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Griffin Gives Foes the Shivers at Michigan

May 19, 1995|DANA HADDAD

Oh, to be a college freshman.

The newfound freedom, the discovery of a far different lifestyle at some far-off campus.

But oh, the enormity of newfound responsibility and the discovery that you're alone in a strange place, separated from friends and family.

Sara Griffin, from fair-weathered Simi Valley High, now plays softball at Michigan and knows all about the big adjustment.

On April 8, she was pitching in a doubleheader at Iowa. With a 40-m.p.h. wind blowing at her back, the temperature was 10 degrees.

"I was wearing a head-warmer," she said. "Everything that was hit was blown back to the infield. It was crazy. We lost three out of four.

"The weather is crazy here. One day it's very hot, and the next day you're freezing your butt off."

But it is Griffin who has taken the Midwest by storm.

She has been named All-Big Ten Conference and freshman of the year. The accolades didn't stop there.

As the conference-champion Wolverines (47-10) were preparing to host one of eight NCAA regional tournaments, which start today, coaches made Griffin the unanimous choice for Big Ten most valuable player.

"I'm honored," said Griffin, who leads Michigan with a .429 batting average and six home runs.

"I really didn't think that much ahead," she said. "I just concentrated on playing my best and trying to help the team. I had a lot of goals that I wanted to achieve, and it really came together."

Talk about a smooth transition from high school.

Griffin has 15 doubles and 47 runs batted in and leads Michigan in four other categories: hits (81), triples (three), slugging percentage (.635) and on-base percentage (.474).

Add an 18-6 record, six shutouts and a 1.35 earned-run average, and Griffin is a slam-dunk choice for MVP.

She has had to learn to pitch with a livelier ball and three extra feet from the college mound to the plate.

"The distance took a while to get used to," said Griffin, who has allowed only three home runs in 171 2/3 innings. "You can make the ball break more. But if you flatten it out, they'll take you deep."

Hotly recruited a year ago, Griffin considered scholarship offers from UCLA, defending national champion Arizona, Washington and Stanford. She said she couldn't resist the atmosphere and tradition in Ann Arbor.

"Coming out of California, I didn't give the Big Ten as much credit, but I do now," she said. "It's a tough conference. It's just as competitive as the Pac-10, I think.

"And on just about every team we've played, I recognize one or two players from travel ball in Southern California."

Few were likely as focused as Griffin.

"I'm a very intense player," she said. "If I want something, I'll do everything I can to get it."

Griffin said she is not worried that she might be setting unrealistic expectations for the next three seasons. "We just take it one day at a time," she said.

Not to be overlooked is the choice Griffin made about where to live. Last fall, she decided to move into an off-campus site she calls the "Jockette House."

It is a six-bedroom, three-bathroom, two-kitchen facility that houses seven female athletes, six of whom are freshman. Griffin said the "Jockette House" has provided a built-in support system that kept her on track throughout the year.

"It's a lot of fun," she said. "We're like a family, and they're all really positive. Not a lot of people can relate to athletes. There's just a lot of stress and there's so much responsibility when you're a student."

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