#2 Michigan Softball 2016 Preview

Michigan Wolverines
Overall Rank: #2
Conference Rank: #1 Big Ten
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Michigan had one of the best seasons in its storied program history, winning 60 games en route to its eighth straight Big Ten title, a Big Ten Tournament title and a runner-up finish at the Women's College World Series. That run included a 28-game winning streak that lasted from April 4th to the best-of-three series against Florida on June 1st. Last year's squad included five All-Americans, four of whom return to the 2016 squad. Can this season be even more special than last?
2015: 60-8, 21-2
2015 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Carol Hutchins
Field Players:
The Wolverines were an offensive machine last year, hitting 118 home runs and setting school records in runs (550) and RBI (504). All but one of those players involved in that great offense, led by All-American Sierra Romero, return. Romero led the squad last year in average (.449), runs (85), home runs (22), RBI (83), walks (58) and least strikeouts (8). Kelly Christner blasted 21 home runs, with a team-leading 84 hits and 67 RBI. Sierra Lawrence had a standout year as well, hitting 14 long balls, 19 doubles, while driving in 60 RBI, scoring 82 times and stealing a team-leading 24 bases. Kelsey Susalla also returns after hitting 14 home runs, 14 doubles and driving in 61 of her teammates. Those four combined for 71 home runs, 271 RBI and 287 runs scored. Abby Ramirez didn't have the power of some of her teammates, but she was a good No. 9 hitter for Michigan, hitting .371 with 63 hits. Tera Blanco was a dual threat pitcher/hitter last year and knocked seven balls out of the yard and drove in 47. Even reserves had major power, as Taylor Swearingen had nine home runs in 36 games played, 24 of which were starts.
Michigan welcomes back stud pitcher Megan Betsa, who went 31-5 last season with a 1.72 ERA and 333 strikeouts. The All-American junior will be aided by the return of Sara Driesenga, who missed most of 2015 with an injury.  Driesenga is a two-time All-Big Ten First Team honoree and will bring back the experience to help get over the loss of Haylie Wagner. Blanco will take more of a pitching role this year as well, after appearing in only five games last season.
Who to Watch:
Driesenga. The graduate student had a breakout season in 2013 when she went 31-9 in 54 games with a 1.89 ERA and 247 strikeouts. She's also been a strong designated player and can serve as a double threat with her ability to hit and pitch. One freshman to watch out for is Alex Sobczak, who won the 2015 Miss Michigan Softball award. Sobczak hit 40 career home runs with a .524 career average and made outstanding contact, striking out only 23 times in 475 plate appearances during her career. She hit .440 her senior season with six homers and 33 RBIs, getting walked 39 times, including 18 intentionally.
Final Projection:
It's going to be hard to say the Wolverines aren't on a path back to the WCWS. With such a powerful lineup and an equally strong rotation, this team will be hard to stop. What's more impressive is that they play better on the road than at home, as they dropped only one true road game last season, while losing two at home. Christner and Susalla had breakout seasons as they finally got their chances in the lineup, but can they maintain that power or will there be a drop off? Michigan will get a shot at Florida, last year's WCWS champion, right away, as they face the Gators on the second day of the regular season. They also have Florida State, UCLA, Oklahoma, Missouri, N.C. State, Washington and Cal among their nonconference opponents. Unfortunately, the Wolverines don't play top challenger Minnesota this season, but do host Northwestern in the first weekend of Big Ten play.
Projected Postseason: NCAA Softball Tournament
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Kelly Christner, OF, 214
Hits: Kelly Christner, OF, 84
Home Runs: Sierra Romero, IF, 22
RBIs: Sierra Romero, IF, 83
Runs: Sierra Romero, IF, 85
Stolen Bases: Sierra Lawrence, OF, 24
Wins: Megan Betsa, P, 31
Innings Pitched: Megan Betsa, P, 211.1
Strikeouts: Megan Betsa, P, 333
Complete Games: Megan Betsa, P, 24
Madness 2016 Softball Recruit Rankings:
#24 Faith Canfield
#41 Natalie Peters
#49 Alex Sobczak
Madness 2016 Draft Rankings:
#5 Sierra Romero