Transcript from Double Play Tuesday chat sessions with Michigan head coach Carol Hutchins and Oregon State head coach Kirk Walker.
MICHIGAN HEAD COACH CAROL HUTCHINS
Coach Hutchins: Hi, everyone. It is great to be here. I'm looking forward to answering your questions.
Billy, San Diego: Have you seen an increase in the fanbase of Womens college softball over the past year? Do you think the sport is attracting younger fans?
Coach Hutchins: The most important thing is that the game is attracting more fans. At Michigan, we have averaged over 1500 per day each of the last two weekends. Our home opener on April 1, in not nice weather, we drew 1400. And the amount of interest that I receive through e-mail and other mail has improved dramatically, as well, and it is keeping me much busier. The games are now on ESPN, which certainly helps create more fan base interest. However, I'm also convinced that the media dictates the interest.
Robocoach (Irvine): I've heard people say the new regional/super regional format will require depth in pitching. If that's the case, then Michigan will definitely be rewarded, but I'm really trying to figure out how this format is any different than years gone by. If a team stays in the winner's bracket, does the lack of depth come into effect?
Coach Hutchins: The winner's bracket is a reward and dictates one game a day, so your pitching depth won't be as much of a factor. Without playing in it, I have yet to have an opinion of it, other than it is now two weekends of getting your team up and ready to play. You used to need one great weekend, now you need two.
Robocoach (Irvine): Coach, you've been in the Big Ten for a few years now. Who's the best player you've ever coached and the best Big Ten Player you've ever had to face.
Coach Hutchins: In 21 years, I've had enough great players that I could never slight anybody by picking just one. And that goes for the great players we have faced, too.
Tom (Ann Arbor): I have noticed that the team's at bats are much better this year compared to previous years. What are some things you have done differently to capitalize on the sucessful at bats, particularly the number of home runs.
Coach Hutchins: I believe, without scientific data, that the vision training that we did, which was similar to the U.S. Olympic Teams, has had a tremendous effect on our ability to see the ball, as well as strike the ball better.
Ira Levine: I was at the Kia Klassic Tournament (Fullerton March 2005) and among the stunned to witness you beat Texas and then Arizona in back to back victories to claim the championship. Was this a turning point in your season?
Coach Hutchins: I didn't feel that it was a turning point. We were playing good ball all along. It may have been a realization to the players in the program that we could legitimately compete with the best teams in the country. It gave us a shot confidence that we have used to build on this season.
Mike: Comment on how the rest of the country has caught up to the quality of softball players coming from California.
Coach Hutchins: National recruiting used to mean largely the state of California. Now it is every state in the country. I believe that the exposure - the Olympics from 1996 on and national television coverage of college games - have given young women dreams and aspirations of becoming college softball players.
Jack (Irvine): Is this the best Michigan team you've ever had?
Coach Hutchins: We've had several teams that I felt could compete for the National Championship. This is definitely one of them.
Megan (Atlanta): With the new Title IX amendment, do you believe that softball, and women's sports in general will suffer?
Coach Hutchins: I certainly hope not. However, the reason you have speed limit signs are not because most people will go 50 miles per hour in a 25. You have the law so that everyone goes 25.
CJ, Dexter Michigan: Hi Hutch Are you doing anything different this week in your team's preparation for the Big Ten Tourney?
Coach Hutchins: We won't do anything different in our preparation the rest of this season, other than work harder on us limiting the inevitable distractions.
Lucy, Ann Arbor, Michigan: Would you agree that the Big Ten Conference has really caught up with the Pac 10?
Coach Hutchins: I believe college softball in general has a flair of parity in every conference now. It is no longer just the Pac-10. You can look at the SEC and, especially this year, the Big 12. The Big Ten has had national representation annually.
Mike: How can I get my kids to hit a curve or screw ball when they do not see but 1 to 2 times a season?
Coach Hutchins: You want your hitters to learn to keep their bat on the hitting plane as long as possible, so they can hit any pitch.
Bob (LA): How hard is it in you, the coaching staff, and the team being number one?
Coach Hutchins: It could easily be a distraction, but our kids truly understand that the only Number 1 ranking is the one that will occur on June 9.
Narniaman (Silver City): Realistically, how many teams are there that you think have a chance of winning the WCWS?
Coach Hutchins: I think there are twenty teams capable of winning the College World Series, but I'm not going to name any of them right now.
CollegeSports.com/NFCA Moderator: That is all the time we have with Coach Hutchins.
Coach Hutchins: Thanks for all the great questions. I had a lot of fun.
OREGON STATE HEAD COACH KIRK WALKER
Coach Walker: It is great to be here to talk softball. I'm ready to get started.
Kenny (Port Washington): Have you ever experienced anything on the field as fun as the long winning streak you had earlier this season?
Coach Walker: I think that has been a highlight of my coaching career. It was probably more stressful than some of the other highlights because of the length of it, however. Other highlights would be having won National Titles or coming from behind to win big games. This was over a five week period of time, so it was a lot of fun, but also stressful that it could end at any time.
corvallis: Coach, what is the chance that you guys will have a regional game in corvallis? Good luck the rest of the season.
Coach Walker: Obviously, we are hopeful that we will be a number one seed. Number one seeds are generally awarded regional sites. Unfortunately, geographically we are not in a location convenient to many other teams, which is an NCAA criteria. So we really don't know yet.
Joann (So. Lake Tahoe): Kirk, what a great year you and your team are having, congrats. Are you looking forward to the new format?
Coach Walker: I definitely think the new format is beneficial for our sport. Not having to play an eight team regional is certianly more benficial to all the student-athletes. I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out.
BEAVERTOWN: FIRST OF ALL "CONGRATULATIONS" COACH TO YOU AND THE TEAM ON SUCH AN EXCITING SEASON THAT I KNOW IS STILL IN PROGRESS. MY QUESTION TO YOU IS WITH THIS YEARS NEW POST SEASON FORMAT (REGIONALS/SUPER REGIONALS)...I ASSUME THIS WOULD MEAN MORE GAMES BEING PLAYED JUST TO QUALIFY TO PLAY IN THE COLLEGE WORLD SERIES? IF SO, IT SORT OF SEEMS LIKE IT'S A DISADVANTAGE TO THOSE TEAMS THAT HAVE THAT ONE DOMINANT PITCHER THAT THE TEAM HAS BEEN RIDING ON THEIR SHOULDERS MOST OF THE SEASON. AND IF SO,HOW CONCERNED ARE YOU WITH KNOWING THIS AND HOW DO YOU PLAN TO COUNTER IT GOING INTO POST SEASON PLAY?
Coach Walker: Actually, it is only one more game and is now spread out over two weekends instead of one, which is more of a benefit than a detriment to a team that has just one pitcher. Where a single pitcher may come to be difficult is in the Finals, when you play three games in a row against the same team for the Championship.
John Marvel (Georgetown, Delaware): Coach, what key do you give your base runners to look for in order to get a good jump?
Coach Walker: We actually utilize a delayed lead and teach our players to react to the ball off the bat. We focus on taking our lead after the ball has already been released, so that, on contact with the ball, our runners will either stop if it is popped up or missed, or they will continue without stopping if the ball is put in play.
Devin, Fresno: I was lucky to see OSU play in last year's Clovis Auto Row Classic in Fresno. It was a showdown between Mcgowen and Southern. What teams outside of the Major conference do you think will have a great chance of making it to the college world series?
Coach Walker: I think there is a tremendous amount of parity in the Top 20, from the traditional big conference programs to many smaller conference and independent schools. Teams that will make it to the College World Series will need to play well and have some good fortune along the way.
Portland: What's different about this year's team as compared to last year's team.
Coach Walker: I think the biggest difference is that our returning players have had a stronger commitment to their goals after getting so close last year. Combine that with some great young athletes that are committed to the team.
Bob (San Diego): Looking at your record, you have surprised many Pac-10 fans, including myself. But looking at the beginning of the season, you lost some games that probably shouldn't have been lost. Can you tell us what the turning point in the year was for your squad?
Coach Walker: Looking back, the Palm Springs Tournament, which actually started our winning streak, was an emotional and psychological turning point. We had two dramatic come from behind wins that set the bar for the rest of the season.
Willie (NY): I understand softball is different than baseball but why doesn't softball use the concept of relief pitcher?
Coach Walker: We do utilize a relief pitcher. The difference is a baseball pitcher is putting more of a physical stress on their shoulder and will, in turn, fatigue much sooner than a softball pitcher. So, relievers are more common and more valuable in the sport of baseball. Lastly, baseball plays nine innings, which requires a larger pitching staff versus softball, which is only seven innings.
Darlene (Los Angeles): Who are some of the pitchers/teams you don't want to see in your bracket come Selection Sunday?
Coach Walker: I really don't want to see anyone that is hot and on a winning streak. Other than that, there are many great teams and pitchers out there.
Kelly, San Diego: Coach, who has been your toughest opponent this year and why?
Coach Walker: I would say Stanford. I think they have a great hitting team. They have played very well against us. But all of the Pac-10 games have been very, very intense.
Patti (Sacramento, Ca): Coach, that streak had to also be stressful on the girls as well as exhausting. Are there any measures being taken to help them relax and stay sharp for the big finale?
Coach Walker: Our team is in a very good place and, since the streak has ended, has focused on enjoying the game and playing them one at a time. I think that is why we have continued to win many big ballgames after the winning streak.
Mike (Huntsville, AL): What do you tell your batters when they seem to be hitting it right to somebody?
Coach Walker: Our goal is to focus on our athletes hitting the ball solid and having a good at bat. Obviously, we hope to minimize the negative emotions when they hit it right at somebody.
Corvallis: What do you see as the keys for this team to advance to the finals? Is pitching depth a concern or not?
Coach Walker: I think what it will take is for our team to play confidently and to keep trusting each other. Pitching is always a concern, but I feel very good about our staff, even though we have relied primarily on one pitcher most of the year. Ta'Tyana and Amy are in a good place and are prepared to contribute in the circle.
CollegeSports.com/NFCA Moderator: Unfortunately, we are out of time with Coach Walker.
Coach Walker: I had a great time taking your questions. Thanks for having me.
CollegeSports.com/NFCA Moderator: That wraps up the premiere of Double Play Tuesdays. Join us again next week at 1:00 Eastern for two more softball chats. Keep checking NFCA.org and CSTV.com to find out who our guests will be. See you then.