(Update: St. Catherine University won its opening game inthe NCAA Division III softball tournament 1-0 over Simpson on Friday morning in the regional tournament at Decorah, Iowa. The Wildcats scored a run in the sixth inning and are scheduled to play at 11 a.m. Saturday against the winner of the game between Luther College, the regional host, and Wisconsin-Superior.
More information about the regional, including a complete schedule, is here.)
Colleen Powers is in her third season as St. Catherine University’s softball coach. To fully understand the extent of the building process that has occurred since she arrived, consider this: not a single player who was on her first team in 2013-14 is on the current roster.
Yet this year’s squad — comprised of all freshmen and sophomores except for two seniors, both of whom transferred in last year — will make history Friday as the first St. Kate’s softball team to ever play in the Division III NCAA tournament.
So how did Powers and her assistants essentially take a program and build it from scratch into a regional power in such a short time? She sold them on the school itself, located in St. Paul, and the chance to play right away.
That’s it. That’s the secret formula. Oh, and also …
“It starts with the talent, which goes without saying,” Powers said. “I recruited ballplayers who have been well-coached coming in. They’ve already played for championships on the national scene at a club level or in a state tournament. But it starts and revolves around their talent.”
Senior Robyn Rohr is the offensive catalyst with a .481 average. Sophomore Megan Lindenfelser, an Anoka High School graduate, is one of the Wildcats’ two primary pitchers and also has a team-leading nine home runs.
The Wildcats (31-9) will see how far that talent can take them starting Friday in the NCAA regionals in Decorah, Iowa. They face Simpson College at 9 a.m. — a game that was moved to an earlier start time because of anticipated inclement weather.
Getting started early is just fine for a program that has only started winning at a high level of late. The Wildcats won just eight games in Powers’ first season but improved to 28-10 last season — a season in which they defeated MIAC rival St. Thomas for the first time in program history.
This year, the Wildcats finished as the runner-up to St. Thomas in the MIAC postseason tournament, helping them earn an at-large bid in the NCAA tourney. Powers said the strong showing in the conference tournament will help prepare St. Kate’s for this weekend.
“We re-evaluated our relationship with pressure. It’s been a no-lose situation, so to speak,” she said. “We’re really approaching this next game just like we approached our first game of the season: one pitch at a time.”
That’s the way Powers, 30, has always approached things — whether as a player for the Gophers or while working her way up the coaching ranks before landing her first college head job at St. Kate’s.
“To his program and university, this is a huge deal,” Powers said. “It’s been so fun to have so much support — from the very top of the university to the athletic department to the alumni support from everyone that bleeds purple.”