Gopher Softball Opening Day Roundup

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The 2015 Minnesota softball season is close to getting underway! The Gophers take on No. 11/13 Washington at 3:30 p.m. CT today in the Sportco Kick Off Classic in Las Vegas. Here is some reading material to get you ready for the season:

All the info you need on the Sportco Kick Off Classic (GopherSports.com)

Jessica Allister's first recruiting class is entering its senior year (GopherSports.com)

The Gophers enter 2015 with high expectations (Minnesota Daily)

Taylor LeMay checks in before the season (Gopher Sports Update)

What to look for from a conference perspective (BigTen.org)

Every player has her own story (GopherSports.com)

"We know what it takes to perform at the highest level" (Minnesota Fastpitch News)

Quick Update from the Strib (Star Tribune)


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!

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. 4, Brandi McGregor: "Brandi is a right-handed hitter with the ability to hit for a lot of power. She is coming off of a medical red shirt year and is working hard to get back defensively."
Growing up, I have always been the small girl that everyone overlooked. I was told that I would never be able to play at the Division I level because of my size. I attended camp after camp being told the same thing: "You're too small." This made me work even harder to try and be better than those that were bigger than me.

As I began to lift weights and work on my skills as a player, I noticed vast improvements with my game. I became faster and started hitting the ball further, which eventually caught the attention of Coach Merchant when my team and I were playing in Chicago. I began to think that I finally caught a break after being told all my life that I would never play softball at the Division I level.

I was invited on an official visit my senior year of high school and was still not committed at the time. As I stepped foot on campus, I instantly fell in love and knew this is where I wanted to spend the next four years for my college career. It was everything I wanted in a school: gorgeous campus, great academics, and a family oriented team. I can still remember the coaches talking about their vision for the program and its future. I was immediately hooked and knew I could not wait to come in the next year as a Gopher.

Stepping foot on campus as a freshman was very nerve wracking for me. I have always been very shy and quiet, so I was nervous about how I would get along with the team. Because I am so introverted, it took me a while to open up to the team, but they definitely welcomed me with open arms. Once I saw that Smitty and I are both half Japanese, I felt as if we instantly connected and that I could rely on her.

Last year was definitely one for the books. Unfortunately, I tore my labrum and was not able to participate with the team like I would have hoped, but I couldn't be any prouder of what the team accomplished. We worked all season long and became Big Ten Champs! As we continued to build off winning the Big Ten Championship, we were able to host regionals and to go to supers to face Oregon, which was a huge success for our program!

As the 2015 season approaches, I cannot express how I excited I am for this team. We have worked extremely hard this fall and winter and I cannot wait to see all of it pay off. We already have had many successes within this past year, but we definitely want to go above and beyond what we accomplished last year!

ONLY FOUR MORE DAYS! GO GOPHERS!

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. 6, Erika Smyth: "Erika is a hard-nosed second baseman with a great glove. I admire Erika's ability to always put our team first. She is a selfless leader and her energy is the heart and soul of our team."
My earliest memory of any type of competition came when I played tee ball on an all boys team around the age of five. I was the centerfielder at the time and made a pretty good catch going backwards on a ball that the runner on second thought was going to drop. After making this catch, I ended up sprinting all the way to second base in order to get that same runner on second out who had already scored because he didn't tag up.

Being one of the few girls playing baseball in this tee ball league, I made sure to be noticed as someone who could hang with all of the boys. I also learned this move from Mike Cameron when he made the exact same play for the Seattle Mariners (on a catch a little bit more impressive than mine).

At a very early age I knew that I loved competing and I loved Seattle sports. I have learned much of what I do on the field through Seattle Mariners baseball players. While I played many sports throughout my elementary and middle school years, I finally reached a time where I had to make a decision on which sport I wanted to stick with. This was a pretty easy decision for me; I always loved softball more than anything. A big part of this decision came from having the dream of playing Division I softball and competing for championships.

Up to this point in time, I had truly thought that this dream could be attainable. Then I began to play Washington club ball around the age of 12. One of the first teams that I played on was actually coached by an All-American collegiate softball player and was someone I really looked up to. After a bad loss after playing for her for over a year, she told each player, one by one, whether or not they had a shot to make it to the college level in front of the entire team. Finally, after going through almost everyone, she went on to tell me that I was way too small and there is zero chance that I could ever play at any college level.

I can still vividly remember and feel the exact feeling that came through my body when she said those words to me; I was crushed. So crushed that I struggled to even get up to go to school for the next week. It was hard to hear those words from someone I looked up to, but I certainly was not defeated by them.

Although that coach's opinion wasn't an accurate prediction of my future, she was right--I'm not what most people consider big or even average sized. I guess you could say that most people would consider me small. A lot of college coaches definitely thought I was. This was a huge obstacle in my college recruitment process.

I had college coaches walk up to my games, find me on the field, and instantly walk away without watching a play or an at bat because of my size. Keep in mind; this was when I was around 15-years-old, standing at the height of 5-foot-2, and weighing in at a solid 105 pounds. So I technically was small (I am way stronger now--shout out to Coach Y). With the determination to prove people wrong, I found myself always having a chip on my shoulder. I may have been small, but I made a point to play like I was big.

The summer going into my senior year of high school led me to a great opportunity. I was asked to play on the best team in Washington, filled with players that were already committed to phenomenal Division I schools (this included my current teammate, Hannah Melick). I was very fortunate to get on this team and have coaches that truly believed in my ability as a softball player.

Although they believed in me, I still knew that I needed to continue to give a little extra to distract from my size, even with a great team behind me. My dad always told me that I need to do things to get myself noticed and show the intangibles of softball that I have. I give a lot of credit to my parents on how I play my game. They taught me the importance of toughness and to be the grittiest player on the field. They also gave me the opportunity to play this game.

I was very behind in recruiting by the time my senior year came around. Then I was able to get in contact with Coach Allister after she took the job as the head coach of the University of Minnesota. It was November of 2010 at the Disney World Complex in Orlando, Florida where Coach Allister first watched me play. It was hard to fake like I didn't see her or Coach Ritter sitting near the backstop during our games; it was definitely an adrenaline rush.

They both ended up staying for all of my games that day (and it was a cold day in Orlando). I couldn't believe it. After that weekend, we were able to talk more and she invited me to the U of M for an official visit. Right when I stepped foot on campus, I knew I needed to come here. In fact, I instantly committed to play here on my layover in Colorado on the way back to Washington. I can honestly say it has been the best decision I have ever made in my life.

The transition from Washington to Minnesota was a fairly easy one. I give credit to the coaching staff and my incoming freshman class at the time for making me feel at home. Now that I am a senior here, I am extremely thankful for the class I came in with and relationships I have built with each of these current seniors. I am also thankful for the support my parents, my sister Whitney, and boyfriend Kendal have given me behind the scenes for my entire college career as well. The past three and half years of my life have been the most fun by far. I am very lucky to be able to have played and continue to play with such great teammates and already experience success with this team.

Winning the Big Ten Championship last year was an incredible experience. I think my knees went weak about 10 times throughout that entire game (and a few tears came out after Tyler made that SportsCenter Top 10 diving catch up the middle to save the game). Nothing compares to winning a championship and being able to hold up the trophy with all of your teammates that worked so hard with you to get there. I will never forget the amount of hard work we put in to reach this moment and plan to keep this close to my heart for this season.

This 2015 Gopher Softball team is very unique. It's always special when you have a group of 22 girls that all get along so well. Team chemistry is certainly not something Gopher Softball has lacked in my years here. The expectations are rising but the doubt is still there from everyone across the country. The work we have put in this fall and winter has been challenging and a lot of fun. I think it's safe to say that this team will always play with a chip on its shoulder and our goal every day is to win.

This 2015 team is built on our integrity as players, hard work, and a team-first attitude. Only six days until our season starts--make sure you stay tuned for a season that is going to be very special! We look forward to seeing all of our great fans at our home opener! And as Russell Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks always says...Why not us?

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. 7, Sam Macken: "After finishing last season in the outfield, Sam will move into the infield this spring. Sam is a tough, gritty competitor that will likely find a home near the top of the order."
My softball journey started after attending 14U nationals as a 12 year-old. While driving home to Rochester with my parents, I told them that I didn't want softball to be over. I had noticed so many good athletes and teams at nationals and I wanted to challenge myself further. The next day, we drove to the Twin Cities and I tried out and made a fall club team. I realized that my dream was to play Division I softball. Like so many other young girls, I watched the Women's College World Series and I wanted to be on one of those teams. However, I quickly realized most of those teams are not interested in a small town girl from Minnesota.

Over the next four years, I played an amazing 120 games per year. This was because I played a spring high school season, I played for my club team and I also continued to play with my high school community team. I played softball every day of the week and I loved every minute of it.

During this busy, exciting and fun time, I was fortunate enough to meet and play with and against Gopher players. That involvement, discussion and experience made me recognize how much I wanted to stay in Minnesota and play for the Gophers.

The first meeting with Coach Allister was in Huntington Beach, California my junior summer. After the final tournament of the season, Coach Allister talked to me and wanted my family and I to meet with her the following week. The meeting with Coach made a big impact and impression on me. I quickly made the best decision of my life and committed to the U.

Among other factors besides the coaching staff, the U had so much of what I wanted. The location was paramount. I was prepared to live a distance from home, but being only 90 minutes was icing on the cake. The U's academics, size, environment and facilities were great! And I couldn't wait to be apart of it all!

Coming in to the softball program my freshman year was intimidating because it is so different from any other team I was a part of, but it became an easy transition for me. There was strong leadership from the upperclassmen and everyone was welcoming and approachable. This team is truly my family away from home and having friends and teammates like the ones on this team makes everything so much more enjoyable and exciting. In addition, what is so impressive about this program is how hard all the players and coaches work to achieve one common goal--the WCWS.

Last year was absolutely crazy and was a dream come true. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be part of a Big Ten Tournament Championship! In addition, winning regionals at home and advancing to super regionals for the first time in program history was unforgettable. The 2013-14 season was a reward for all the hard work that we had put in and it reinforced in us the incentive to work even harder together.

After the success of the 2013-14 season, I continued with one last vigorous summer schedule because once again I wanted more, which ended only weeks before returning for fall ball with my Gopher teammates. Undoubtedly, every one player on this team feels as I do--we all saw what we are capable of and we want to make it to the next stage, Oklahoma City.

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. 8, Kayla Wenner: "Kayla is a true lefty with tremendous power and speed at the plate and great range in the outfield. Kayla will compete for time in the middle of our lineup and in the outfield this spring."
Growing up, I thought that DI athletics was a far-off thing that athletes only from big high schools who stuck to one sport their whole life achieved. Living in a town of barely 1,000 people (1,098 to be exact) with a graduating class of 25 including myself, there weren't many athletes that ended up playing college sports. My dad, Mike, graduated from Nicollet Public High School in 1984 and he can only recall one other Nicollet grad playing a DI sport. I never anticipated an opportunity to play softball at the DI level to come my way.

I played multiple sports growing up and I ended up sticking with volleyball, basketball and softball all throughout high school. I had played summer leagues in all of these sports, but we mainly played local teams, which were small towns just like ours. I had no idea that there were other leagues to play in, but luckily my mom did.

One of my mom's co-workers had a daughter that played on the Minnesota Sting in the Twin Cities and when my mom brought the idea up I remember thinking there was no way I was going to be able to compete with those girls. I wasn't dead set on making the team, but my mom and I talked about it and I figured I might as well try--if I didn't make it, no big deal.

There was a tryout during the spring of my eighth-grade year for the newest Sting team, Sting '94, and I showed up, so nervous, with only my beaten up glove that I swear I'd had forever. It was really intimidating, to be honest, to be around a bunch of girls I didn't know, who all had their own helmets, bats and bags. It makes me laugh now, but I remember during the hitting session, I had to ask a girl I didn't know if I could borrow her helmet and bat. Also during the hitting session, I had to do some bunting. Up until that point in my softball career, I had NEVER bunted. Ever. I actually had to be taught how to bunt during the bunting part of the tryout. It's ironic that I didn't know how to bunt then, but I drag bunt now in college.

I left the tryout thinking I probably didn't make it, but I was happy I at least tried. Eventually we got the call from the coach that I had made it, and little did I know the journey that I was about to take.

I played travel softball every summer, and ended up going from the Sting, to the Blizzard, eventually to the Irish. I was very lucky I got to play with a lot of great people and one of my best friends during those summers.

Eventually came the time when recruiting came into play. I really didn't pay much attention to it until a couple coaches talked to me about it and whether that was something I wanted. I had no idea what I wanted in a college or whether I wanted to play collegiately, so I didn't know where to start. I had a couple travel coaches that mentioned to me that the U of M had gotten a new coaching staff and that they would put in a good word for me to them.

Eventually, that turned into me seeing Coach Allister, Coach Merchant and Coach Ritter at my games and receiving letters in the mail (side note: I think my mom still as all of them). I came on a visit to campus and absolutely loved it. When they offered me a spot, there was no way I could turn it down. I actually committed at a Dairy Queen because who doesn't like ice cream, right?

The change from high school to college was a big one. I was excited and nervous because I had the same group of friends since I was young and now I was in a completely different place and I didn't know anyone. It was a little overwhelming.

But, the relationships with your teammates grow so fast once you start fall practice. School was a big adjustment, as well, as I think it is for most college freshman. You have more free time but your professors expect more from you as a student, so learning to juggle softball along with school was something new to me as well. There's a lot expected of you as a student-athlete at Minnesota--not only getting good grades, being a good student, and working hard during practice, but being a great person as well. I think our team does a great job at upholding that expectation.

I am still so thankful that I was given this opportunity to play at this level because there once was a time where that was a very distant dream to me. I feel very humbled and fortunate to be one of the few chosen by such a great coaching staff. I couldn't imagine playing with any other girls than the teammates I have now or being at any different school. I got so lucky to be around not only amazing athletes, but some of the greatest people I've ever met. People don't see the hard work that we all put into being the best we can every day. Whether it's at practice, lifting/conditioning or in school, I think as a whole, we all push ourselves in every aspect--and it shows every season.

Winning the Big Ten Championship last year was huge for us. It proved that everything that we had done from the previous summer, fall and winter, all the practices, lifting and hard work had really paid off. It was a great experience that I wouldn't have wanted to share with any other group of people.

I'm so proud of that team and what we accomplished that season, but this is a whole new ball game. We are starting a new season, our record is 0-0, what happened last year has no bearing on what happens this season and we are more than ready. We aren't done yet.

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. 9, Kylie Stober: "Kylie is a great addition to our talented pitching rotation. A focused worker and a fierce competitor, fans will enjoy watching Kylie pitch this spring."
Leading up to my freshman year of high school, I wasn't sure if I really wanted to pursue a college softball career. My uncertainty came from growing up with people always telling me that I wasn't good enough or that I didn't have the potential to play at the Division I level--and I believed them.

However, once I got to high school, I had a change of heart. I decided I wanted to pursue a Division I school. Unfortunately, I still wasn't talented enough to be recruited by a lot of Division I schools and I wasn't a well-known player at this time because I wasn't on high-level club teams. I started to work harder on my pitching and hitting in hopes that a higher-level team would want me to play for them, and luckily the Minnesota Renegades wanted me.

The Renegades program really developed me as a player and got my name out there to different schools to recruit me, but I knew that the University of Minnesota was the school I wanted to pursue because of the coaching staff and how they were turning the program around. Also, being a Minnesota kid, I really wanted to represent my state by playing here at the U.

My unofficial visit was just another thing that really sold me on the U. I fell in love with the campus and knew I had to get here no matter what. I was hoping that the coaches would give me a shot and when they invited me to come watch a practice, I didn't know what to expect. After the practice, the coaches sat down with me and offered me a scholarship and I committed on the spot. Knowing I was verbally committed to play at the University of Minnesota was the best feeling in the world.

The beginning of my softball career was shaky--I didn't play on high level club teams and nobody really saw the potential in me. I always worked hard and tried my best, but I always seemed to be overlooked. Once I played for the Renegades, I started to get recognized more by other players and teams. My confidence in myself improved, as did my skills as a player.

I pitched on the varsity softball team my sophomore through senior years. I started almost every game and made a lot of great memories. My last year at Lakeville South, we were fortunate enough to make the state tournament, and in three tough games, we ended as state champions!

The summer before I came to the U, I spent a lot of time conditioning and training to be prepared to come in and be able to compete right away. I was nervous coming in because I didn't know how I would compare to the other pitchers and players here, but my teammates and coaches were really positive and helped me be more comfortable and confident in my abilities.

However, when I put my jersey on for the first time at our first fall game against NDSU, I couldn't help but be nervous. Stepping in the circle for the first time was so nerve-racking for me, I didn't know how to calm myself down. The first at bat that I threw was rough, and I walked the batter, but somehow after that happened I was more relaxed. Katie Richardson also really helped to calm my nerves because I could hear her talking to me the whole time from first base and the rest of my time in that game went well. As the fall season went on, my confidence on the mound increased a lot and made me really excited for our actual spring season!

Watching my team win the Big Ten Championship last year was unbelievable. Seeing their successes of the season made me excited to come in and work hard to try and help the team be just as successful as the last season. The seniors on this team are so uplifting and positive and because of that, I am so motivated to keep putting in work to give them their best season yet.

I am looking forward to being able to play with this team and to keep developing myself as a player and person. I am so happy to be a Gopher and I cannot wait to see what the season has in store for our team!

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. 10, Paige Palkovich: "After splitting time between the infield and outfield her first two years at the U, Paige moved to the grass full time this fall. Paige is a fast athlete with a lot of range and will compete for the center field position this spring."
I recently saw a tweet on my Twitter news feed that read, "I hope to one day love something as much as Minnesotans love Minnesota." For those twitter-savvy readers, you'll know what I mean when I say I couldn't 'favorite' and 'retweet' that tweet fast enough.

I was born and raised, my entire life, in the beautiful and unparalleled state of Minnesota. It's safe to say that my love and loyalty to this great state is one of the things I'm most passionate about. Therefore, it was not a surprise to any of my family and friends when I had my sights set on the University of Minnesota early on in my search for the college I would attend after graduating high school.

From a young age, my sister and I were encouraged by our parents to play any and all sports we desired. I've recently come to realize how grateful I am for that unwavering support throughout every opportunity I was given (probably something I should've appreciated sooner...sorry Mom and Dad). When gymnastics and dance exposed my lack of grace and rhythm and I proved to have below average foot-eye coordination on the soccer field, basketball and softball were the last sports standing.

I played both sports all the way through high school, although I always knew that if I was lucky enough to continue my athletic career into college, I wanted it to be on the diamond. This worked out nicely, since softball always came more naturally and I could never really dribble with my left hand, anyway.

When I was 15, I joined the Minnesota Sting club organization in hopes of improving my level of play and increasing my exposure to college coaches. I played with the Sting for three years, traveling throughout the U.S. for tournaments and creating irreplaceable memories with my teammates (two of whom are still my teammates--Hannah Evavold and Taylor LeMay).

I give all of the credit to my coaches in the Sting organization for increasing my level of play and putting me in a position to be recruited. Their time and effort spent working with my team is something that I will never be able to adequately thank them for.

The summer after my junior year of high school, my team was at a tournament in Colorado and I was on deck for my second at bat when I noticed Coach Allister standing behind home plate, spectating. I had gone to a Gopher camp and seen her at a few other tournaments, but I felt that that was my chance to really make a lasting impression on her.

Looking back on it, I was extremely nervous. Fortunately, I was able to channel those nerves into a focus that resulted in a home run over the centerfield fence, and a sight of Coach Allister smiling as I rounded third and jogged through home. This is one of my most vivid memories I have of my recruiting process and I believe it was at this moment that my collegiate experience was decided, although I didn't realize it at the time.

Before I knew it, I was on an unofficial visit at Minnesota, touring the campus, seeing the facilities, and getting to know the coaches. As if I didn't have my mind made up already, the gorgeous buildings and the cozy, homey vibe that I felt while on campus definitely reassured me of my love for the school.

At that point, the genuineness of the coaches and their visions for the program were just icing on the cake. My visit concluded with a meeting in Coach Allister's office, where it was explained to me that they wanted me on their team. I was so grateful and incredibly humbled by the entire experience. What once seemed like a farfetched dream of mine became a reality a few days later when I was calling Coach Allister's cell phone to verbally commit to play for her, Coach Merchant, and Coach Ritter, on the Gopher softball team for the next four years. To this very day, the entire memory of that series of events gives me goosebumps and is still so surreal.

I feel as though I learned more-academically, personally, and about life altogether-in the nine months of my freshman year of college than I had in the entire 18 years prior. Adapting to a different routine and balancing the academic, athletic, and social aspects in a new environment definitely matured me and taught me a lot of valuable lessons about time management, self-discipline, and what it was going to take for me to be successful in all of those areas. I'm extremely thankful for those experiences.

My memories with the team, like Wenner airplane-ing into home and Katie's subpar bus karaoke performances, and the successes that we had along the way are the things that I'll cherish forever. The thing that I couldn't-and still can't-quite wrap my head around is how lucky I was (and still am) to be a part of a team with the immense amount of chemistry and love for each other that we have. I wholeheartedly believe that that dynamic is what makes our team so special, unique, and successful, and I will now move on before I get too sappy.

We had a great deal of success on the field my freshman year, making it to the Big Ten Championship and the NCAA tournament, but we were hungry for more and came back with a vengeance when my sophomore season rolled around. I honestly cannot put into words the emotions that were being felt by all 19 of us as Sammy Macken's walk-off hit drove in the run to win the 2014 Big Ten Championship. My lack of ability to find words that sufficiently describe those feelings is exactly what makes the whole deal so special.

The fact that no one, except us, knew how it felt to be the best team in the Big Ten at that moment. Little did we know, we would ALSO go on to HOST an NCAA regional, WIN that, and continue on to battle the No. 1-ranked team in the nation at super regionals.

It's those victories that fuel us every day and get us so excited for what lies ahead in the 2015 season. When the days get long, or practices get tough, or conditioning gets tiring...those memories are what remind us of why we do it all.

A wise woman by the name of Coach Merchant often says, "The journey is the reward," reminding us that all of our hard work is imperative in bringing us the successes that we celebrate. We are already in the thick of the journey, and the start of season is bringing the reward within reach. #StayTuned

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. 14, Hannah Granger: "Hannah is a diligent worker that continues to improve upon all aspects of her game each and every year. An outfielder with the ability to hit for power to all fields, Hannah will compete for time in the grass and at the designated player position."
I have always considered myself to be a person who has been in the right place at the right time and becoming a part of the Gopher Softball family was one of those lucky moments for me.

I began playing softball at the age of five in Indiana before moving to Illinois at age six. By the time I had reached fifth grade, I knew softball was something I wanted to continue to do for a long time. At that point, my parents thought it would be a good idea to sign me up for a more competitive travel team, the Wheaton Wildcats. Throughout the five summers I spent with the Wildcats, I learned that being part of a sports team was more like a family than I had originally anticipated. These teammates and their families grew to be my family and still are to this day.

However, I knew that if I wanted to continue playing softball at the college level, I would have to find an even more competitive team to play with so I could have some exposure to college coaches. Thus, for the last three summers of my high school career, I played for the Lemont Rockers. We traveled all over the country and were seen by many coaches. Little did I know, luck would bring me to a tournament in my home state where I was then recruited.

It was the fall of my senior year and I had been filling out applications for many schools already. I have known I wanted to be a teacher since I was in eighth grade, so I applied to three or four schools with great education programs, and at this point, Minnesota was not even on my radar.

We had a tournament a few weekends before Thanksgiving where I knew quite a few college coaches would be in attendance, but I really had gotten to the point where I just wanted to enjoy my last few months of playing softball with my friends; I didn't think it was even still possible for me to get recruited. However, a homerun and a couple plays in the outfield later, I caught the attention of Coach Allister as she was passing by our game and after the game, she asked me to come to Minnesota for a visit.

I instantly fell in love with the school, the atmosphere, and the vision the coaches had for the program. The last day of my visit, Coach Allister let me know the deal and I immediately said, "I'm in, Coach!"

That was probably the luckiest moment of my life. I did not know it at that point, but those coaches that sat before me, and the teammates I would come to know, have truly become my family. They have helped me through the hardest time in my life and are continually supporting me every day in everything that I do. I could not have asked for a better place to spend my four years in college.

Now, my mom always despised me saying I was lucky because she believed that people "make their own luck". However, as true as that may be, I still have to say, I am truly blessed to be where I am today. I am looking forward to diving into my senior season with this incredible team and give our best effort to return to the Big Ten Championship and postseason. I believe we have all the right parts to make Gopher Softball a well-oiled machine. I am so excited to see what trials and successes this season has in store for us! Go Gophers!

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. 15, Erika Rozell: "Erika is a tremendous athlete that can hit for power and run. She has the potential to develop into an every day player either behind the plate or in the outfield."
Growing up, I played many different sports because I loved being active and being able to compete. I always knew that I wanted to play a sport in college, but never really knew which one. I knew that if I wanted to get recruited by college coaches, I would need to play at a higher level. I joined a club team in seventh grade and this was the beginning of my journey. After one year of playing at the elite level, my love for the game increased immensely.

One thing that my club coach emphasized was going to college camps to get exposure. As an eighth grader, I began my college search. I attended camps at different schools in and around Minnesota in search for a place that I could excel academically and also athletically. I went to a countless number of camps but none of them had the combinations of what I wanted in a school. It wasn't until my sophomore year of high school that I ended up at a Gopher softball camp and I loved every second of it.

I went on an unofficial visit during the fall of my junior year. During this visit, I was able to meet some of the players, tour the school, and attend Gopher sporting events. During this visit, I fell in love with every aspect of the school.

I chose the University of Minnesota for many different reasons. One thing I wanted in the school that I attended for college was to be close to a city, and with the U being located in Minneapolis, I thought this would be the perfect fit all around. I knew I wanted to go to a big school, and the U was one of the largest schools on my list. The main reason I chose to attend the U of M was because I would be able to play Division I and represent my home state.

My favorite part of the transition into becoming a college student was all of the freedom that comes along with it. In my first semester of college, I learned so much about independence and responsibility.

When I went on my official visit, I absolutely loved spending time and getting to know the team. As for working out in the summer, I am lucky because I live so close to campus. I was able to come in and lift the first couple weeks before I got on campus. This helped me a lot because I was able to learn all of the different lifts.

As soon as I arrived on campus, I felt at home. It is such a great experience being on a team with so many individuals that all have a common goal.

There are no words to describe what it was like to watch them on TV as they won a Big Ten championship. All I knew is that I wanted to be a part of something as great as that.

It is such an amazing experience being able to play on the same field as people that I have watched on the team over the past couple of years.

As for this upcoming season, I cannot wait for games to start. I am so excited to continue practicing with the team and getting better every single day. Being a part of this team is the best thing that has ever happened to me.

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