Libby Working To Earn Her Spot

Freshman Michelle Libby.

Freshman Michelle Libby.

April 23, 2007

Libby Working To Earn Her Spot

by Jim Correale, Sacopee Valley (Me.) Citizen

SACOPEE VALLEY (April 23): Michelle Libby's point of view has changed quite a bit in the past 12 months - literally.

A year ago Libby, in her blue Sacopee Valley High School uniform, would stand at the center of a softball diamond and peer in at her catcher's glove. Opposing hitters, meanwhile, readied themselves for another unsuccessful attempt at hitting the streaking orb that the 5-foot-11 hurler was about to send past them.

Libby compiled a 43-5 record with 639 strikeouts in her four years playing for the Hawks. She was a first-team all-state selection in each of those seasons and helped Sacopee Valley to a pair of Class C state titles. In her last two seasons some considered her the best pitcher in the state.

This year, Libby wears the maroon and white of the University of Massachusetts, and she is no longer the dominant player whose name sent a shiver down the spines of those who had to dig in against her. These days she spends most of each Minutewomen softball game watching the action from inside her team's dugout, but the freshman embraces the challenges, and opportunities, that lie ahead.

"It's fun starting from the bottom, having to work your way back up," Libby said after her team's April 11 win at Boston College. "It's not always fun being on top. There's nowhere else to go."

Libby, the first Hawks' athlete to play for a Division I college program in 18 years, knew that coming to UMass would mean starting at the back of the line. The Minutewomen set school records for offense and pitching last season and were just five outs away from a trip to the College World Series. Many of the key players on that team have returned this year.

"I've had to work really hard. It's a little more intense than high school," said Libby. "There is room for people to step in, so I keep working hard."

Coach Elaine Sortino has few doubts about Libby's role in the team's future.

"Right now there are some players ahead of her," said Sortino, a Hall of Fame coach in her 27th year at UMass. "We have a very young team, a lot of talented kids. Michelle is a great kid, and she's going to make a name for herself in a couple years."

Sortino's squad has compiled a 22-12-1 mark thus far and is riding an 11-game winning streak with 14 contests left in the regular season. From May 9 to 12 the Amherst school will host the Atlantic-10 conference tournament, and after that it's on to the NCAAs.

Libby's only action so far has been a single plate appearance in San Diego back in February.

"I struck out looking. Nice way to start my college career," she said with chuckle.

Staying loose with humor has been a Libby trademark, but when stepping into the batter's box or putting her toe to the pitching rubber, the girl from Porter has been all business. She batted .625 with four homers last year and in her final two high school seasons Libby did not allow a single earned run.

Despite her previous success as a pitcher, Libby is not expected to take the mound for UMass. The team's current hurler, Brandice Balschmiter, is a sophomore who was the Atlantic-10 pitcher of the year last season, while freshman Bailey Sanders is an effective thrower as well.

However, Libby's athleticism - she also played basketball and golf at Sacopee Valley - makes her valuable to the Minutewomen, and she is being groomed as an infielder.

"We've got 13 underclassmen, including seven freshmen," said Sortino. "Michelle is a great team player, and she's played infield before."

There are, of course, other things Libby needs to focus on as well: her studies, for one.

"It's really hard balancing academics and athletics," said the sports management major. "I had more classes in the fall and I have fewer now because of softball. We miss a lot of classes, but the professors work with us to make sure we don't fall behind."

Libby was able to come home for visits a couple of times in the fall, but only once since the softball season began. She has kept in touch with close friend and former catcher Katie Pike, who is at Virginia Tech, and said that the duo is "excited about hanging out in the summer."

But there is a ways to go before summer, including Libby's first trip through the postseason as a member of a Division I softball program. All of the practices, road trips and games will add to her experience level as she works her way up from the back of the pack to a starting spot in the line-up.

"She had a lot to learn, and she's learned it," Sortino said. "I can't tell you how much she's improved as a player, and we're only halfway through her first year."




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