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April 11, 2006 - Image 11

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The Michigan Daily, 2006-04-11

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A ilTuesday
April 11, 2006
sports. michigandaily. com
sports@michigandaily.com

E RTtSgaIlu

11

S 0

Bass spring
injury blow

'M'

won't repeat

without a leader
NATE SANDALS
ON SOFTBALL

to

Varsity

By Scott Bell
Daily Sports Editor
The fear that Michigan coach Lloyd Carr pre-
liminarily instilled in fans last month has offi-
cially become a reality.
Wide receiver Antonio Bass, who was looking
to get snaps at quarterback this spring, has under-
gone knee surgery and will be out indefinitely.
Earlier in March, the freshman injured his
knee in a preseason conditioning drill. At a media
briefing on March 16, prior to the start of spring
practice, Carr said Bass's status
was uncertain.
But on March 31, Bass under-
went surgery on his knee. Carr
said that extreme swelling in
Bass's knee delayed the sur-
gery.
"I can't speculate when he
will return," Carr said. "He has a tremendous
attitude, but certainly, it's going to be significant
time to rehab that injury."
Carr called the injury "significant" but did
not rule out the possibility of a comeback after
extensive rehabilitation.
"I've seen guys do things that I never thought
they could do," Carr said. "So I don't rule him
out, but he's got a lot of work in front of him."
ON THE RISE: Carr stated that many of next sea-
son's starting positions remain open for competi-
tion. Although the NCAA restricts the amount
of spring practices a team can hold, Carr did say
certain people are making a great impression.
At the end of the year, the cornerback spot across
from junior Leon Hall looked like it would be occupied
by freshman Morgan Trent, who sow significant time
at corner as the 2005 season progressed. But freshman
Johnny Sears and sophomore Charles Stewart will chal-
lenge for the spot.
Carr said the position competition is crucial to
keep players motivated.
"What you're looking for is competition and
finding out how important this game is to a guy,"
Carr said. "(Trent) went into the spring as No.
1. Sears and Stewart have really come on, so
(Trent)'s like a lot of guys - he has to step up."
D-cLINE?: Not all areas of the team were getting
rave reviews. Carr displayed some frustration
with how some of the linebackers have looked
in practice but stressed that he doesn't think it
should be a major concern for fans.
"I'm a little disappointed at certain places in
there," said Carr of the linebacker corps. "But
I expect before we're done that that will be a

Sunday, the Michigan softball team
walked off Alumni Field looking frus-
trated after a far less talented Purdue
squad snapped the Wolverines' 12-game
win streak.
Michigan coach Carol Hutchins attrib-
uted the 5-4 loss to a scarcity of nerve and
concentration.
"We lacked focus in the second game,"
Hutchins said. "We weren't nearly as
aggressive. But then we got stupid aggres-
sive by swinging at balls that weren't what
we should be swinging at. That's called a
lack of poise."
But the defeat was a long time coming
for a team that still struggles to find the
source of poise and focus: leadership.
Last year, Michigan won its first
national championship.
Yes, Jennie Ritter was lights out, pitch-
ing all 13 NCAA Tournament games.
Yes, Becky Marx and Samantha Findlay
came through with clutch home runs. But
the driving force behind that champion-
ship was senior shortstop Jessica Mer-
chant, a co-captain and the obvious team
leader.
Merchant was a four-year letterwinner.
In her final season, she did everything
expected of an experienced player ready
and willing to take her team to the top.
As the shortstop, Merchant was, by
definition, the leader in the field. But she
also led the team in batting average and
runs scored and tied for the team lead in
home runs (21).
Not only has Merchant's departure left
a noticeable void in the lineup, but it has
also left one in the dugout.
When last year's team was down late
in a game - as it was Sunday against
Purdue - Merchant was the player who
could be counted on to lead a come-
back, if not by example, then through
motivation. In short, she had poise and
focus and fostered those qualities in
her teammates.
Merchant is still with the team as a vol-
unteer assistant coach, but she can't con-
tinue to be the team leader. She is on the
other side of the line between player and
coach. Her advice and motivation is no
longer that of a peer, but rather the words
of an advisor.
This year, that player, the one neces-
sary to Michigan's hopes of repeating

as national champions, has yet to step
up. With that leadership void unfulfilled,
the Wolverines have struggled down the
stretch in some close games this season.
There was the nationally televised,
10-inning loss to UCLA. Michigan took
the lead in the top of the seventh on a
Findlay home run. But after UCLA tied
the game with a bomb of its own, the
Wolverines played the next three innings
like the game was already over.
There was the loss to Utah later that
week - ateamMichigan should've beaten,
but didn't have the motivation to compete
against following a series of exhausting
games against ranked opponents.
Without a leader, it was only a matter
of time until a similar letdown occurred.
This year's Wolverines didn't choose
captains for the first time since 2002, so
there's no player mandated to provide
leadership. But a number of players could
fill that role.
There are three seniors who have
played since they were freshman: second
baseman Tiffany Haas, third baseman
Grace Leutele and Ritter.
But none of them have filled Mer-
chant's role thus far - for various known
and unknown reasons.
Ritter is not an ideal fit because she is
a pitcher, doesn't play every game and
doesn't hit. She can pitch a no-hitter or a
perfect game, but she can't lead the entire
team by example.
Leutele is another option. She's started
at third base since her freshman year. The
Sierra Vista, Ariz., native is second on
Michigan's all-time home run list. Leu-
tele has cat like reflexes in the field and
plays hard everyday. But she's hitting just
.267 this season, which isn't good enough
to lead by example in the batter's box.
That leaves Haas, an everyday player
since her freshman year. Without an error
on the season, she is certainly a defensive
stalwart. Haas is hitting .304, well above
the team average. She has all the tools to
be the team's leader, but she's not.
Without a leader, Michigan can't
expect to reach the level it did last year.
Early in the season, Hutchins told her
players it was up to them to figure it out
and step up.
No one has done it, but somebody
has to.

FILE PHOTO
Knee surgery has put freshman Antonio Bass's status for next season in doubt. The freshman's injury is the
squad's lone serious injury, According Michigan coach Lloyd Carr.

strength of the team."
One spot that may not be open for competition
for long could belong to junior Shawn Crable.
"Shawn Crable has had a terrific spring," Carr
said. "If he continues, there's no way that Crable
will not be on the field, because he has really
turned it up. The rest (of the spots) are up for
grabs."
INJURY UPDATES: A handful of other Wolverines

have suffered injuries during spring practice but
none have been as severe as Bass's.
Freshman Mario Manningham sprained his
knee, and sophomore John Thompson injured his
arm. Sophomore Doug Dutch, freshman Chris
McLaurin and senior Rueben Riley all also have
battled various injuries.
Carr said all five should be OK and that most
of the injuries are minor.

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