With the Michigan softball team ready to face Oklahoma in the first round of the 2013 Women’s College World Series, let’s start to take a look back at the history of the Michigan program and how it got to where it is now.
Prior to the early 1970s, there was not much in the way of varsity level sports for women at most colleges and universities. Women played sports, but the funding and support was nowhere near what male intercollegiate athletes had long been used to. The passage of a United States federal law known as Title Nine in 1972 provided a way to begin to change this unfortunate state of affairs. The law mandated that schools receiving federal funding must provide equal opportunities to students regardless of gender. Advocates of women’s and girl’s athletics made use of this law, and soon thereafter, many new sports teams were established for women and girls at schools from elementary through university level.
The first six varsity women’s teams at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor began play in the 1974-75 academic year, and included tennis, basketball, swimming and diving, synchronized swimming, volleyball, and field hockey. Several years later in 1978, a softball team was added.
Gloria Soluk, a veteran Detroit area coach, was brought in to lead not only the Michigan softball team but also to take over coaching the already established women’s basketball program.
Season one began on April 8, 1978 with a 7-2 win over Northwestern. Two more wins over Chicago State and Grand Valley State followed and Michigan was off to a 3-0 start. The team’s first setback was a painful one as arch rival Michigan State edged the Wolverines 2-1 in extra innings. Michigan recovered with a five game winning streak, then dropped three in a row before closing the season with four wins in the last six games. They finished the season with a 12-6 record and looked forward to better things to come.
The 1979 team won eight of their first nine games, one of which was a 5-4 extra inning win against That School From Columbus, also known as The Ohio State Buckeyes. Central Michigan handed the Wolverines a pair of defeats, but Michigan then went on a seven game winning streak that included a 23-0 routing of Calvin College and payback against the MSU Spartans in the form of a 2-1 Michigan win. Michigan’s second softball campaign ended with another winning record, 21 wins and eight losses.
Michigan’s third season of varsity softball began with the Wolverines and Spartans of Michigan State splitting a doubleheader. Michigan won their next six, lost three in a row, then won nine of their last 16 contests including two wins over Ohio State. The 1980 team’s final mark of 16-11 made the program a perfect three for three in winning seasons.
Gloria Soluk, having built a solid foundation for the program, stepped down as coach and was replaced by Bob DeCarolis. He would lead the team into a new decade, which will be recapped in the next article in this series on the history of women’s softball at The University of Michigan.