Gophers rise to top in softball as coach promised first recruits

  • Article by: JASON GONZALEZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 16, 2014 - 6:19 AM

Her pitch to her first recruits was the success of other Gophers women’s teams.

There wasn’t much for Jessica Allister to sell when she took over the Gophers softball program four years ago. The team had fallen into a lull since the early 2000s and it was time to rebuild. The creative coach looked beyond her sport to begin the process.

“When you look at the department as a whole, we [talked to recruits] about how successful some of the women’s programs have been [at Minnesota]. That shows that there is the infrastructure in place and university support behind it to have a great program,” Allister said. “If these teams can be successful, we can be successful, too.”

It didn’t take long for the coach and her players to see the truth behind this selling point. The Gophers won the Big Ten tournament championship last week, which helped them earn the right to host an NCAA tournament regional this weekend at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.

The Gophers play Wisconsin-Green Bay at 6:30 p.m. Friday in their first game. Auburn and North Dakota State open the regional at 4 p.m.

It’s the second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance for the Gophers, who have put together four consecutive 30-plus win seasons. This year’s 41-9 record earned them the tournament’s overall No. 16 seed. They are one of only seven teams in the 64-team field with fewer than 10 losses.

When Allister took over the program in 2010, the Gophers were coming off back-to-back losing seasons during which it had won only eight Big Ten games.

The transformation has been swift but not easy, Allister said. As freshmen, the present seniors, including standout pitcher Sara Moulton, pushed a culture of finding ways to get better. The now juniors, which included top national recruits Tyler Walker and Kaitlyn Richardson, weren’t scared of anything when they arrived on campus.

Those new mind-sets helped produce a new standout in women’s athletics at Minnesota.

Allister and her coaches were determined to turn around the program “and I fell in love with the idea,” said Richardson, who leads the team with a .433 batting average, 18 doubles and 47 RBI. “It’s not just another program out there. We created a program that is going to be remembered at Minnesota and, hopefully, be long-lived and known as a good softball program.”

Their success has created buzz around the campus and athletics department. The team’s picture was hung in the university’s Hall of Champions this past week. Walker takes pride in seeing such recognition but said the team isn’t done yet.

The players adopted a motto of pushing the rock up the hill together, with destinations of the super-regionals and Women’s College World Series.

“It’s an opportunity to show we belong and we deserve to be hosting a regional, and that we’re going to win our regional and go from there,” said Walker, who’s hitting .386 with 10 home runs, 14 stolen bases and 46 RBI. “People still might think we’re the underdogs, and we’re going to be able to prove people wrong.”

The last time the program was host of a regional was in 2002. The Gophers never have won more than two NCAA tournament games in a postseason. Moulton said there’s no pressure to win this weekend despite the Gophers being the tournament host.

The righthander from Eagan said she was star-struck playing in her first NCAA tournament last year. This time she knows what to expect and is thankful to get another opportunity in her home state. Moulton has a 1.59 ERA and 222 strikeouts. Sara Groenewegen, the Big Ten pitcher and freshman of the year, has a 2.25 ERA and 172 strikeouts.

“We feel a lot of pride. This is our home,” Moulton said. “Looking back on our last four years and where we started and where we are now, it’s incredible. I wasn’t sure what I was walking into my freshman year. … I didn’t know [the transformation] would happen this quickly.”

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Houston 2 Top 8th Inning
St. Louis 5
Washington 9 Bottom 7th Inning
Atlanta 8
Miami 5 Bottom 8th Inning
Boston 3
Minnesota 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay 2
NY Yankees 4 Top 7th Inning
Philadelphia 0
Baltimore 0 Bottom 3rd Inning
Toronto 2
Detroit 3 Top 8th Inning
NY Mets 4
Cincinnati 0 Bottom 2nd Inning
Chicago Cubs 0
Los Angeles 5 Top 3rd Inning
Milwaukee 0
San Francisco 7 Top 2nd Inning
Texas 0
Chicago WSox 0 Top 3rd Inning
San Diego 0
Kansas City 2 Top 2nd Inning
Cleveland 4
Seattle 2 Bottom 3rd Inning
Los Angeles 2
Colorado 0 Bottom 2nd Inning
LA Angels 1
Oakland 2 Bottom 2nd Inning
Arizona 0
Pittsburgh 6:05 PM
NY Yankees
Chicago 6:00 PM
Indiana
Sacramento 6:00 PM
Orlando
Utah 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Miami 6:00 PM
Washington
Toronto 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Cleveland 6:30 PM
Atlanta
Boston 7:00 PM
New Orleans
Detroit 7:00 PM
Houston
LA Lakers 7:00 PM
Memphis
Phoenix 7:00 PM
Brooklyn
Denver 7:30 PM
San Antonio
Dallas 9:30 PM
Golden State
Columbus 6:00 PM
New Jersey
Minnesota 6:00 PM
Carolina
Buffalo 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 6:30 PM
Detroit
Edmonton 7:30 PM
Chicago
Pittsburgh 9:00 PM
Anaheim
Longwood 68 FINAL
Char Southern 60
Ark-Pine Bluff 94 FINAL
Miss Valley St 75
Southern Ill 45 FINAL
Wichita State 56
Winthrop 34 2nd Half 13:54
Radford 33
Evansville 7 1st Half 16:03
Illinois State 7
Towson 5:00 PM
Elon
Gardner-Webb 5:00 PM
High Point
Samford 5:00 PM
UNC Greensboro
Northern Ill 6:00 PM
Ball State
Bowling Green 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Brown 6:00 PM
Dartmouth
Toledo 6:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Akron 6:00 PM
Kent State
Ill-Chicago 6:00 PM
Oakland
Miami-Ohio 6:00 PM
Ohio
Columbia 6:00 PM
Penn
Cornell 6:00 PM
Princeton
Central Mich 6:00 PM
Western Mich
Bradley 6:05 PM
Northern Iowa
Morehead State 6:30 PM
Murray State
UNC-Asheville 7:00 PM
Coastal Carolina
Yale 7:00 PM
Harvard
Furman 7:30 PM
Citadel
Coll of Charleston 7:30 PM
Drexel
Texas Tech 8:00 PM
Baylor
Pacific 8:00 PM
San Francisco
Detroit 8:30 PM
Cleveland State
Belmont 8:30 PM
Eastern Ky
Loyola-Chicago 8:35 PM
Indiana State
Loyola Marymount 10:30 PM
Santa Clara
Chicago 9:00 PM
Los Angeles
Saint Louis 63 FINAL
(21) George Washington 77
Wake Forest 68 FINAL
(16) Duke 77
Furman 55 FINAL
(17) Chattanooga 68
Monmouth 61 FINAL
Quinnipiac 82
Michigan State 60 FINAL
(4) Maryland 70
Belmont 65 FINAL
UT Martin 71
Arkansas 36 FINAL
(3) South Carolina 58
Mercer 56 FINAL
East Tenn St 66
Richmond 41 2nd Half 2:11
Fordham 42
Miami-Florida 58 2nd Half 1:15
(2) Notre Dame 72
Siena 41 2nd Half 12:16
Iona 41
Washington St 22 2nd Half 16:45
(9) Arizona State 27
Ark-Pine Bluff 37 2nd Half 11:49
Miss Valley St 32
(23) Rutgers 30 1st Half 4:10
(24) Northwestern 15
Tennessee St 31 1st Half 0:19
SIU-Edwardsville 28
Loyola Marymount 23 2nd Half
Gonzaga 28
(18) Texas A&M 5 1st Half 11:40
LSU 22
Cincinnati 3:00 PM
UCF
Saint Josephs 3:30 PM
Dayton
UCLA 4:00 PM
(19) Stanford
Santa Clara 4:30 PM
San Diego
Virginia Tech 5:00 PM
(7) Florida State
SMU 5:00 PM
Memphis
Lehigh 5:05 PM
Holy Cross
Rhode Island 6:00 PM
Duquesne
North Florida 6:00 PM
(20) Fla Gulf Coast
Kennesaw St 6:00 PM
Jacksonville
USC Upstate 6:00 PM
Northern Ky
Lipscomb 6:00 PM
Stetson
Nebraska 6:00 PM
(14) Iowa
Saint Peters 6:00 PM
Marist
Navy 6:00 PM
Bucknell
Lafayette 6:00 PM
American Univ
Colgate 6:00 PM
Army
Georgia 6:00 PM
(5) Tennessee
Dartmouth 6:00 PM
Brown
Penn 6:00 PM
Columbia
(13) Princeton 6:00 PM
Cornell
Kansas 6:00 PM
Kansas State
Harvard 6:00 PM
Yale
(15) North Carolina 7:00 PM
(10) Louisville
San Jose St 7:00 PM
UNLV
Houston 7:00 PM
Tulane
Utah State 8:00 PM
Colorado State
Colorado 8:00 PM
(8) Oregon State
New Mexico 8:00 PM
Wyoming
Minnesota 8:25 PM
Ohio State
(12) Kentucky 8:25 PM
(11) Miss State
San Diego State 8:30 PM
Nevada
Niagara 8:30 PM
Fairfield
Texas Tech 8:30 PM
West Virginia
Boise State 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Washington 10:30 PM
California

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is doing the best job coaching a Minnesota pro sports team?

Weekly Question

Countdown to great deals

Bid March 15-23

    ADVERTISEMENT

    ADVERTISEMENT

    ADVERTISEMENT

    ADVERTISEMENT

    Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

    ADVERTISEMENT

     
    Close