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. 32, Sydney Dwyer: "Sydney Dwyer is a versatile infielder who could see time at both middle infield positions as well as third base this spring. Syd is also a powerful offensive threat who will fight for time in the middle of our lineup."
Unlike many other collegiate softball players, I never experienced travel softball. In Iowa, high school softball is played in the summer instead of the spring, eliminating the possibility of playing on a travel team. Consequently, I could not experience the same recruitment opportunities as players who participated in travel ball. High school softball was my only chance for college coach exposure and it is very rare to get recruited through a high school team. Luckily, Lori Duncan, a former assistant coach at LSU, was my high school coach. I knew that she would put me in a position to reach my goal of playing collegiate softball.

After a successful eighth grade season playing for Coach Duncan, I had high hopes for my freshman season. All of these hopes were diminished when I tore my ACL during a basketball open gym only one week before my freshman softball season started. Initially, I was unaware of the physical and mental struggles I would face in order to fully recover.

Having to sit in the dugout all summer and watch each game and practice made me reevaluate myself as an athlete. Knowing that a successful freshman year would have helped me in the recruiting process, I did not know what my future looked like. I committed myself to rehabilitation for the next nine months, returning to athletics halfway through basketball season. I knew that if I could return to the sport in which I originally hurt my knee, then I could overcome the fear of doing it again. I would also be prepared for my sophomore softball season.

Through rehabilitation, I learned to be grateful for my physical capabilities. At first, I began to appreciate the ability to walk without crutches, then drive, and eventually, the ability to run. I made small improvements every day and every day my future looked brighter and brighter. Retraining my knee to do all the movements that once came naturally was the biggest mental battle that I had to overcome. Thankfully, with a great physical therapist and supportive coaches, my knee injury was only a slight bump in the road to reaching my goals.

During my sophomore year, my softball team had a very successful season and earned a third place finish at the state tournament. After a great season and state tournament performance, I started to gain the interest of college coaches. I even visited a few colleges before junior year started, but none that I was ready to call my home after high school. A few months later, however, I visited the University of Minnesota and called Coach Allister two days later to commit.

UMN's coaching staff had a future vision for the softball program that I knew I wanted to be a part of. The University of Minnesota's beautiful campus and facilities also immediately sold me. As soon as I left campus after my unofficial visit, I knew that the University of Minnesota had everything I was looking for in a college. Growing up in Iowa, I was always surrounded by Big Ten athletics. It was important to me that my parents could come to my games. Fortunately, over half of the Big Ten universities are close to home, giving my family ample opportunity to continue to support me.

During my senior year of high school, I went on an official visit to the U and met all of my future teammates for the first time. While I was nervous to meet everyone, I was at ease once I realized how welcoming they were throughout the weekend. Even after a few days, I noticed the close relationships these girls had with one another off the field. It was comforting to know that these girls would be my family in one short year.

Completing the workouts with the team my first week on campus was a great feeling. All the years of hard work to get here had finally felt like they had paid off. The seniors did an outstanding job of preparing all of us freshman for practices, lifts, and team expectations. The upperclassmen demonstrated the necessity of a great work ethic. While making team expectations clear, they were also very approachable and I knew that I had 16 friends I could count on for anything.

During my first few weeks on campus, I was extremely thankful for Erika Smyth and her roommates. A couple nights each week, I went to their apartment for a home cooked dinner and a place to do homework. It was nice to have a homey place and their great company. On the field this fall, I was thankful for Sam Macken. She was my partner for everything on the field and she took me under her wing and made sure that I knew what to do during each drill. Great teammates on and off the field made my transition to college life an easy one.

The team's success last year made me proud to be committed to the University of Minnesota. While watching them playing online, on TV, or in person, I walked away from every game excited to one day be a part of the team. As a spectator, I noticed how passionate they were about the game by how intensely they played it. The dugout beamed of unselfishness and I could not wait to be teammates with people who cared about one another's success more than their own.

Experiencing my first fall as a Gopher was exhausting, exhilarating, and exciting. During eight-hour weeks, I learned to cherish free time. During 20-hour weeks, I learned to cherish sleep. This fall was a lot of learning and hard work, but after seeing the team receive their Big Ten Championship rings, my determination to receive one of my own is higher than ever.

I cannot wait to see what the 2015 season has in store for Gopher Softball!

Gophers Named Team of the Week by espnW

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After posting a 3-0 record this week with wins over No. 12/14 Nebraska, Purdue and Wisconsin, espnW named the University of Minnesota women's basketball team its Team of the Week. Read more about what espnW contributor Graham Hays had to say about the Gophers' impressive week. 

Go Gophers! Amanda Zahui B.Go Gophers!
From espnW (link to full article:
Minnesota: The timing of the holidays meant many teams played three games this past week, so Minnesota wasn't alone in piling up three wins, but it is one of just a smattering of teams already in possession of at least three conference victories. And while a 10-game winning streak overall matters, the longest such streak since the days of Lindsay Whalen, Janel McCarville and a Final Four trip, it matters less than a five-game winning streak contained within the longer streak since the Gophers lost All-American Rachel Banham for the season with an injury.

The first win was the hardest, the Gophers rallying from a 17-point deficit with 10 minutes to play against Nebraska to claim a 72-69 win. A victory at Purdue followed on New Year's Day, not bad for a team that won just four road games all of last season, and Sunday brought a rivalry win against Wisconsin. Amanda Zahui B. averaged 17.3 points, 15.3 rebounds and 4.0 blocks in the three wins to earn espnW player of the week, but moving on without Banham has been a collective effort. Along with Zahui, Shae Kelley, Shayne Mullaney and Carlie Wagner scored 81 percent of the team's points this past week but that was split almost evenly among the four of them.

It helped that Mullaney and Wagner, far from forcing the issue, combined for 33 assists and just six turnovers, compared to 62 assists and 43 turnovers previously. 

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. 33, Ellie Cowger: "Ellie Cowger has been a great addition to our team this fall. Even though she comes from Michigan, she comes from a long line of Gophers! Ellie reminds me of former Gopher Dannie Skrove and fans will enjoy the grit and competitiveness they will see from Ellie this season."
My Gopher Softball journey has been short in comparison to those who have come before me. However, that fact has not hindered my ability to reflect on the four months I have been a member of the Gopher Softball family.

I can start out by saying this: I am blessed. I am lucky to be a part of the University of Minnesota's athletic department and an ambassador of the maroon and gold. I am lucky to put on a Gopher Softball jersey every game day. I am lucky to run shuttles in the indoor football facility every Wednesday morning (if you tell yourself you enjoy them, they're not half bad). I am lucky that practice is the best part of my day and I get to do what feels like an infinite number of push-offs in the outfield grass of Jane Sage Cowles Stadium (and yes...I know there will be many more to come). And finally, I am lucky to be a part of a team of coaches and players who have a contagious desire for excellence and who would do anything in their power to see their players and teammates succeed.

During the last few weeks of the semester when our practice schedule switched from 20 hours a week to eight, I had the opportunity to reflect on how I got to the U. I came to realize many things over that course of time. Most importantly, I was able to pinpoint where my journey began and where it has taken me. So here is my story...

I was born a Golden Gopher. Having both my parents graduate from the school and seeing two out of the three of my older sisters walk on to the Gopher Softball team in 2006 and 2008, the University of Minnesota was the only place my heart could ever be. I didn't quite convince myself of that until I came to campus on a recruiting visit.

When I began the recruiting process my freshman year, I felt like I was in sorry shape. I was in the midst of switching over to left-handed hitting and I had yet to find my place in the field. I pitched in high school, but my heart wasn't really in it. I played infield for my travel team, but that didn't quite feel right either. As a result, I was a softball player who couldn't really swing right handed or left handed and had no idea of my potential in the field. The only thing I was sure of was that I wanted to play college softball and somehow I had to find a way to get there.

Looking back on it now, I can attribute my turning point to three things. I had my parents who encouraged me to never give up on what I wanted most. I had a travel coach who told me my best shot to play Division I, Big Ten softball would be to get my cleats into the outfield. And lastly, I was introduced to a hitting coach who didn't give up on me even when my swing was in shambles.

Over the course of my freshman and sophomore years, my game started to come together. My swing began to not be such a train wreck, I got faster and I was becoming more comfortable in both the infield and the outfield. I drew the attention of a few DII schools and smaller DI schools, but deep down, I knew I wanted to play for Minnesota.

I went to summer softball camp at the U the summer before my junior year and that is where I really got to know the coaches and the culture of the Gopher Softball program. My experience over those three days was something that I knew I wouldn't get anywhere else. Following the camp, Coach Merchant saw me play at Nationals (I'm not sure if she remembers, but the first game she came to, I struck out three times and made an error that let in the winning run for the other team). Coach Merchant, if you are reading this, thank you for giving me a second chance and coming to another game. I appreciate it more than you'll ever know.

Despite my not-so-stellar performance, the coaches eventually invited me to come on an unofficial visit in September. I was set on coming here before I even knew I would be offered a spot on the team. I could tell by watching only 15 minutes of Gopher Softball practice that they all loved where they were at and that their passion for the sport was through the roof. The girls were very friendly and took the time to make sure I felt welcome. At a meeting with the coaches that evening, they offered me a spot in their program and I couldn't say anything but yes.

And here we are, two years later and not a day goes by that I don't take a step back and thank God for where He has brought me. I feel like I am living a dream and I don't think that feeling will go away for the next three and a half years.

But now that I have finished my first semester and we are only 33 days away from the season, I will take the opportunity to look back on those first four months.

I wouldn't call my start a rocky one, but I definitely made a few freshman mistakes. Forgetting my cleats in the locker room on the first day of practice or taking the entire hitting practice to complete a bunting drill that usually only takes two minutes are only two of the more memorable ones.

But if it weren't for those moments, I may not have realized the support system I have behind me. As the only freshman in the outfield this year, I was constantly encouraged and motivated by all of the upperclassman outfielders. While all of the outfielders were instrumental in my transition to college softball, Erica Meyer and Paige Palkovich helped me immensely in center field. I now take the right first step about half the time instead of never and get pelted by a fewer number of sun balls. But on a real note, thank you to both of you for making my first fall a good one.

All of my teammates are more encouraging and hard-working than I ever imagined. There is a reason why they won the Big Ten championship last year. They have the relentless desire for success and the willingness to put in the work it takes to be one of the top teams in the country. It's inspiring and I really should thank them every day for making me want to be not only a better softball player but an all-around better person.

If seeing the 2014 team win the Big Ten Championship in May against a team from my home state wasn't motivating enough, watching the girls receive their Big Ten Championship rings was just one more things that made me want to be a part of something so great. Once again, I am lucky to call each and every one of those girls my teammates and I cannot wait for us to accomplish something just as amazing as they did last season.

I was sitting at breakfast with Erica Meyer and Erika Rozell, the day before I went home for Christmas break. I could honestly tell them that the U was where I was supposed to be and that I wouldn't change anything for the world.

So in conclusion, thank you for reading and may our 2015 be filled with many wins, lots of fun, another Big Ten Championship. I hope you all had a wonderful New Year and I look forward to hopefully seeing a lot of you out at our games this spring!

NHL: Bjugstad Inks Six-Year Deal with Florida

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Florida Panthers Executive Vice-President and General Manager Dale Tallon announced today that the club has agreed to terms on a six-year contract with F Nick Bjugstad.

"We are very pleased to have agreed to a long-term contract with Nick," said Tallon. "He is a big, strong and skilled forward who will play an important role on our club for the next several seasons. Nick, along with Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Erik Gudbranson and Johnathan Huberdeau are all part of our club's growing nucleus of young and talented players that will lead our team to future success."

Bjugstad, 22, currently leads the Panthers in goals (13), points (21), shots (94) and game-winning goals (3). He has recorded four multiple-point games this season, including a career best four points (2-2--4) on Nov. 16 at Anaheim. He has posted two four-game point scoring streaks this season and netted Florida's game-winning goal in a NHL record 20-round shootout on Dec. 16.

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound center has played in 121 games with Florida (2012-2014) scoring 30 goals with 30 assists and 32 PIMS. Bjugstad was drafted by Florida in the first round (19th overall) of the 2010 NHL Draft.

On the international level, the Minneapolis, Minnesota, native represented the USA at the 2013 World Championship. Bjugstad also earned a Bronze medal at the 2011 World Junior Championship, recording four points (2-2--4) in six games. He also appeared in the 2012 World Junior Championship.

Bjugstad completed his collegiate career at the University of Minnesota, appearing in 109 games scoring 54 goals with 44 assists, earning three consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament. He also won 2010 Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award, given to the state's most outstanding senior high school hockey player.

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. 42, Tyler Walker: "Tyler Walker is a dynamic softball player on both sides of the ball. She's been a mainstay in our lineup the past three years at the top of the order and at short stop. Her speed and power set the tone for our lineup offensively and she has a steady presence on defense."

At the start of my junior year of high school is when I first came into contact with the University of Minnesota. I received a letter in the mail describing the university and its many opportunities as well as details about the softball program. Initially, I was skeptical about the state of Minnesota, but I was repeatedly encouraged by my dad to go on a visit and at least check out the campus and meet the coaches. At this time, I was being recruited by the old coaching staff. I decided to give it a chance!

I went on an unofficial visit to the school and completely fell in love with the campus and was so ready to become a Gopher.

A few months later, I received a heartbreaking call from the Minnesota head coaches at the time, letting me know that it would be their last season coaching the Gophers. After I hung up the phone, I remember being in shock and very nervous on what the future was going to hold for me. So, I went back into the whole recruiting process again.

I visited other schools and found that I kept comparing them to the University of Minnesota. I received a phone call that the new coaching staff at Minnesota wanted me to go on an official visit and I was so beyond excited I can't even put it into words. I arrived on campus during my senior year of high school and once I heard Coach Allister's goals for the program I was completely on board. I wanted to be a part of changing the program around that is why Minnesota so appealing to me as a player. I wanted to be a part of something great.

When I arrived on campus my freshman year, I knew I was in the right place. As soon as I met the other freshmen, we instantly became close and I knew they would become my family. The biggest adjustment I had to make in college was cooking for myself. I am now in my senior year and still haven't really made that adjustment. But, I am a pro at calling in take-out orders and I know every menu in Dinkytown way too well (try the BLT at Loring Pasta Bar if you're ever hungry).

During my freshman year, it felt like I played more softball in one semester then I did my whole life! But honestly freshman year was so awesome. Looking back at it, it was so great because my teammates were (and still are) just genuinely awesome people. Like I said before, we all got along so great and it made living far from home so much easier.

The culture of the program was based on the concept of hard work. Whether in the classroom or on the field, we work hard. The hard work we put in my freshman year on the field and in the classroom helped me understand what it truly meant to be a Minnesota Gopher.

It has been an honor to be a part of this program. I think it is an absolute privilege to be able to wake up every morning and work towards getting better with my team, my family, my sisters. Winning the Big Ten Championship was huge for our program, but what was most amazing to me is that we were two games away from competing in the Women's College World Series - two games. That has been my driving motivation so far this year and wanting to get better every day. We got so close last year but I have full faith that this team is going to get there again and this time we're going to have a different outcome, I 100% believe that.

Until that time comes, we continue to put in hard work in the weight room and on the field. Come February, we'll be ready to go to war.

MAGIC Update (12/22/14)

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MAGIC Update (12/9/14)

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Raty Continues to Make Hockey History

Gophers alum Noora Raty made hockey history when she became the first Finnish woman to suite up for play in the Finnish second league, Mestis, earlier this fall. In her Mestis debut, Raty stopped 31 of 36 shots as Kiekko-Vantaa fell 5-2, on Oct. 22. She earned her first win in her second start on Nov. 1, stopping 43 of 45 shots in a 4-2 win. Check out a recent interview with Raty to hear what her experience playing professional hockey has been like so far and catch up on some of the tweets surrounding her Mestis debut.

NHL: Helgeson to Make NHL Debut Tuesday

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Go Gophers! TopTen
Go Gophers!Seth Helgeson

MINNEAPOLIS ( -- Gopher Hockey alum Seth Helgeson has been recalled by the New Jersey Devils and will make his NHL debut tonight against the Minnesota Wild. 

Tonight's game is set for a 6 p.m. (TV: FOX Sports North, Radio: KFAN) at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. 

"He's got fresh legs, which is good coming in," coach Pete DeBoer said. "We were young prior to him coming in, so it's nothing we haven't dealt with this year. I'm excited to see him. He had a great training camp and he deserved to be the guy called up here."

Helgeson is a physical presence.

"Not exactly the way you want to inject energy, but we'll take it and hopefully he'll come in and give us a good game," DeBoer said.

"He's a big guy. Physical. Long stick. We don't have a lot of that, physical defensemen, back there. With Sal, who is that type of defenseman, going out, it's nice to have a guy in the minors that plays a similar type game." 

A Faribault, Minn., native, Helgeson was a four-year letter winner at the University of Minnesota and served as an alternate captain as the team's lone senior in 2012-13. The defenseman skated in 150 career games for the Gophers and amassed 27 points (seven goals, 20 assists). He also proved to be incredibly durable despite his physical play -- ending his college career with 122-straight appearances including every game of his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. 

In his final two campaigns with the program, the Gophers earned two-straight MacNaughton Cups as Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) regular-season champions as well as two NCAA tournament berths including the team's run to the Frozen Four in 2011-12.

Helgeson signed with the Albany Devils following his senior season and played four games for New Jersey's AHL affiliate that year. He added 10 points (one goal, nine assists) and 100 penalty minutes in 75 regular-season games during the 2013-14 campaign and also played in four playoff games for Albany. So far in 2014-15, Helgeson has played in 12 games with one assist and 11 penalty minutes. 

With Helgeson expected to play tonight, we'll have a contest between two former teammates as well as four Gopher Hockey alums on the ice at Prudential Center. Helgeson and Wild forward Erik Haula played together for three seasons at Minnesota while Thomas Vanek and Keith Ballard will both be in the Wild lineup as well. 

Gopher Hockey now boasts 14 alums in the NHL this season: Keith Ballard (Minnesota Wild), Nick Bjugstad (Florida Panthers), Alex Goligoski (Dallas Stars), Erik Haula (Minnesota Wild), Seth Helgeson (New Jersey Devils), Erik Johnson (Colorado Avalanche), Phil Kessel (Toronto Maple Leafs), Nick Leddy (New York Islanders), Jordan Leopold (St. Louis Blues), Paul Martin (Pittsburgh Penguins), Kyle Okposo (New York Islanders), Nate Schmidt (Washington Capitals), Thomas Vanek (Minnesota Wild) and Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg Jets). 

Wrapping up the Fall Season

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Another fall season is complete at Gopher Golf. We enjoyed competing against 11 of the best college golf programs in the country in our final outing at Royal Oaks Country Club in Dallas, Texas. Baylor University hosted the Royal Oaks Intercollegiate on a recently renovated golf course open just three short weeks, featuring firm greens and added length. Uniquely, the event consisted of a format counting the best five scores each round from six players on each team. Although we finished 11th out of 12 teams in the event, we had a few players step up in this event. 

Go Gophers! Runar Arnorsson
Go Gophers!
Runar Arnorsson
Go Gophers!
Not shockingly, Jose Mendez gave himself another opportunity to win, eventually finishing fourth in a field comprised of 42 players ranked in the top 100 in the country. Jose battled the strong breeze in the final round with precision iron shots and a world class short game! After the five events this fall, Jose finished with a 71.07 scoring average that ranks second in Gopher history behind only James McLean's 1998-99 year, where he boasted a total scoring average of 70.89. Jose has put himself into elite company at the young age of 19 as a part of Gopher Golf history that has included 43 All-Americans and two NCAA Individual Champions.  

Also playing well in long stretches in the event was true freshman Runar Arnorsson.  The Icelander was tied for eighth through 33 holes in the event only to finish +4 in his final three holes on Day 1. Day 2 was no exception to his solid play as he stiffed his iron shot on his 10th hole of the final round from 155 yards to get back to even. Unfortunately a few loose shots and one poor decision into the sixth cost him a shot at his first top 10 in a collegiate event. All other scores from our final fall event can be found here.

Each and every Gopher Golf fan should check out our team page at as Justine Buerkle, our communications contact, updates it frequently. You can find recent news, roster information, statistics from the past 10 years, the 2014-15 team schedule, camp information, Carlson's Corner archived blogs, historical facts within our program and even a link to buy official Gopher Golf apparel worn by our current team members. These are just a few reasons to follow our team using and the social media sites.

With the offseason comes planning for the winter months and spring schedule preparation. We have an outstanding track record in making waves on the course in the spring semester after months of preparation. We train our players mentally and physically harder than most programs from Dec. 1 to Feb. 1 in order to compete for championships come April. 

We have had to be much more creative than most teams in the past, as we are one of the only Big Ten golf programs that currently are without our own indoor/outdoor practice facility. This will be changing soon though as we are deep into our campaign to raise private funding for a new men's and women's golf team facility that will be built on our existing Tom Lehman Outdoor Facility at the Les Bolstad GC. The pre-planning stage is complete and we will be looking to break ground in the near future. We are grateful to our generous donors for both our facility and program needs. I also would like to invite those who have not been involved in financial support for either our program or Gopher Athletics to visit the Golden Gopher Fund website and make your contribution today using the "Make a Gift" icon. You can also call me at 612-321-1307 to learn more about how to get involved as all donations to our program are tax deductible and are applied towards your Gopher Score for ticket/seating priority.

Gopher Golf and the Carlson family wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving!

Fairways, Fairways, Fairways!

Coach Carlson