Oklahoma City — Stephanie Winter, a member of the 2005 Michigan Wolverines national championship team, had planned a trip to the Women's College World Series a couple of months ago no matter which eight teams made it. Little did she know she'd have the thrill of watching her alma mater again.
Winter, who completed her first season at Southeast Missouri as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator, attended Thursday night's game, then planned to return the next day to Cape Girardeau, Mo., hoping to recruit players to improve on this year's 19-27 record.
Though she was focused on coaching her own team, Winter kept an eye on this year's Wolverines.
"Watching them in the Big Ten tournament, you could see something special was going on," said Winter, a sophomore reserve infielder on UM's 2005 title team.
Winter, whose roots are in St. Charles, Mo., graduated from UM with a degree in kinesiology and earned her masters degree in human performance at Lindenwood in St. Louis.
How could she tell?
"When every single person that's part of the program is into it, they're on the right track," Winter said. "They're cheering, they're hustling. It looked like everybody is pulling for everybody."
Each member of the '05 team forwarded a personalized note to members of this year's team. Winter wrote to Becca Garfinkel, a senior from West Bloomfield.
"I laughed with her because I said we didn't have camera phones back then," said Winter. "I said, 'Take lots of pictures and enjoy every second of it. You've got nothing to lose. Go out and win it all.' It's about time."
In her first two years with the Wolverines, Winter made the trip to the World Series and it gave her the itch to coach after her playing career was over.
"I love it. That was one of the reasons why I chose Michigan," Winter said.
Jennie Ritter-Meinrod, who won 38 games in the circle in '05, has also been on the scene for the last two days. She's a representative for Louisville Slugger fastpitch softball equipment.
Christner goes deep
In Michigan's victory Thursday, Kelly Christner, one of UM's three unanimous first-team All-Big Ten position players, hit her second home run off Alabama freshman Alexis Osorio this season. She also homered against Osorio Feb. 21, at the Bama Bash in Tuscaloosa.
With her third postseason homer, Christner tied Sierra Romero for the team lead in homers (21) this season. Osorio, after surrendering only one homer in her previous 13 games pitched, has given up five in the Tide's last four games.
Ain't it grand? Ain't it Sweet?
Lauren Sweet's grand slam in the fourth was the third in her Wolverine career and second this season. Against Georgia Tech on Feb. 13, Sweet connected in a 10-0, 5-inning rout. Her first came came against Ohio State last year.
Sweet also hit a walk-off grand slam in her junior season at Santiago High School in Corona, Calif., for the state title.
The Wolverines extended their winning streak to 26. Not since April 3 at Minnesota have the Wolverines lost a game (9-1 in six innings). The school record is 32.
Greg Echlin is a freelance writer.