ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- They rolled along on the bus that day in early March, yet another day as part of an elongated road trip that has become tradition for Michigan softball.
This ride through Orlando, Fla., though, was different. Senior infielder Amanda Chidester had concerns. A two-time captain of the Wolverines, she used the time on the bus to call a players-only meeting where she implored her team to come together.
It was early in the season still, three weeks away from a Big Ten conference game, but Michigan was coming off a 3-3 stretch and things needed to be adjusted. She called the meeting to have the young team she was surrounded by understand they needed to believe in each other as much as themselves. And they needed to have fun.
It was something the captain needed to hear as much for herself as for her teammates.
“It was kind of realizing we’re a team and need to encourage each other as a team and take ownership of what role we have,” Chidester said. “Whether it be my role today is to play first base or my role tomorrow is to play third base. Whatever day it is and whatever role I have, I need to embrace that role.
“In the beginning it was so competitive at so many different spots that everyone, we didn’t know where to fit or where to be. When we had that talk I said we have to adapt to whoever we are in that moment and just go with it.”
For the first three years of her career, Chidester had been surrounded by strong leadership on the field and powerful bats in the lineup. Now it was her turn along with fellow seniors Bree Evans and Stephanie Kirkpatrick. And it was something all three needed to get used to.
With Michigan softball, the rhythm of the season has often gone the same way -- through its senior class. If the senior class showed consistency and belief, teams would often act the same way.
“The team goes as the senior class goes and our senior class was having a very poor year up until about the last weekend,” Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins said. “They are starting to pick things up and starting to play as a team, the team was starting to come together and have trust, but they weren’t giving us confidence, weren’t giving us trust, and our record reflected that.
“We’ve been a lot better this past week.”
Much of that comes from Chidester. Of the three seniors, she is the vocal one. Part of her adjustment, she explained, was realizing her demeanor on a daily basis affected how the team practiced and played. If she wasn’t outwardly confident and positive, it showed.
So she worked on it.
She also started to analyze what was going wrong in her game. Hutchins asked her to try and walk more often -- something which would be critical once Big Ten play started, as Chidester was no longer shielded by the big bat of former first baseman Dorian Shaw
It took a little while, but Chidester started to grasp it. This season, she has walked 11 times -- with five coming in three Big Ten games. This season, she is hitting .301 with six home runs and 29 RBI -- a number that has been climbing over the past few weeks.
“It came in spurts,” Chidester said. “I had spurts of realization in some games and then it would go away and then I’d get it back. It was constantly doing different things to realize ‘OK, this is how it needs to be.’ ”
The change came against Eastern Michigan on March 21 and since then, the Wolverines have played well. While playing competition that isn’t as strong as their preseason schedule, they have won five straight games entering this weekend’s series at Indiana -- scoring more than 10 runs in four of those games.
Much of that change has to do with Chidester -- and the rest of the seniors -- gaining control of themselves and believing again. This went all the way back to the beginning of March, when the Wolverines needed to adjust their course on a bus ride to keep rolling themselves along.
“We wanted to clear all the energy,” sophomore outfielder Nicole Sappingfield said. “And start fresh.”
Since then, the Wolverines have started to rediscover what they have been able to do so often under Hutchins' 28-year tenure at Michigan: Win.