Scott Combs speaks at UM-Dearborn's all-sports banquet on May 8. He was honored at the banquet as UM-Dearborn's Coach of the Year after leading the softball team to the WHAC championship game. (Rebecca Gallagher/MJ)

By RICKY LINDSAY, Editor-in-Chief

Scott Combs had a message for the University of Michigan-Dearborn softball team before the 2015 season, and it was a simple one.

The Wolverines were going to compete for a championship.

Combs recalled the scene at UM-Dearborn’s all-sports banquet on May 8, noting there were several surprised faces after delivering his message in February.

But the Wolverines did compete for a championship in 2015, and in the process, made UM-Dearborn athletics history.

On May 1, softball became the first program from UM-Dearborn to compete in a WHAC championship game. The Wolverines lost to Davenport, 7-6.

One week later, Combs was honored as UM-Dearborn’s Coach of the Year at the university’s all-sports banquet.

How did Combs get the Wolverines — who were an abysmal 7-36 in 2013 before his arrival — to become a championship contender? Self belief and direction.

“You just have to un-tap what’s inside them, it’s there, but when you convince them to believe, then the human spirit can do it,” Combs said. “They’re great kids, they just need to have direction every day that says, we’re on the right path and we can compete for a championship. They bought into it and I’m glad they had a chance to do it.”

UM-Dearborn had a season to remember in 2015. Besides being one run away from a WHAC title, the Wolverines finished the year 26-25 — the program’s best record in five seasons — and brought home 11 conference awards.

Before 2015, no UM-Dearborn softball player had been honored as WHAC Player of the Week (the award’s archive stretches back to the 2005-2006 season). Now, the Wolverines have two.

Junior Valerie Bertani earned Player of the Week honors after the first week of April, and senior Jessie Thueme won the award after a strong performance in the WHAC tournament.

Thueme was honored at the all-sports banquet with UM-Dearborn’s Female Athlete of the Year award. She hit .386 with 10 home runs and a WHAC-high 52 RBI in 45 games.

Thueme had high praises for Combs, who is much more than UM-Dearborn’s coach. He is the girls softball coach at Ladywood High School and is also the President of Compuware Girls Fastpitch Organization.

“(Combs) puts in so many hours and he’s doing so many things,” Thueme said. “He dedicates so much time to this program…it’s really cool to win so many games this year with him and take this team to the championship with him.”

Athletic director Matt Beaudry was with the softball team throughout the WHAC tournament. The experience left an impression on him; he was still excited about the season at the banquet.

“You could see the excitement and change that’s going through our department right now,” Beaudry said. “That’s a tribute to coach Combs and his staff, as well as those student athletes that set goals and went out and worked very hard to achieve them, and were very close to winning a championship. I feel very confident we’ll be back there, not only in softball, but other sports in the future.”