senior class and steamrolled the competition for much of the year, invoking the mercy rule on 19 separate occasions, en route to a 49-8 (18-1 Big Ten) record.
Those seniors have gone however and the roster is packed with 7 freshmen looking to prove themselves. Other younger players like sophomore pitcher Stephanie Speierman will be called on to step up as well, with players like star pitcher Nikki Nemitz, power hitter Maggie Viefhaus, and others no longer in Ann Arbor.
Despite the youth, however, Michigan does not lack for senior leadership. Pitcher Jordan Taylor and first-base/power-hitter Dorian Shaw are both on the pre-season Player of the Year watchlist, and will need to take a leading role if this Michigan team is to succeed.
Last year, Dorian Shaw lead the way for Michigan in the home-run department, going deep 21 times. One of those shots broke the letter A on the now-rechristianed "lumni Field" scoreboard. And while Nemitz was the senior pitcher on staff, Taylor led the way for much of the year, going 26-4 with an ERA of 1.44. The highlight of her year came in April when, on the 10th she tossed 5 perfect innings as Michigan mercy-ruled Minnesota 9-0. Not two weeks later, Taylor was on the mount again, and once again was perfect through 5, as UM mercy-ruled PSU 8-0.
The Wolverines in softball are the sort of team that does not rebuild, but reloads. A strong class of freshman recruits lead by sure-fire All-Americans like Taylor and Shaw will be a tough matchup for any team they face. The seniors will be looking to put the stamp on some great careers with a fourth straight Big Ten Title and some National hardware as well, and the younger players will be looking to make names for themselves on one of college softball's biggest stages. Let's go BLUE!