Sarah Michal personifies the confident approach Maple Grove’s softball team is taking into a season of high expectations.
The Crimson went a combined 44-6 the past two seasons, taking third in state in 2013 and finishing second last spring. With Louisiana State recruit Sydney Smith in the pitching circle and returning starters at all but two positions, the Crimson are expected to win it all.
Bring it on.
“Everyone knows the only thing we want this year is to get that championship,” Michal said. “But we have to take it one day and one game at a time. Every day we have to focus on getting better.”
Michal lived those words as a sophomore. She started at third base before struggles at the plate cost her the job. Michal spent the winter working on her game, watched her confidence blossom through hard work, and played a big role for the Crimson a year ago. This spring she will anchor third base and hit fourth or fifth in the lineup.
She spoke with Star Tribune reporter David La Vaque about having great expectations, working out of a slump and taking pride in her defense.
Q: What are the expectations like for this season?
A: I feel like the expectations are pretty high. We have a lot of returning players so a lot is expected out of us. We played on a team together last fall and we’ve been working really hard as a team over the winter. So, hopefully, the chemistry that has been built over that time will continue this season and we can reach our goal of winning.
Q: Have you been able to put last year’s championship game loss to bed? Or does it still nag you?
A: Every time it’s mentioned we get a little upset about it. We just know we have to put it behind us. Each year is a new year and hopefully this is our year.
Q: Pitching is so important in softball and you have one of the best in Sydney Smith. What sort of a lift does she give all of you?
A: It’s so nice because everyone she strikes out is one less play the defense has to make. And when she gets a big out, the whole team gets a lift and gets more excited.
Q: You won the job as a sophomore but then lost it when you went into a slump. You fought back last year and now you’re going to be hitting fourth or fifth. What has that journey been like?
A: I’m not going to lie, it’s been really hard. It was really hard to see another girl take my spot. We went to state that year and she got to play. It was really hard knowing that could have been me. That winter I had to work really hard to get my position back next year. So every week I would hit with my dad and that really helped. I gained more confidence and I feel like I’m a better softball player and a better person having gone through that. I did not have the confidence I do now going up to the plate.
Q: Your coach, Jim Koltes, spoke highly of your defense. Have you always taken pride in that aspect of your game?
A: Yes. I used to play second base and then shortstop. Then the opportunity presented itself to play third base as a sophomore. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better than I was when I started. During the games I don’t really get a lot of balls hit to me because not too many people can turn on Sydney. So when a ball comes my way, I have so much adrenaline and confidence to make the play.
Q: Any plans to play softball at the next level?
A: Not right now. I’m going to attend North Dakota State University and I’m planning on majoring in pharmacy. That’s a really intense program, and I feel like I would not have the time that I know I would need to play college softball.