When Jamie Trachsel took the job as Gophers softball coach, she inherited a No. 1-ranked program that the NCAA had just controversially passed on for playing host to a regional.
And even after her first season, more pressure piled on when her star play transferred to an SEC powerhouse, and her starting center fielder suffered a season-ending injury in early March.
Yet in fewer than two years since she joined the Gophers, Trachsel has the squad holding its first NCAA super regional, starting Friday against Louisiana State at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.
“I don’t know that you ever put a timeline on anything,” Trachsel, a Duluth native, said of her quick achievement. “But I also walked into some talent, and obviously when you have pitching, you always have a chance.
“Dream big. Why not? Why not us? And why do you have to wait on it? And if you’re capable, then why can’t you? And then maybe, why shouldn’t you?”
That mentality has pervaded the whole roster. Junior second baseman MaKenna Partain was a freshman on the prolific 2017 team that endured the postseason snub just before former coach Jessica Allister left to coach at Stanford, her alma mater. Partain had to help the team through the transfer of two-time Big Ten Player of the Year Kendyl Lindaman this past fall. And again when center fielder Ellee Jensen took a medical redshirt earlier this season.
“Nobody really thought we were going to be here,” Partain said.
“ ... It’s pretty cool that we are here, to be honest, because we’ve had so much adversity thrown at us these past few years. And I don’t think people realize just how much we’ve gone through.”
But the Gophers didn’t just stumble into having a real shot at making the College World Series for the first time. Trachsel brought changes with her from her past jobs that made this Gophers program a more well-rounded one.
She spent 14 seasons at North Dakota State, the latter six as co-head coach, before being the coach at Iowa State for one season in 2017. She is 329-173 and has led her teams to the postseason seven out of nine years.
“Defense is a super big thing for Jamie,” senior outfielder Maddie Houlihan said. “In the past, we’ve kind of been known for our pitching and hitting. And we still have those as obviously important parts of our game. But defensively, I feel like I have learned so much, and I can just see it in every single player.”
Trachsel said she had to balance making defense a priority without letting the offense suffer. And that took some experimentation. But now, her team ranks seventh in the country with a .978 fielding percentage, which will break the 2008 school record of .975 if it holds. The 2017 team’s fielding percentage (.968) ranked 55th in the nation.
The improved weakness also hasn’t undermined the longstanding strengths. The Gophers rank 15th in home runs per game, with 70 total, and they are ninth nationally with a 1.66 ERA.
“For me, I never wanted to be a reason that this team wasn’t as successful as they could be,” Trachsel said. “So that was always my motivation to keep putting in the extra time in, making sure I hired the right people, going the extra mile, putting in the extra work.”
The schedule she made up for this year is one example of that, a tougher one than the 2017 team’s that helped position the Gophers well for their postseason ambitions.
While Trachsel’s practices are usually serious affairs, there has been more room for fun as the season dwindles. The team watched the movie “Miracle” on Thursday night ahead of its super regional both as a distraction and inspiration.
“She’s done an amazing job of just sticking true to who she is and believing and trusting in what she knows, and we’ve bought in,” Houlihan said.
“And look what we’re going to do in just two years with her. I’m so lucky that I’ve been able to have her as my coach the last two years of my career.”
Players say something else that has made the difference with Trachsel is her devotion to cultivating personal relationships with everyone on the team. And that’s manifested on the field with the Gophers two victories away from a monumental moment in program history: the College World Series.
“[Trachsel’s] just done an amazing job of building from what we had and making us better,” Houlihan said. “And I think this program is going to be in the softball world as a big name for a long time.”