The 2015 Minnesota Softball season is approaching. The Gophers are coming off their best season in program history, a season that included the school's first Big Ten Tournament title since 1999 and its first-ever NCAA super regional appearance. This year's team will look to build on last year's success. The 42nd Gopher softball team will feature 22 student-athletes and each one has her own story. As the team's Feb. 6 opener against Washington gets closer, each player will look back on her journey to wearing the Maroon and Gold.
Coach Allister on No. 17, Sara Groenewegen: "Sara is a dynamic athlete who has the ability to be a game changer on both sides of the ball. We are excited to see her step into a leadership role on our pitching staff and continue to produce in the middle of our lineup."
Geography is one of my strongest subjects in school, but to be honest I had never even heard of the state of Minnesota until I saw Coach Allister standing behind the backstop watching me play. I knew who the other two coaches were beside her mainly because they were coaches from well-known, prestigious programs in the West, but when I saw the maroon and gold jacket she was wearing I was confused, but also interested in finding out who she was.
Coach Allister first watched me the September of my junior year. Being a Canadian had something to do with having little to no exposure in high school, so that is why I played on a travel team based out of Seattle, Wash. for my junior year. If I had not played on a team in the U.S., the likelihood of me being at the U or any Division I program would've been slim. A lot of kids get overlooked when recruited--and I know this first hand--so I am really appreciative that the coaches saw potential in me.
A lot of people ask why I play in the U.S. instead of Canada and the answer is simple: the competition. It is an incomparable level in relation to the level of play at home.
For example, we don't even have high school softball where I am from. I am a very competitive person and I knew the NCAA was home to some of the most competitive ball around the world, which is why people from Canada, Australia and other countries come to play on American soil.
Some people are shocked that I am able to be so far away from my family, but I knew what I was getting myself into when I signed my NLI. A flight home would be expensive no matter where I went to school, so I knew I wasn't going to be seeing them much. The one thing I knew was that I would be home in December and for the summer no matter where I went to school, so distance did not really matter to me.
Minnesota wasn't the first program to contact me, but the maroon and gold was always in the back of my mind every time I was connecting with another program.
One of the main things in the recruiting process that really 'hooked' me to be a Gopher was how persistent the coaches were. This was mainly because with the other schools I was talking to, it was the other way around where the player has to be very persistent and almost annoying to be in contention of a spot on the team. Every week, I received at least one thing in the mail (I still have all of them), whether it was information about the school, the softball program, the athletic community or even a funny picture.
One thing I can remember vividly is when the coaches sent me a Christmas card (before I had committed) where all three of the coaches had something personal to say. I knew once I got that card that it would be hard for another school to win me over. It made me feel like the coaches really wanted me to play for them, and that is where my journey as a Gopher began.
The coaches really grasped my attention by saying how bright of a future there could be for the team with a couple of years under their belts. They provided an opportunity to be a part of something great: building a program.
Freshman year was beyond what I could even imagine it being. When I first got to campus I was so scared because everything was new to me; I picked up everything I knew and was ready for a fresh start.
I first had to learn my role on the team. I didn't even know the coaches wanted me to hit until I went to coach Merchant's office and she handed me a bat--I was pumped! I then had to learn the team dynamics and get to know new faces, but with our team, that took no time at all. We are a family here. When you're around the team almost every minute of the day, it makes it easy to connect and build relationships on and off the field. Everyone was so welcoming and fun to be around, which made being away from home easy.
Last year was definitely an unforgettable season, and looking back at it makes me even more excited for this upcoming season. Being a part of a team that helped flip the program was thrilling and it has started a fire inside the team and myself to continue our success.
Something I believe in, and it is written on our door in the locker room, is the saying "limits are self-imposed". It is exciting to be apart of something that realistically has no limits. Last year was our program's best season yet, but that isn't stopping us from trying to make it an even better season this year!
This year's team is ready to build off of last year. We now know what it takes to compete for a Big Ten title and a trip to go deep in the postseason. We have implemented a championship culture and mindset into our fall and winter practices trying to prepare us for the 2015 season.
As the season quickly approaches us (17 days to be exact), it only makes us more excited. We are ready to prove not only to ourselves, but to everyone else that Gopher Softball is an up-and-coming program in the NCAA, and we are ready.