The Gophers softball team entered the weekend 14-0 and one of a handful of teams still undefeated. Minnesota has done this despite not playing a home game yet this year. The Gophers recently cracked the top 10 in national rankings for the first time in their history, and a big reason is freshman MaKenna Partain, who entered the weekend hitting .455. She chatted recently with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand:
Q So you just show up to campus and all of a sudden Minnesota can’t lose?
A Ha, yeah, I guess so. … It’s pretty amazing. You don’t think it would happen coming in your freshman year, but I have a lot of confidence in this team. It’s a great start.
Q Did you have this level of success on your high school team in Oregon?
A Actually, yes. We went to state three of my four years. We won it twice and the other year we finished third.
Q What brought you from Oregon to Minnesota?
A Mainly the coaches. They are mainly what drew me in. I loved how down to earth they were and how they cared about me before softball. That was huge for me. I came here and instantly fell in love with the whole campus and all the players — and the whole atmosphere.
Q It’s been a program on the rise in recent years, with NCAA tournament berths becoming more common. Was that a factor, too?
A For sure. But I also wanted to go to a program where I knew I could make a difference and help work toward getting even better. I didn’t want to go somewhere where the team was already the best. You want to work at it and get there with your team, so that’s another reason I came here.
Q Wow, you’re kind of the anti-Kevin Durant.
A You have to build it up!
Q There have been a lot of firsts with the program lately, including this top-10 ranking. What does that mean to the team?
A I think it means a lot, but we take it with a grain of salt as well. We’re just slowly trying to get better, over time. We want our peak to hopefully be in Oklahoma City [site of the College World Series]. That’s where we want to be. It’s awesome to be in the top 10 and it’s cool to say, but we’re still hungry and we still want to get better.
Q There are a lot of factors in the team’s success so far, but the pitching once again — led by senior Sara Groenewegen — has been huge. What’s it like to play behind her?
A It’s funny because I remember going to watch Minnesota play before I got here and thinking how great it would be to play with someone as amazing as she is. She is unbelievable. You just sit there and think, “She’s going to get a strikeout, so I’m just going to sit here and we’re going to play some ball, and then we’re going to go hit.” We have full confidence in Sara that she’s going to get it done.
Q And you’ve played a big role, too. Just making yourself right at home in the Big Ten?
A I’m just coming in and playing my game. I don’t really get nervous. I just try to play the way I play. It’s kind of working out.