Michigan softball: Sierra Romero, already among best ever, aims for more
Sierra Romero has accomplished in three years what only a handful of NCAA Division I softball players could dream of doing in four.
"Nobody's going to argue that Sierra Romero is one of the best players to ever wear a Michigan uniform and to wear a softball uniform in the NCAA," Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. "She's going to go down as arguably one of the best players ever. She's established that. She's already broken records. My interest is in her to be that great intangible that she can take her team over the top."
Romero could be the Wolverines' first four-time All-America this season. She's aiming to hit over .500, set NCAA Division I career records and lead No. 2 U-M to its first national championship since 2005.
Those goals would seem unrealistic for almost anyone else. But not Romero.
She led Michigan to a runner-up finish to Florida in the Women's College World Series as a junior and was named espnW's softball player of the year. She set single-season school records for RBIs (83) and runs (85), and she hit .449 with 22 home runs.
Part of what makes Romero so special is she'd rather focus on what more she can accomplish rather than what she already has done. She already owns five single-season school records and six career records, including the NCAA record for career grand slams (11).
She was second-team All-America as a shortstop her first year, first-team All-America as a shortstop as a sophomore and first-team All-America at second base as a junior. She's starting at second base again as a senior.
Romero hit .491 as a sophomore, which is why she said batting .500 is a realistic goal this season.
"I definitely think I know what it takes, but each year it gets a little bit harder," she said. "The teams get more tape on me. They know certain pitches to throw."
Hutchins agreed that hitting .500 is a realistic goal.
"Jen Brundage proved it was possible," Hutchins said, referring to her assistant coach, who hit .518 as a senior at UCLA in 1995. "I don't like to get too caught up in numbers, because ultimately you just have to worry about seeing the ball and hitting the ball well. If (Romero) does that, God knows, sky's the limit for her."
One of Romero's opponents next weekend knows better than just about anyone what makes her so great. Sydney Romero, Sierra's younger sister, is a freshman at Oklahoma.
Michigan faces Oklahoma at 1 p.m. Friday as part of the Mary Nutter Memorial Tournament in Palm Springs, Calif.
"She's always working to be better, and just growing up around that has pushed me to be better, too," Sydney said.
Sydney considers her sister her best friend.
"Growing up, we've always been super-duper close," Sydney said. "When she left for college, it was very hard for me. But we kept in touch a lot, and we talked a few times a week.
"Once I got to college, we started talking a lot more. We talk almost every day. She sends me a text at least once a day, just to ask how I'm doing."
Sydney Romero considered joining her sister at U-M but ultimately chose to go to another softball powerhouse.
"Part of me was bummed, but at the same time, I remember when she was going through her recruiting, so many people were all over her social media, like, 'Hey, you should come to Michigan,' " Sierra said. "We talked. I know my parents secretly maybe wanted both their daughters at the same school. I told her we're only going to be together for a year. You have to enjoy the next three years after that, and you want to make sure it's somewhere where you have fun."
About 40 family and friends will be watching the Romeros compete against each other.
"The winner of that game is going to have at least bragging rights until they meet again," said their father, Michael Romero.
The only way Oklahoma and U-M would meet again this season is in the postseason.
Michael Romero said Sierra and Sydney have different personalities and are different players.
"Sierra is kind of like the life of the party; she's a lot like my wife," Michael Romero said. "And Sydney is kind of reserved, laid-back."
Michael Romero said he has talked to Sierra about her goals for the season.
"She would really like to be part of a team that brings back a national championship," he said. "One thing Hutch has done is turn Sierra into a team player. I think her goals besides the national championship and all that stuff is to graduate on time and to leave a mark there at Michigan -- that she was a great team player."
Sierra Romero is so intent on succeeding in softball that she's sometimes too hard on herself. Although she hit nearly .450 last season, there was a stretch where she considered herself to be in a "slump."
Hutchins couldn't recall the exact stats but said the numbers Romero put up during that so-called slump were "still gigantic."
"But she wasn't hitting the ball well," Hutchins said. "She was scrapping balls through the infield, finding ways. She wasn't on, and she knew it. She was getting frustrated. She was trying harder, and her teammates were clicking, so I told her, 'It'll pass. You just gotta focus on your team and be happy.' Kelly Christner was playing out of her mind. I said, 'Just focus on Kelly. Tell her she's doing great. They're picking you up.' And that's not been the norm. She puts a lot of pressure on herself."
Hutchins said Romero elevated the whole team last year. The Wolverines have enough talent that they don't need her to be a one-woman wrecking crew. Hutchins just wants her to help elevate the team, as she did last year.
"She was having fun with her teammates, focusing on her teammates, not getting too caught up in all the accolades," Hutchins said. "But she was playing so well. I think it had to do with she didn't put a lot of pressure on herself."
Hutchins said she's always worried about seniors trying to do too much.
"The game doesn't know that you're a senior, and the rest of the team doesn't care that you're a senior," Hutchins said. "They don't want to hear about your last this or your last that. This isn't about you. What are you going to do to make Michigan be great this year? That's how we roll."
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Meet Sierra Romero
Height: 5 feet 5.
From: Murrieta, Calif.
Accomplishments: Three-time NFCA All-America, two-time Big Ten player of the year (2013-14), espnW softball player of the year (2015), finalist for USA Softball collegiate player of the year (2014-15), USA Softball National Women's Team (2015), U-M captain.
NCAA career record: Grand slams (11).
Michigan career records: Grand slams (11), batting average (.441), slugging percentage (.888); tied for home runs (65), RBIs (233) and runs (234).
Michigan single-season records: 23 home runs (2013), 85 runs (2015), 83 RBIs (2015), .491 batting average (2014), four grand slams (2014).