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. 2, Dani Wagner: "Dani is a great athlete with speed, power and a tremendous arm. Dani has the potential to be a big time infielder at this level."
The first thing everyone should know is I grew up in Hayfield, Minnesota. No, it is not a field of hay, but a small town of about 1,300 people between Rochester and Austin, Minnesota. As one would assume, exposure wasn't easy to come by in a small, never-been-heard-of town, nor was competitive travel ball, dome ball, or out-of-season ball.
Another small town teammate of mine told me about the Mankato Peppers, a notable traveling softball program, and convinced me to come to tryouts with her. At first, I doubted my ability to play on such a successful team, but decided to give it a whirl anyway. Not only was I one of the players chosen for the team, but, as a 15 year-old, I also earned the starting shortstop position and was the leadoff batter for the 18U squad.
After two years of playing with successful and exceptional teammates and being coached by two distinguished coaches, Dan Nessler and Jerry Maschka, Dan approached me wondering if I was interested in playing softball in college. Little did I know he was thinking the Division I level. When I told him I was very interested, he and Jerry contacted the University of Minnesota coaches as well as other Division I coaches out of state. But I knew I wanted to stay close to home, so my family could experience everything with me.
I talked to the University of Minnesota coaches, who convinced me to come on an unofficial visit. Being from a small town that I loved, I was very skeptical about going to college in a big city.
The atmosphere at the university was captivating to say the least. The visit made me realize great things had, were and would be happening on the field and in the classroom and it made me yearn to be a part of it. A little voice of doubt kept creeping back into my head, holding me back from going with my gut feeling to commit on the spot.
In the months after my visit, I occasionally talked to the coaches. What I was most concerned about at the time was enjoying my junior year; I didn't even want to think about choosing a college. That's where my nagging mother came in. At the time, I just wanted to ignore her constant questions about college. "Have you decided yet? Is the U out of the running? Do you want to go on another visit? Have you talked to the coaches lately? What did they say?" I didn't want to admit it, but she was right. I needed to make a decision, but when summer rolled around, I had still made no headway.
Finally, nearing the end of travel ball for the summer, I noticed Coach Merchant at one of our tournaments. By no means was this tournament close to home, so it made me realize they had a genuine interest. She may not have come specifically for me, but it meant the world to be thought of in that regard: Divison I material.
Afterwards, I was contacted more frequently by the Golden Gopher coaches. A phone call. A completely normal, everyday, common act. Head Softball Coach Jessica Allister of the Golden Gophers calling me in the middle of Hayfield's annual wiffle ball tournament! Just to chat! To me, it showed she truly cared and took precious time out of her day just for me. Again, I felt those butterflies in my stomach, yet could not say one of the simplest words: yes.
Many girls describe their mother as their best friends. Mine is my best friend and more. As a daughter, a student and a softball player, I respect my mother. Ever since seventh grade, she has been my softball coach. Before even then, she, along with my father, taught me how to swing a bat, throw a ball and run the bases the right way. We have experienced my whole softball career together; the ups, downs, the in-betweens. To say the least, I value her opinion immensely.
When I told her about the phone call from Coach Allister, she could tell it had affected me. She just had to nudge me in the right direction. She told me how proud she was of the athlete and person I had become and how much she believed in me to take it to the next level. Something any mom would say to her daughter, but she wholeheartedly believed it.
She helped build my confidence, and when Coach Allister called a few days later, I was all too anxious to get past the pleasantries and commit to becoming a Golden Gopher softball player.
Since then, I've become more accustomed to living in the big city and navigating campus. I am blessed with very knowledgeable, caring coaches and teammates. They have taught me the importance of being confident and working hard on and off the field. I have also learned a great deal about softball since I arrived and continue to work on skills that are new to me. There was so much excitement surrounding the fall games, so I cannot begin to imagine what the season is about to bring. I am most looking forward to traveling with the team because the journey will be unforgettable! I have also never flown on a plane, so many new adventures are still ahead!
It's about to get excitingly busy in the lives of the Golden Gopher Softball players. We are built on hard work, confidence and trust in one another. Stay tuned to see what the Golden Gophers will do!