On Sept. 1, college softball programs were allowed to start contacting high school juniors by letter, e-mail, text and instant messages.

Just seven days later, Hammond pitcher Stephanie Speierman (a class of 2009 member) ended her recruitment, accepting a full athletic scholarship to the University of Michigan on a visit to Ann Arbor.

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Speierman was already weighing offers from Maryland and Lehigh, but she and her parents had considered the possibility that a Michigan scholarship could be forthcoming on her visit.

"We talked a little bit before we left home and a lot more when we were at the airport Friday morning," Speierman said. "My parents wanted me to get there and see what the campus was like. When we went [during the summer], school wasn't in session. … We got back to the hotel on Friday night and my parents said, 'If they offer you what Maryland offered you [in scholarship money] and you know this is where you want to go, then go ahead and accept.'"

Sure enough, Michigan head coach Carol Hutchins came through with an offer the following day. After touring the campus Saturday morning, Speierman and her family went back to Hutchins' office on the athletic campus where the coach extended the offer.

Ten minutes later, Speierman accepted, much to the elated shock of Hutchins.

"I think she was a little bit surprised," Speierman said. "I think she was a little more worried about why I made the decision [so quickly] … She said I could take my time. She said, 'Are you sure? Are you positive?' She didn't believe me, but when she did, she gave me a hug."

One of the highlights of Speierman's visit – which quickly turned into a series of on-field lowlights – was Michigan's football game against Oregon. Despite the Wolverines' 39-7 loss to the Ducks, Speierman enjoyed the up-close look at college football's largest stadium

"We got to go down on the field before the game, which was really cool," Speierman said. "We were right on the field for our seats and that was really neat, so I got to see everything up close."

Thanks to Michigan's well-documented slow start in football, Speierman has already caught flack from friends – even before she officially became a Wolverine.

"It was rough," Speierman said. "The weekend before I had Team New Jersey practice for the fall team I play on and Michigan had just lost to Appalachian State. I caught a lot of crap and I hadn't even visited yet!"

Although Speierman ultimately chose Michigan, she did give the Terrapins' offer serious consideration. Her parents, two younger sisters, grandmother and club softball coach form an extremely tight-knit support group. Admittedly, continuing her softball career in College Park – roughly a 30-minute drive from her Columbia home – had its appeal.

"It would've been nice for them to drive down [to Maryland] for a Wednesday night game.

"But I had to make a decision on the individual schools and not focus on, 'well, they can come to all my games.' My family and my coach will come watch me. They'll find the time."

Speierman has two high school softball seasons left before she begins her college career. It'd be tough to top a sophomore season in which she registered Maryland's first perfect state title game in 10 years, in addition to throwing a state season record 426 strikeouts.

And while she's intently focused on her two remaining years at Hammond, Speierman has an eye on her future in Ann Arbor.

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"There's just something about the atmosphere," Speierman said. "The students have so much pride just being there. Everything about the school … the students are proud to be a part of it all.

"It's a great academic school, obviously, and it's got a great softball program. Being able to play that level of softball and get an education that will be really beneficial later in life were both big pros for the school."

For more on Speierman, check out Wednesday's Howard County notebook. For baltimoresun.com's list of area commitments,click here. E-mail sports@baltimoresun.com to report college commitments by area high school athletes.

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