Jan. 8, 2014
Michigan head coach Carol Hutchins is one month away from leading the University of Michigan softball team into its 37th season of play and her 30th at the helm of the Wolverines -- the first game is Feb. 8 vs. Florida in Tampa, Fla. MGoBlue.com sat down with Hutch to get the pulse of Team 37 at the start of the winter semester.
On managing three pitchers: Sara Driesenga, Haylie Wagner and Megan Betsa ... "Like everything else, the season evolves and the roles will evolve -- there will be some trial and error. Our goal will be to give all three of them ample pitching time in our preseason and we have a lot of really tough opponents. What it really gives us is the ability to mix it up and match up strengths of certain pitchers to weaknesses of opponents and it gives you the opportunity to use relievers. I know the pitchers probably like to pitch a complete game and own all seven innings, but when you can throw somebody at them for one round of their order and then throw somebody else, that can really work your way. But it has to evolve; I don't totally know how it is going to work out if they are all three healthy and available. Megan is more than just a third pitcher -- she is a pitcher in her own right. She has some improving to do but I'm really excited to have her. I see them all helping us."
On what she likes about the freshman class ... "They really come in with great playing experience, they all have good softball savvy. They've all played at a high competitive level coming in. They really are transitioning well. I think they offer good softball skills. I think all four of the freshmen are going to contribute."
On protecting Sierra Romero in the lineup ... "We just want to give her the opportunity to get to contribute. People are going to try and minimize her. The key is who is hitting behind her. Last year with Caitlin (Blanchard) and Ashley (Lane), they did an outstanding job. If people worked around her, they were outstanding and Romo did a good job of letting that happen. A kid like her has to be cognizant that she doesn't try to do it all herself and put pressure on herself to be that All-American, let the game come to her. We don't have Ashley this season but we do have Caitlin. Every year is a different year so we'll have to see. People behind Sierra need to be threats."
On who is poised for a breakout year ... "You know last year going into the season I said for us to have a good season we needed Ashley Lane to have a good season, and I was right. And she did and we did. This year we are a lot younger. I have four freshmen I expect to contribute. I have seen such great things from Kelsey Susalla and I think she is poised to get over the hump -- it doesn't mean she will -- but she has worked awfully hard for it. She offers a lot, when she gets to the next level she will be pretty good at it. As good of a freshman year as SiLo (Sierra Lawrence) had, I think she has a lot more. The sky is the limit for her. I'd like to see her take the game by the horns. She could be a leadoff hitter, she could be a cleanup hitter -- she can do a lot of things and I'd like to see her step up to that level."
Coach Hutch embarks
on 30th season at U-M
On getting consistency from Lauren Sweet at the dish ... "It's time for Lauren Sweet to turn a big corner. Sweet is key -- she offers so much and is such a talent both behind the plate and offensively. Consistency is what we need from her -- be a consistent .350 hitter means making more contact and striking out less. Her defense is great but it's time to be that leader. She is the Ashley Lane of this year. We spent some time this fall tweaking her swing but that can really be irrelevant. The swing is your mind. At the end of the fall she really seemed to get it and to be moving in the right direction. That is just consistency, making contact with the ball and not allowing herself to get flustered when things don't go her way. Getting down on yourself doesn't help us or I'd let everybody do it. It's about toughness and being a force at the plate and behind the plate."
On when players make the biggest leap in their development ... "I would say if you're going to generalize it, the first two years you learn to play at this level and the second two years you just go -- you know how to play the game and you know what to expect when you walk onto the field. By your junior year, it is your time to step up and be one of the leaders to help this team be great. We all love when a freshman comes along and makes an impact, but the expectations are on the upperclassmen."
On having two established four-year starters in Lyndsay Doyle and Nicole Sappingfield ... "One thing is, a little wrench for us, is that we have a fourth legitimate outfielder in Kelly Christner. We have four outfielders who are all capable of starting. I think there might be some competition there day after day. We like the fact that we have such great experience in our seniors. Nobody wants to see our seniors succeed more than me. I think Colie is going to another level, she had such a great offseason. She has really turned on the offense and the power part of her game. She has swung away more than she's slapped this fall. Doyle is by far one of the best athletes we've ever had here. More than anything I want those two to play their best games now and sometimes that's the hardest thing for a senior to do. But they know how to play and they need to leave everything on the field."
On analyzing the Big Ten before the season starts ... "I think the Big Ten is making a great effort to be better. It's our goal as a conference to be in the top four in RPI. We've been there and we fell out a little bit. (Michigan) can only do its part to as a program, but I see the effort the Big Ten teams are making and that's what we need. Their improvements are not negatives for us; if the league becomes more competitive it's better for everyone. Look at Big Ten volleyball, we aspire to be that relevant from top to bottom. You see more schools adding facilities -- Penn State not long ago and Purdue is building a new stadium now -- and we want the Big Ten to be relevant. But with that said, I won't worry about anybody but Michigan. I'll just try to make us competitive."
Contact: Michael Kasiborski (firstname.lastname@example.org)