Friday, May 29, 2009

Last Call for a National Championship

Dear Class of 2009,

I hope unemploy- er, I mean "post graduation life" is treating you well. We've only been away from campus a few weeks, but I'll go on a limb and say you already miss Ann Arbor. You miss "halter-top"/"beach" days on Elbel in the Spring, the Law Quad in the Winter, and Football Saturdays in the Fall. I know I do.

We came to Michigan as freshman just as the Hill Cafeteria was beginning construction, the Art Museum's new wing was breaking ground, and "the Markley Tunnel" under the School of Public Health was in the infant stages. The new Business School was still a hole in the ground, and the School of Public Policy was about to open next door. During the four years we were in Ann Arbor, things always seemed to be in a transition phase. Nothing seemed complete. Nothing seemed finished.

Things weren't much different in the Michigan Athletic Department. Michigan Football went 11-1 our Sophomore year, but missed a national title chance with a loss against OSU. Michigan Hockey made the Frozen Four, but missed a national title chance in OT to Notre Dame. Michigan Baseball beat Vanderbilt (and Rays' pitcher David Price) to win the regional title, but lost to eventual national champs Oregon State the following round. Each time we saw a team close in on a title, they couldn't complete the journey. They couldn't finish what they started.

And, yes, Michigan Lacrosse won back-to-back national championships our final two years...but they are still a club varsity team waiting for their shot to play with the big boys. Can't count it.

Plain and simple, we have not seen a national title in our time at Michigan... in ANY sport. As if being part of the worst four year Football stretch of any graduating class the past fifteen years wasn't bad enough! Attending Michigan and witnessing one national title team is part of the athletic experience! Shouldn't we be eligible for some type of reparations payment?

While most of us have left Ann Arbor, we still have one last sport to help make up for all the close calls the past four years: SOFTBALL. This was the last Michigan sport to win a national title (2005), and it came the summer before our first semester on campus. The first team to win a softball title west of the Mississippi River. Down 0-1 in the series to UCLA, they came back to win two straight (the last one in 10 innings) and put Wolverine Softball on the national map. This season's team was 20-9 to begin the Big Ten season (last place in the Big Ten) and have now gone 27-1 since then to run the Big Ten title and make it to the College World Series. Most people had this team counted out after losing the opening series to Northwestern. Now they stand as the only Big Ten team left in the NCAA tournament, and are two wins away from the final series for the NCAA Championship. It is a comeback that Mickey Rourke would stand and applaud.

Like so many other things on Michigan's campus, this team had a transition period of its own. With only one senior and four upper classmen playing regularly, the season started out rough before slowly coming together after the Northwestern series. Freshmen Bree Evans and Amanda Chidester began playing softball well beyond their years. Dorian Shaw started living up to much of the hype the greeted her during her freshman season. The pitching duo of Nemitz and Taylor was unhittable. The foundation for a tournament run was falling into place. The finishing touches came during a sweep of OSU, that helped secure a Big Ten title on their home field.

Our class was at the Big House for "Touchdown MANNINGHAM" against PSU in Football, the NCAA Berth and beating of Duke at Crisler in hoops, and the '09 sweep of MSU at Yost in hockey. But we were also there for Toledo and Appalachian State, Harvard and the entire Amaker era in Basketball, and the Air Force game. We've had our good moments, our bad moments, but never our great moments.

That said, let's root as hard as we can for this softball team one last time. Drink to every Nikki Nemitz strikeout, cheer for every Dorian Shaw home run, and hope that Coach Hutch can keep her team, as she likes to say, "in the moment." The graduates from our 2009 class will always be Michigan fans, but this is the last chance for us to truly call a team "ours."

And as for all the construction projects I mentioned earlier? They were all finished before we left Ann Arbor, the last being the Art Museum opening two weeks before graduation. The University finished it all just in the nick of time.

Hopefully, Michigan Softball can do the same for us.