Minnesota head softball coach Jessica Allister enters her fifth season at the helm of the Minnesota softball program after leading the Gophers to their best season in program history in 2014, upping her career win total to 142 in the process.
In Allister's fourth season in Minneapolis, Minnesota bested 30 wins for the fourth-straight season and eclipsed the 40-win plateau for the first time in 15 years, going 44-12. After walking off with their first Big Ten Tournament win since 1999 against top-seeded Michigan, the Gophers were selected to host an NCAA regional for the second time in program history. With wins over Green Bay, North Dakota State, and No. 21/22 Auburn, the team reached its first-ever super regional.
The 2014 edition of the Gophers was strong both in the circle and at the plate. The team, which finished with a program-best (NCAA-era) .786 winning percentage, belted a school-record 68 home runs, aiding a Minnesota-best team slugging percentage of .501. Pitchers Sara Moulton, Nikki Anderson, and Sara Groenewegen teamed up to set school records with 22 shutout wins and 487 strikeouts, marks that ranked the squad in the top three nationally on the season.
Allister picked up her 100th win with the Maroon and Gold on the first day of the season when the Gophers blanked No. 17 LSU in Baton Rouge, La. in the first of the team's 16 wins against eventual NCAA Tournament teams. Minnesota finished the season tabbed 14th in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Rankings and 15th in the USA Today/NFCA Coaches Rankings, the highest-ever final ranking for a Gopher team in either poll.
The Jessica Allister era of Minnesota softball began on Aug. 10, 2010, when then-director of athletics Joel Maturi named the former Oregon assistant and All-America catcher from Stanford the sixth head coach in Minnesota history.
In her first year with the Gophers, Allister pushed her squad to improve every day by maintaining a strong work ethic on the playing field and in the classroom. The results couldn't be ignored, as the team nearly doubled its win total from the previous year and finished the 2011 campaign with a 31-24 overall record. Minnesota also improved its Big Ten win total from two in 2010 to nine in 2011. Allister's 15-game jump in the win column was only matched nationally by 11 other Division I schools.
In her second season, Allister drew the tall task of fielding a youthful team that featured 10 underclassmen. But to everyone's surprise except those involved with the program, her team flourished to become one of the Big Ten's most powerful offensive teams. The squad would post a 31-22 record, which included a mark of 9-5 against teams that qualified for NCAA Regional play. Arguably the highlight of the season was when the Gophers won a weekend series against eventual Big Ten champion and nationally-ranked Michigan, a feat that had not been accomplished by the Gophers since 1983. Before 2011 and 2012, the Gophers had not posted back-to-back 30-win seasons since 2003 and 2004.
In 2013, the Gophers improved yet again to go 36-19, their best record since a 37-21-1 showing in 2003. At 14-6 in the Big Ten, it was also Minnesota's first winning conference record since that same year. The Gophers finished third in the Big Ten and went on to play in the NCAA Regional for the first time in a decade. For her efforts, Allister was named Minnesota's Female Coach of the Year.
Under Allister's guidance, the Gophers also have seen a number of student-athletes individually recognized by the Big Ten as well as national organizations for outstanding performance. Most recently, in 2014, Moulton and Kaitlyn Richardson were named to the NFCA All-America Second Team, becoming the first Minnesota tandem to achieve All-America status in the same season since 1998. Richardson became the school's third two-time All-American after receiving a third-team nod as a sophomore in 2013.
A record five Gophers garnered all-region honors in 2014. Joining Richardson and Moulton, both First Team All-Great Lakes Region honorees, were Groenewegen and Tyler Walker on the second team and Erica Meyer on the third team. Additionally in Allister's fourth season, Groenewegen became Minnesota's first Big Ten Pitcher of the Year and took home Big Ten Freshman of the Year accolades, becoming the third player in conference history to win both awards in the same season. The White Rock, B.C. native joined Richardson and Walker as First Team All-Big Ten selections, giving the Gophers three first-team all-conference selections for the second-straight year.
In 2011, Moulton was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and went on to earn All-Big Ten honors four times before embarking on a professional career with the National Pro Fastpitch's Chicago Bandits, becoming the sixth player in school history to play professionally. She was selected fifth overal in the NPF's collegiate draft.
Malisa Barnes also earned 2011 All-Big Ten honors after leading Minnesota with a .433 batting average (.423 in conference play), a figure that was 22nd in the country and third on Minnesota's single-season record list. In 2012, Walker received All-Big Ten honors by recording a team-best .380 batting average, the best batting average for a freshman in school history.
Academically, Allister's teams have featured 27 student-athletes who earned Academic All-Big Ten distinction, including 11 in 2014. Kaitlyn Richardson earned Capital One CoSIDA Academic All-America Third Team status in 2013, while Moulton was an all-district honoree the following season.
Both Richardson and Moulton were top-25 finalists for the NFCA National Collegiate Player of the Year Award in 2014. In the same year, Groenewegen was a top-10 finalist for the organization's inaugural National Freshman of the Year Award.
Prior to taking over the reins at Minnesota, Allister was one of the nation's top softball assistants, helping three different programs to super regional appearances, with five trips in a six-year stretch. A proven developer of talent, Allister has groomed numerous student-athletes into elite softball players, including 11 NFCA All-Americans, and has consistently helped build nationally-ranked programs throughout her career.
The Nacogdoches, Texas native served as an assistant at Oregon in 2010 when she helped coach the Ducks to one of their best seasons in program history, including their first-ever super regional berth. While in Eugene, Allister assisted in all aspects of the softball program with an emphasis on hitting, catching and outfielders. Off the field, Allister acted as recruiting and travel coordinator, as well as serving as the program's primary contact for admissions, compliance, and eligibility.
Prior to joining the staff at Oregon, Allister spent three years at her alma mater, Stanford University, where she was an assistant coach on a Cardinal staff that earned honors as the 2009 NFCA West Regional Coaching Staff of the Year. During her tenure in Palo Alto, Allister worked with Stanford's catchers and coached Rosey Neill to 2008 and 2009 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year honors. In addition to her role working with the team's catchers, Allister also served as Stanford's first base coach and assisted with hitting and recruiting. During her time as an assistant, Stanford earned three-straight NCAA tournament bids and made super regional appearances in 2008 and 2009.
Allister's first coaching position was at the University of Georgia, where she served as an assistant for the 2005 and 2006 seasons. During her stint with UGA, the team enjoyed two of its most successful seasons ever, earning two NCAA tournament berths and an SEC Championship. That same year, the Bulldogs led the SEC and ranked sixth nationally in batting (.317).
As a player, Allister put together one of Stanford's all-time great careers by earning All-America honors as a senior in 2004 and leading the Cardinal to a pair of Women's College World Series appearances (2001 and 2004). A three-time All-Pac-10 honoree and a four-year starter, Allister owns Stanford's career records for games played (266) and fielding percentage (.994). She also ranks among the program's top 10 for career hits, doubles, home runs, runs batted in, slugging percentage and putouts. As a final accolade for her college career, Allister was named the 2004 Stanford Conference Female Athlete of the Year.
Allister graduated from Stanford in 2004 with a degree in economics and played professionally as a member of the New England Riptide of the National Pro Fastpitch League in 2004 and 2005.