A year ago, Michigan fell just short of winning the program’s second national softball championship.
And a year later, the Wolverines are, for the most part, a group of seasoned veterans, who, with the experience of last season, could be among the more dangerous teams in the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan, winners of the Big Ten regular-season championship, is the No. 2 overall seed and hosts a regional this weekend. The Wolverines (46-5) face Valparaiso (18-32) in their opening tournament game on Friday at 7 p.m. at Alumni Field. Notre Dame plays Miami (Ohio) in the first game at 4:30 p.m.
The Wolverines were national championship runners-up to two-time defending national champion Florida last June. Florida is the No. 1 overall seed.
“It’s probably one of the most underrated aspects people don’t think about,” ESPN softball analyst Michele Smith said of being a World Series veteran. “The experience of being there is huge. To me, sometimes you have to lose a championship before you can win a championship. Florida lost before winning two.”
Amanda Scarborough, an ESPN analyst, likes the senior-laden Wolverines coached by Carol Hutchins, the winningest coach in college softball.
Scarborough said last year’s run can only help Michigan in this tournament. The team knows what to expect, and with that knowledge, she said, can be more aggressive, particularly on offense.
“Every experience you have makes the next one feel a little bit easier,” Scarborough said. “And I use that term loosely. You don’t have as many nerves as you had last year. Nerves get in the way of teams at Oklahoma City (in the World Series). It can make or break you. It breaks people without experience and it makes the team with experiences.”
On paper, it appears Michigan should have an easy time in the opening game and most likely will play Notre Dame on Saturday.
“Michigan is just a better team than Notre Dame, and I think they’ve proven that with their body of work,” Scarborough said. “Notre Dame has had some questionable losses, and Michigan has been the more steady team. They’re the big dog in the regional. You have to be able to beat them twice. I think that will be tough for Notre Dame.”
Michigan standout Sierra Romero is not allowing herself to feel pressure and certainly won’t allow her teammates to feel it as they head into the tournament.
“At the end of the day, of course, everybody wants to try to win a national championship,” Romero said, “but I’m not going to let that define my time at Michigan or my career. As long as I’m giving 100 percent and pushing my teammates and having fun in the process, I’m going to be happy no matter what the outcome is.”
“But I know we have a good team, so I’m not expecting it to be short,” she said.
Michigan softball regional
Where: Alumni Field, Wilpon Complex, Ann Arbor
Tickets: The weekend is sold out.
Parking: Free parking is available in several lots near the Wilpon Complex, home of Alumni Field.
Game 1: No. 2 seed Notre Dame vs. No. 3 seed Miami (Ohio), 4:30 p.m., BTN
Game 2: No. 1 seed Michigan vs. No. 4 seed Valparaiso, 7 p.m., BTN
Game 3: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, noon, (BTN, TBD)
Game 4: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 2:30 p.m., (BTN, TBD)
Game 5: Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner, 5 p.m., (BTN, TBD)
Game 6: Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 2 p.m., BTN
Game 7 (if necessary): Game 6 winner vs. Game 6 loser, 4:30 p.m., BTN