UM softball team ranked No. 2, will work 'harder than ever'

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Sierra Romero

Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins wasn’t even aware the preseason coaches poll had been released on Tuesday even though the Wolverines, the national runner-up last season, are ranked No. 2 behind defending national champion Florida.

The only other Big Ten team in the USA Today/NFCA Division I Coaches poll is Minnesota at No. 14. LSU, Auburn and Alabama rounded out the top five.

“Who was second last year?” Hutchins said. “We weren’t, and we finished second.”

Michigan was 60-8 last season and return many of their top players — second baseman Sierra Romero, outfield Kelly Christner, Kelsey Susalla and Sierra Lawrence, first baseman Tera Blanco, shortstop Abby Ramirez, third baseman Lindsay Montemarano and pitcher Megan Betsa — from a team that made a stunning run during the College Softball World Series before losing to Florida.

The Wolverines open the season Feb. 12 at a tournament in Tampa that also features Florida. Michigan has opened the last two regular seasons against the Gators but will face them in the third game.

Michigan was back to practice on Jan. 6 and actually got an hour of on-field work on Jan. 7 because of unseasonable warm temperatures. Typically, the Wolverines go about 25 games before the players can work out on their home field. She also hopes to hold a scrimmage on the field Sunday.

Hutchins has made it clear this team will not focus on last year. She said she will make this year, including workouts and preparations, “harder than ever.”

“I don’t think I did a good job of that after ’05 (when Michigan won the national title),” Hutchins said. “It’s hard to recover from a great year, but this year we made it harder. Conditioning has stepped up, even though I thought we were in good shape last year. They have to be pushed to a new level. They have to have more of an edge.

“We’ve learned if your expectation isn’t to show up and work hard every day, you’re expectations are off. That’s my message to the kids. Polls are for the people who don’t play and don’t have anything to do.”

Romero, a senior, is coming off an All-American season in which she hit .449. She had 22 home runs, 83 RBIs, 58 walks and struck out only eight times. She is the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year. Christner also was a first-team All-American, while Betsa was a second team and Lawrence was third team.

“Now they’ve got this medal around their neck as All-Americans, that doesn’t anoint you,” Hutchins said. “That was last year. Our kids knew they had accomplished a lot, but they knew they played as a team. We had a great team culture. Last year’s chemistry cannot be recreated. We have so many of the same people, but we have new people.

“It’s more difficult because they get caught up in trying to repeat and expectations and get caught up in last year. They will say the right thing, but they need to come out and work hard. They’ve worked hard but working hard on expectations is hard. I have to do a good job in influencing them that the poll means nothing. Nobody remembers who was in the preseason poll last year."

USA Today/NFCA Division I Softball Preseason Coaches Poll

1. Florida (26 first-place votes), 782 points, 60-7 record in 2015 (1 final 2015 rank)

2. Michigan (2), 755, 60-8 (2)

3. LSU (2), 711, 52-14 (4)

4. Auburn (1), 698, 56-11 (3)

5. Alabama (1), 672, 48-15 (6)

6. Oregon, 666, 51-8 (7)

7. UCLA, 625, 51-12 (5)

8. Tennessee, 548, 47-17 (8)

9. Oklahoma, 514, 49-9 (9)

10. Florida State, 493, 49-14 (10)

11. Louisiana Lafayette, 449, 42-12 (11)

12. Georgia, 416, 44-17 (12)

13. Arizona, 385, 41-20 (13)

14. Minnesota, 376,49-11 (15)

15. Missouri, 369, 42-16 (14)

16. Baylor, 290, 41-17 (18)

17. UCF, 270, 50-9 (16)

18. Kentucky, 260, 32-26 (17)

19. James Madison, 198, 48-10 (22)

20. Washington, 197, 42-17 (21)

21. California, 142, 39-18 (23)

22. Arizona State, 136, 36-22 (20)

23. North Carolina State, 114, 38-22 (19)

24. Notre Dame, 77, 42-15 (T-25)

25. South Alabama, 73, 40-13 (23)

Others receiving votes: Texas A&M (38), North Dakota State (32), Utah (22), Hofstra (14), Nebraska (13), Texas (12), Northwestern (10), Ohio State (6), North Carolina (6), Florida Atlantic (5), Mississippi State (5), USC Upstate (4), UAB (4), Western Kentucky (4), Fresno State (3), Kansas (2), Louisville (2), Pittsburgh (2).