The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, April 16, 2002 -15A
Michigan poised for WCWS run
By Kyle O'Neill
Daily Sports Writer
One never wants to stare too far
down the road, but when looking at
the Michigan softball team, it is tough
not to follow that course.
As the No. 12 team in the nation,
the Wolverines (8-2 Big Ten, 32-8
overall) are primed to make another
run at the Women's College World
Last season they were Big Ten regu-
lar season champions, runners-up at
the Big Ten Tournament, regional
champions and a No. 4 seed at the
WCWS before losing to No. 5 Okla-
homa and No. 6 California.
Michigan then went on to lose out-
fielder Melissa Taylor (second team
All-American, .455 batting average),
pitcher Marie Barda (0.88 ERA, 20-8)
and shortstop Rebecca Tune (.323 bat-
ting average, 15 doubles) to gradua-
The Big Ten also became deeper -
only Indiana and Michigan State have
sub-.500 records this season.
So why are the Wolverines looking
like they picked up right where they
left off last season?
Some answers may be the success
of their freshmen, their ability to
rebound from a poor outing and their
The freshmen duo of Nicole Motyc-
ka and Jessica Merchant came in to
fill the roles of last season's seniors,
Barda and Tune. And thus far, no one
has been disappointed, as the fresh-
men continue to come up clutch at the
. After a rough outing Saturday
against Minnesota, in which she gave
up three runs in two innings pitched,
Motycka returned to form on Sunday
with a complete game shutout against
Wisconsin. The Badgers had beaten
Michigan in the first game of the dou-
bleheader, but Motycka shook the
struggles and the pressure off with a
"I'd say she lightened-up a little bit
(Sunday)." Michigan coach Carol
Hutchins said. "I think she was better
(Sunday), and once the whole team
got something going, we got our old
sense of humor back."
Merchant was just 2-for-8 during
the Wolverines doubleheader at Cen-
tral Michigan last week, but it didn't
take long for her to find her find her
stroke against Minnesota. She blasted
her second home run of the season in
the first inning of the weekend's first
game. Merchant went on to knock in
four runs on the day and help the
Wolverines to a 11-1 win. A lot can be
said for Merchant's glove as well. She
has just six errors at the shortstop
position this year.
"It's amazing to be able to come and
step in as a freshman, and it is a dream
come true to put on the maize and
blue and go out there and play every
game," Merchant said. "We're playing
solid defense all the way around, all
nine spots on the field are playing
great 'D.' (The pitching staff) is doing
outstanding on the mound, so when
they do hit the ball we get excited."
Merchant and Motycka aren't the
only two to have rebounded, as the
Wolverines have bounced back numer-
ous times from a bad inning or a bad
In the first weekend of the Big Ten
season (March 30-31), Michigan
recovered from a 1-0 loss to Penn
State with a 3-0 shutout victory. The
following day, the Wolverines faced
No. 25 Ohio State - a team that
Hutchins called the best in the confer-
ence. And for the first six-and-a-half
innings Hutchins statement appeared
to be correct as the Buckeyes took a 4-
3 lead into the final inning thanks to
two homers. While Ohio State had the
bigger offensive weapons, Michigan
won by playing fundamentally sound.
An Ohio State error tied the game, and
a bases-loaded walk won it for the
But even after a big win, like the 5-
3 comeback against Minnesota on Sat-
urday, Michigan has always
maintained its focus. As a result, the
Wolverines haven't lost two straight
games since the middle of February.
'"We were too high emotionally
(after Saturday), and we were hun-
gover (Sunday) - we had an emotion-
al hangover," Hutchins said. "It's a lot
of energy spent everyday, but I
thought we calmed back into it. And
on not our best day, we pulled out a
win against a good team (in Wiscon-
Finding a way to win when it does-
n't seem possible has been this team's
driving force, as each game a new
hero has stepped to the plate or the
mound. Whether it's ace Marissa
Young pitching a perfect game or Lisa
Mack and Melinda Moulden getting
grand slams on the same day from the
bottom half of the lineup, this team
has proven that it knows how to win.
With half of the Big Ten schedule
remaining - including series against
No. 20 Iowa and Northwestern, which
is fourth in the Big Ten - there are
still plenty of questions to be
But so far, the Wolverines have
swept the Big Ten's best offensive
team (Ohio State) and the conference's
best pitching team (Minnesota). So it's
not illogical to think that they can top-
ple the powerful Hawkeyes and the
upstart Wildcats to finish atop the Big
"When you're playing Northwestern
and Iowa (in one weekend) you better
not forget about Northwestern - and
we won't," Hutchins said.
Pitcher Marissa Young has been overpowering on the mound, tallying a whopping
220 strikeouts and leading the Wolverines with 18 victories.
Michigan may not have the most powerful lineup in the Big Ten, but the Wolverines
have found a way to win games, posting an impressive 32-8 record.
* Kenyans rule in the
2002 Boston Marathon
The Low down: Rangers axe coach
BOSTON (AP) - Kenya reclaimed
the Boston Marathon on Monday,
sweeping the first four men's spots and
the top two for the women.
Rodgers Rop held off Christopher
Cheboiboch by three seconds to win in
2 hours, 9 minutes, 2 seconds. Mar-
garet Okayo won the women's race in a
course record 2:20:43, pulling away
from two-time defending champion
and world record-holder Catherine
Ndereba in the final mile.
"I just feel proud when I hear that
national anthem being played," Ndere-
ba said after she embraced Okayo.
"And if it was not for me, it's for Mar-
Kenyans had won the men's race for
a decade before Lee Bong-ju of South
Korea ended the streak last year. But
the Kenyans were back in force, taking
six of the top seven spots and nine of
the top 13.
"The Kenyans are very happy. Last
year, I was not happy," Rop said.
"Before running, I said, 'We have to
reclaim our title.' It's become a tradi-
tion in Kenya to win Boston, so I had
to try my level best to win."
Fred Kiprop outsprinted Mbarak
Hussein, the brother of three-time
Boston champion Ibrahim Hussein, to
finish third, 43 seconds behind the
winner. Lee, the defending champion,
was the top non-Kenyan again, but he
was fifth after falling out of the lead
pack by the 19-mile mark.
Keith Dowling, of Reston, Va., fin-
ished 15th and was the top American.
Ndereba was running in her first
marathon since setting the women's
world record of 2:18:47 last year in
Chicago. She lost a sprint with Okayo
in the final mile and finished 29 sec-
"My goal was to break the course
record," Ndereba said. "And I did it."
Ethiopia's Elfenesh Alemu was third,
5:18 behind Okayo. Jill Gaitenby, of
Northampton, Mass., was the top U.S.
woman for the second consecutive
year, finishing 13th.
South Africa's Ernst Van Dyk won
the wheelchair race by almost three
minutes in 1:23:19. Edith Hunkeler of
Switzerland won the women's wheel-
chair race in 1:45:57.
A lead pack of more than 20 men
ran together through the midway point
before stragglers fell off the pace. The
two Kenyans were in the lead alone by
the 22-mile mark, and Rop slowly
pulled away before Cheboiboch made
a desperate sprint down Boylston
Street, unable to close the gap.
The winners on the hilly Boston
course were almost 31/2 minutes
behind the world record of 2:05:38 set
on a flatter and faster London course
Sunday by Khalid Khannouchi.
A forecast of 80-degree weather did
not materialize, as the temperatures
were 53 degrees at the start, 54 at the
midpoint and 56 at the finish. But a
low ceiling of clouds grounded heli-
copters and kept the first 45 minutes of
the men's race and almost all of the
women's race off television.
The annual Patriots Day race - the
first since the Sept. 11 attacks - had
an American flair, with nearly 17,000
NEW YORK (AP) - The New York Rangers' NHL-high
payroll no longer includes coach Ron Low.
The Rangers fired Low yesterday after two losing seasons
and zero postseason appearances despite base salaries total-
ing about $70 million in 2001-02.
The team went 36-38-4-3 this season and finished 1lth in
the Eastern Conference. It was the fifth straight year New
York failed to make the playoffs.
"I don't think it's just the coach's responsibility in a situa-
tion like this. We all share equally in this," Rangers presi-
dent and general manager Glen Sather said. "But in every
situation, someone ends up taking the blame and it's gener-
ally the coach. It's unfortunate, but it's the way it has to be."
Sather would not say what, specifically, Low did wrong.
Sather is holding a position in the organization for Low in
case he's not hired by another team before next season.
The Rangers led the conference standings in early Decem-
ber and were atop the Atlantic Division as late as Jan. 5. But
the team went 3-11-1 from Dec. 31-Feb. 6, sinking its season.
The roster featured seven players who were at the Salt
Lake City Olympics, including stars such as goaltender
Mike Richter, defenseman Brian Leetch and forward Eric
Sather added high-scoring forward Pavel Bure at the trad-
ing deadline, but the Rangers still fell short of the playoffs
despite his late flurry of goals.
Low's record in New York was 69-81-9-4. He missed one
game this season to attend the funeral of his brother, who
died of cancer.
In seven NHL seasons, including five with the Edmonton
Oilers, Low is 208-243-49-4.
"We had to do something," Sather said. "We wanted to go
into next year with a fresh start and fresh ideas. That's what
Jeri DeBard from Royal Oak slaps hands
with onlookers during the Boston
runners serenaded by national songs
before crossing a red, white and blue
starting line for the 26.2-mile run to
Boston's Back Bay. A fighter jet fly-
over was canceled because of the
At the finish, four 45-by-90-foot
U.S. flags were unfurled on Boylston