Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.

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Three Gophers -- so far -- headed to Eugene

Posted by: Roman Augustoviz under Sports, Gophers post season Updated: May 31, 2014 - 3:17 AM

Sophomore Wally Ellenson of the Gophers can jump.

And on Friday he cleared 6-9-1/2 on the first try at the NCAA West Prelims in Fayetteville, Ark. Then he cleared 6-11-1/2 on the first try and 7-1, too.

Then he stopped. So did everyone who made that height. All of them made the NCAA meet June 11-14 in Eugene, Ore.

The top 12 high jumpers advanced, and 11 cleared 7-1.

Ellenson was one of six who did it without a miss up to that height, so he tied for first.

He'll, obviously, have to go higher at Eugene if he wants to duplicate what he did a year ago, an All-America showing with a top eight finish.

Teammate Jon Lehman, a senior captain on the U track and field team also is headed West. He finished fourth in the hammer throw, heaving the hammer 214 feet on his fifth toss. Five of his six throws were over 200 feet, so he was pretty consistent.

This will be his first NCAA meet.

Zach Siegmeier, another senior, tied for sixth in the pole vault on Thursday, earning a spot in the national meet as well.

“We’re certainly happy for Jon and Wally. They’ve both had great seasons for us, and we’re excited about their prospects next month in Eugene,” said Steve Plasencia, director of the Gophers men's track and field program.

“We have one more day to move some guys on, and hopefully we’ll continue the success we’ve had over the first two days of competition.”

Gophers men will be competing in three events on Saturday: discus, 1,500 and 4x400.

Wait 'til next year -- Gophers should be even better in softball

Posted by: Roman Augustoviz under Gophers Updated: May 27, 2014 - 3:30 AM

Not sure what Jessica Allister's contract situation is, but Norwood Teague is lucky to have her.

The softball program looks like it is in good hands.

In Allister's fourth season, the team reached its first super regional, won the Big Ten tournament, and went 44-12.

And, there's this, going into the seventh inning on Sunday, the Gophers were within a run, 3-2, of the favorite to win the NCAA tournament. Oregon wound up sweeping the U 10-2 (not a good game for the Gophers) and 6-2.

But Minnesota has the core of its team returning. Pitcher Sara Moulton will graduate and she owns most of the program's career records. So, too, will center fielder Bree Blanchette. She hit only .204 but had 24 RBI, tied for fifth on the team. Good defensively, too.

The only other senior is Kelsey Klucas, who was used only as a pinch runner. ... The seniors won 142 games in their four seasons, reaching 30-plus every season.

But Sara Groenewegen and Nikki Anderson should be able to eat up most of Moulton's innings.

Groenewegen was the Big Ten pitcher of the year and freshman of the year. She's a good arm to build a staff around. She threw a no-hitter and also 6.1 no-hit innings in one relief outing in the regional at Minneapolis.

She can strike batter out, 11.6 per seven innings -- best rate in country. Oh, and she can hit, too. Batted .299 with 11 homers. She plays first went not in the circle.

Anderson, a sophomore, actually had the best ERA on the team, 1.60. She also trhrows hard and had 51 strikeouts in 42 innings. Made 20 relief appearances. Closed the door on Auburn in the championship game of the regional in one of them.

Gophers also signed righthander Kylie Stober of Lakeville South.

So the Gophers should be more than OK in pitching.

Hitting? The Gophers will return two of the best in the Big Ten, first team all-conference picks Kaitlyn Richardson and Tyler Walker, who play third and short. Richardson hit .418 with 21 double, 10 homers and 51 RBI.

Walker hit two homers against Oregon. She also has pop, especially for a leadff hitter with a .382 average. She had 13 doubles, eight triples and 12 homers and 50 RBI. Also got hit 12 times by pitches. So she got on base a lot.

The Gophers return their top four players in RBI and Erica Meyer, who tied for fifth with 24.

Besied Stober, the Gophers also signed five other players, two from Minnesota, one from Michigan, one from Iowa and one from Arizona.

After the second loss to Oregon ended the Gophers' season, Richardson said, "You have to give us credit, we've done a lot this year."

Allister expects her team to come back hungry, wanting to do even more next season.

"The more you get a taste of thing, the more you want it. ... [Getting to Super Regionals for the first time] is a huge step for our program."

And on Sunday, when the Gophers needed to win twice, the day began with bad news.

Groenewegen, who was scheduled to start the first game that day was unavailable. She was ruled out because of injury.

The Gophers didn't say what was wrong with her, but Oregon coach Mike White didn't hesitate. He said Groenewegen had a concussion.

Would have been interesting to see Groenewegen, a strikeout pitcher, against the aggressive Ducks.

Maybe next season.

Gophers still have a card to play against the mighty Ducks

Posted by: Roman Augustoviz under Sports, Gophers post season Updated: May 25, 2014 - 3:04 AM

Oregon coach Mike White was piling it on after the Ducks embarrassed the Gophers 10-2 on Saturday night in a softball Super Regional.

"Minnesota is a great opponent. ... They never give up, they keep coming. ... I'm sure it will be a tough series tomorrow. ... Don't think this is over."

Was he serious? Hard to say. Not sure about this New Zealand native with Midwest ties -- he went to Mt. Mercy College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

What is probable, is that the Gophers will play better at 4 p.m. Sunday (ESPN) when the teams meet again. Hard to play worse.

The Ducks ran around the bases at will when Sara Moulton was on the mound. She was tagged for eight runs -- four earned -- and eight hits in three innings.

Nikki Anderson, a sophomore lefthander, was more effective: Two runs in two-plus inning, four hits.

Maybe the Big Ten pitcher of the year can do even better.

Sara Groenewegen played first base Saturday, but the Gophers have to start her in Game 2. She's a power pitcher who can keep Ducks off the bases.

The freshman righthander has struck out 185 in 112 innings. She whiffs 11.6 per seven innings -- that's the best rate in the country.

Groenewegen has struck out 10 or more batters seven times this season. Her season-best is 14, a mark set in her second-career start against Central Arkansas. She tied that number May 2 in a 3-0 loss at Purdue.

The Gophers need to slow down the Ducks' offense, which thrives on speed, which in turn creates chaos.

Minnesota committed four errors Saturday. Each pitcher made made, center fielder Bree Blanchette made one and catcher Taylor LeMay one. The Ducks also were 4-for4 stealing bases.

"We tried to play the game a little fast," Gophers coach Jessica Allister said.

"We struggled," shortstop Tyler Walker said.

The Ducks were as fired up as could be. Last year, when they were the No. 3 seed in the tournament, Nebraska came to Eugene and won 2-of-3 to end Oregon's season.

Oregon didn't want a repeat.

Toledo a rising tennis star for the Gophers

Posted by: Roman Augustoviz under Sports, Gophers awards and honors Updated: May 24, 2014 - 10:33 AM

At this time of the year, some sport at the U of M seems to be ending nearly every day.

The baseball team played its last game on Thursday.

The last men's tennis player lost in the NCAA tournament in Athens, Ga., on Friday.

The softball team plays Saturday night against the No. 1 seed in Eugene, Ore., on Saturday night and could be done Sunday.

You get the point. It's sad in a way: careers ending, a last loss, teammates going separate ways for the summer.

But it can be a time of hope, too.

Let's zero in one particular player: Leandro Toledo. A different sounding name -- as mine is.

Toledo is the No. 1 singles player for the Gophers and he just had himself quite a week. He competed in the 64-player singles draw. Won twice, earning him All-America status, then lost in the Round of 16.

Toledo was a first-team All-Big Ten pick after going 8-3 against conference foes. He was ranked No. 38 nationally.

His first opponent at nationals was Alex Domijan of Virginia, ranked No. 6. He was 25-1 and on a 15-match winning streak.

Toledo was the definite underdog, but he won 6-7 (4), 7-6 (12), 6-4. Next, he beat No. 38 Diego Galeano of Baylor, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-4.

He became the first All-America player at the U since 2002, 14 years ago.

No. 28 Alex Sarkissian of Pepperdine ended Toledo's tournament run 7-6 (1), 6-2.

Toledo was the last of seven Big Ten players in the singles draw still standing. And before the NCAAs, he was named the ITA Central Region Player to Watch for next season when he will be a senior.

The 6-1 lefthander is from Hamburg, Germany. He turned 22 on May 5 and hits a two-handed backhand.

Baseball team overachieved, Gophers coach Anderson says

Posted by: Roman Augustoviz under Sports, Gophers post season Updated: May 23, 2014 - 2:38 AM

Iowa beat the Gophers 2-1 on Thursday in the losers' bracket of the Big Ten tournament, ending Minnesota's season.

"We left a ton of guys on base the last two days," Anderson said, "and a number of guys in scoring position."

The Gophers lost 3-2 to Michigan in their first game.

"You've got to be able to come up with the big hit. ... Everybody has pretty good pitcher and defense. You can't expect to score three runs in two games and be on the [right] side of the won/loss column."

Junior righthander Ben Meyer pitched a four-hitter against Iowa and gave up only one earned run.

"Ben deserved a better fate, no question about it. But we didn't deliver on offense and that has been out struggle all season long -- to be consistent on offense and be able to have quality at-bats.

"We've got to fix that going ahead into 2015."

The Gophers scored their only run in the fourth inning on Dan Olinger's run-scoring double in the fourth.

But the Hawkeyes tied the score in the bottom of the inning on an unearned run and won on a sacrifice fly in the eight.

"I felt great out there," Meyer said. "I had a really good feel for all three of my pitches. And I probably had the best control of my slider, I had all year."

The hitters, though, did an adequate job of getting on base. Four got hits, three got hit by pitches and two walked. The Gophers stranded nine runners, though.

"We didn't do a good enough job on offense, of executing our end of the bargain," Olinger said. "They changed speeds and hit their spots when they needed to.

"It's a battle between pitchers and hitters and they won today. ... Hitting is contagious. ... Sometimes you don't put the at-bat that you want together at the right time."

Maybe next time. Maybe next year.

Anderson was asked after the loss to Iowa about preparations for next season.

"It starts today," he said. "You've got to start thinking aahead, you've got to start planning.You've got to figure out how to make the team better."

And Anderson is optimistic he and his staff can.

"I like the young players in our program, I really do," he said. "I like the last two classes and we've got a good one coming in. There is something to work with here.

"I just hope we have a better spring next year. We can't have three [bad ones] in a row. We have to have a good one, don't we? ... We've got a lot of work to do, but we are not wilting."

Neither did the Gophers, who finished 27-24 this season.

"At the beginning of the tournament, because of the injuries we had, I said I was surprised," Anderson said. "This was probably a team that very easily could have ended up in 10th or 11th place [in the conference] based on what we went through."

Instead the Gophers tied Michigan for fourth in the Big Ten standings and were the fourth seed in the conference tournament.

'They never gave up, they never gave in. They competed," Anderson said. "They competed here [in Omaha]. We have some things we need to work on, no doubt about it."

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