Val Bertani readies for the pitch during UM-Dearborn's doubleheader with Aquinas on April 12, 2015. (File photo/MJ)

By JACK VANASSACHE, Staff Reporter

Val Bertani readies for the pitch during UM-Dearborn's doubleheader with Aquinas on April 12, 2015. (Rebecca Gallagher/MJ)
Val Bertani readies for the pitch during UM-Dearborn’s doubleheader with Aquinas on April 12, 2015. (Rebecca Gallagher/MJ)

Experience with success had not been something the University of Michigan-Dearborn softball team was familiar with in previous seasons.

Now, following a historic 2015 season, the Wolverines are poised to take the next step toward a conference championship.

Coming off of a very successful year in 2015 in which they reached the conference championship game for the first time in school history, the Wolverines are still eager to improve.

Sophomore Jordan Ewald talked about the effect the championship game loss had on her team going forward.

“Of course we had the taste of losing but we really left with a sense of confidence and a new sense of fire within us. It kind of gave us the idea that yes we can and will do this and we’re ready to start right now.”

While last season’s 26-25 overall record was a huge improvement from previous years, the team will not find themselves complacent.

The Wolverines finished fourth in the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference in 2015 going 11-7 in conference play. Against the three teams in front of them in the standings, the Wolverines were a mere 2-6.

Senior Nicole Payne said improving against the top of the conference is “absolutely” a goal for the Wolverines heading into the new season.

But the room for improvement is endless in her eyes.

“Our goal is constant improvement – not only season to season, but also game to game,” said Payne. “We know what our team is capable of and the talent that we have.”

This year, the Wolverines travel down to Arizona rather than Florida to play 24 games over an eight-day period at the Tucson Invitational.

Such a tiring schedule will surely require a full team effort. Luckily, the Wolverines have promising underclassmen to go along with their senior-studded lineup.

Along with the nine freshmen on the team are sophomores coming off of breakout debut seasons.

Ewald, who was second on the team in runs batted in, could be a force at the plate. Sophomore pitcher Gina Verduzco and her fellow sophomore and battery-mate Ellie Kauten could be keys to success for the Wolverines in 2016.

The underclassmen will have a great chance to learn and develop under seven seniors on the team.

Nicole Payne described the luxury of having so many seniors.

“Having seniors, and I’m actually one of them, gives us a lot of leadership. Our job as seniors is to set the standard and examples for the underclassmen. Not only that, but being seniors gives us an extra drive to win and make the most of this season so we can go out on top. That type of drive and determination is contagious.”

Leading the seniors will be head coach Scott Combs, entering his third year at the helm. Following his team’s success in 2015, Combs was awarded UM-Dearborn Coach of the Year honors.

With the talent that UM-Dearborn has on their diamond and in their dugout, the Wolverines could be wildly successful if they execute.

If the Wolverines play as they have shown they are capable of, they will be one of the teams to be reckoned with in 2016.