Swinging for the fences: How the Findlay sisters created their own identities at U. Michigan

By Casandra Pagni

Michigan Daily, U. Michigan via UWIRE

Being the younger sibling is never easy — especially when your older sibling thrives on setting the bar high.

Now imagine how difficult it would be if your older sister had smacked the game-winning three-run home run in the 2005 Women’s College World Series, bringing Michigan softball its first national championship in the program’s history.

While Samantha Findlay will always have that title-winning at bat associated with her name, her younger sister, senior Angela Findlay has met the challenge and wasted no time in making a name of her own in the Michigan program.

Angela admits that having her older sister Samantha already playing at Michigan “helped (her) out” once she arrived, but make no mistake about it — Angela paved her own path to Ann Arbor.

The path she chose began with a minor detour, as Angela was an infielder in high school but was recruited to play in the outfield at the college level. While she called the transition from second base to right field a “difficult adjustment,” it is a position she has played with pride for four years.

Angela’s ability to adapt to any situation is just one of the reasons why she was named Michigan’s captain for both her junior and senior seasons. But leadership was something her older sister Samantha had already taught her a thing or two about.

Samantha served as captain of the Wolverines during her senior season, when Angela was a sophomore. While both Findlay sisters have tallied time as leaders, their approaches were not identical.

“Angela leads by example,” Samantha said. “She does her job, and she does it quietly by working hard every day. She goes out and does what she needs to do and she loves it.

“I think her biggest asset is that she is just confident in (the captain’s role) and she likes to have fun. People look up to her and she is a leader that everybody follows afterwards.”

Softball runs in the family

Natives of Lockport, Illinois, the Findlay sisters have played softball since grade school. But Angela’s recent graduation from Michigan and departure from collegiate softball isn’t the end of competitive softball for the sisters — this time they will both take the field as members of the Chicago Bandits professional softball team.

“Not many sisters and not many siblings can say that they’ve played softball with their sister at every level possible,” Samantha said. “We played together in grade school, too. In high school we won a state championship together … Not many people can say that they’ve played with their siblings for as long as I have. I think that it (has) definitely been an honor, and we’ve become best friends from it.”

Being best friends and teammates for as long as they can remember, it isn’t surprising that Angela and Samantha chose the same college. But while the sisters would be in college at the same time for two years, Samantha didn’t want to heavily influence her sister’s decision.

Samantha — a first baseman — went on one visit before immediately committing to Michigan, but didn’t want her sister to feel like she was forced to be a Wolverine.

“(Angela) was doing her recruiting and I just told her it would be awesome if we played together,” Samantha said. “But I said ‘I want you to go to a school where you think you want to go and make an impact.’ We’ve spent all our lives playing together, but we are two different players.

“The biggest thing that I told her in her decision was that I wasn’t going to be there for two years at Michigan and had that been the choice that she wanted, that she would have to be there on her own (after I graduated).”

But Michigan ended up being Angela’s choice and she had made peace with the fact that she would be the only Findlay in the program for her junior and senior seasons.

“Obviously (Samantha) was here, but it was something where my parents and her, no one ever really said anything once (Samantha) made her decision to come to Michigan,” Angela said. “Samantha made her decision and I was going to make mine no matter what.”

Competitive from the start

With Samantha already at Michigan and ready to show her sister the ropes, Angela immediately worked to take her game to a competitive college level. Settled into her new outfield position, Angela hit a career high .367 and led the team with 10 multi-RBI games as a freshman in 2007.

Angela was named to the All-Big Ten first team and to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-America third team, quickly proving to her coaches and teammates that she wasn’t content to simply rest in Samantha’s shadow.

“(Angela) has never really lacked for confidence,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “But her confidence has really become better and better, even when she’s not having her best game. When you watch Angela play, you don’t really see the difference between her good games and bad games, in her demeanor.”

A sophomore in 2008, Angela was a unanimous selection to the All-Big Ten first team and named to the Academic All-Big Ten team after hitting .426 during Big Ten conference play.

That same season, Angela showed that she shared the same affinity for late game, high-pressure situations as her sister. Angela led Michigan to victory in the NCAA Super Regional opening game by driving in the winning run against
Virginia Tech.

“(Samantha) and (Angela) are different as day and night,” Hutchins said. “But even though their style is different, they are similar in their approach. They are always about the ‘next pitch.’ (They have) been so integral to our success here over the years.”

And Angela refused to let her foot off the gas pedal as a junior. During her first season as a captain, Angela was again named to the Academic All-Big Ten and All Big-Ten first teams and hit a career-high 13 doubles.

Angela noted that her junior year was one she will never forget, as Michigan advanced to the WCWS for the first time since her sister secured the Wolverines’ title in 2005. While Michigan dropped out of national title contention with a loss to Georgia, the experience of playing in Oklahoma City with such high stakes is one she will take with her forever.

“Winning that game (in the NCAA Super Regional) and getting to go to the (Women’s College) World Series… that was what we all came here to do, what people expected us to do,” Angela said.

“It took us a little bit longer than most people expect, but we learned a lot of things along the way … We learned that nobody gives you anything, you have to earn everything.”

As a senior, Angela used Hutchins’ ‘one pitch softball’ mantra and the experience of the WCWS to help her arrive at a .350 batting average with 14 home runs and 53 RBI, and a .663 slugging percentage.

“Regardless of how she starts, she just keeps plugging away,” Hutchins said. “And this is a game where you really have to preserve and work at every pitch in the game. Mentally it’s very taxing, especially over the grind of our season. I think (Angela) has just gotten better and better at that. She’s one of the best I’ve ever coached.”

It isn’t over yet

Even though Samantha was no longer a member of the Michigan squad during its 2009 WCWS run, Samantha was available to help her sister during all four years of Angela’s collegiate softball career. The bond that the Findlay sisters shared both on-and-off the field helped them cement both their names into Michigan softball history.

“I know for me personally, I definitely look up to (Angela),” Samantha said. “I know not many people think that you’re going to look to your younger sibling for confidence, but I look to her because she has been around me and the sport (for so long). She knows a lot about our games and a lot about our swings, and I look to her for confidence and guidance … She definitely has helped me when I’m in a slump and she’ll look at me and we’ll laugh or we’ll smile and she’ll be like, ‘Sam, just have fun,’ and we’ll play really well.”

While Samantha and Angela Findlay will be read about in softball record books and talked about by their former coaches and teammates at Michigan for years to come, the duo looks to continue their past successes in their future professional softball careers.

On the field — this time as Bandits — the sisters will once again help each other reach their potential, as Angela, in right field, will always have her sister’s back at first base.

Read more here: http://www.michigandaily.com/content/findlay-sisters-how-softball-brought-duo-close-m
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