For Piper Ritter, the Gophers were always it.
From playing on the softball team from 2001 to ’04 to joining the coaching staff as an assistant in 2008, Ritter never had fantasies of leaving, sporting different colors. She always knew her place was here. Home.
Through three coaching changes, Ritter has been the constant. And now she is planning on bringing that same stability to the head coach position.
“It’s not a great feeling for [the players] or me as assistant coach, being somewhere that you love [and having coaches leave],” Ritter said. “And I was just like, I’m kind of tired. I really want to go for this.”
The Gophers named Ritter as the next coach Sunday, replacing Jamie Trachsel, who left April 25 for the Mississippi job. Trachsel will make $245,000 per year at Ole Miss, compared to $140,000 at Minnesota.
With the University of Minnesota under a hiring freeze because of COVID-19, the Gophers structured Ritter’s three-year contract so she will make a base salary of $81,600 during the freeze and $150,000 after it’s lifted.
Trachsel led the Gophers to their first Women’s College World Series in 2019, but Ritter added to that success, developing reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Amber Fiser. She has also coached standout pitchers Briana Hassett, Sara Moulton and Sara Groenewegen.
“Piper Ritter is widely regarded as one of the best pitching coaches in the game,” former Gophers coach Jessica Allister said in a statement. “The steady stream of All-American pitchers she has produced over the past seven years speaks for itself.”
Ritter, a New Mexico native, might not hit the field with the Gophers for several more months because of the coronavirus pandemic. But she knows all too well how being patient and waiting for the right moment can be ultimately rewarding.
When coaches Lisa Bernstein and Julie Standering exited after the 2010 season, Ritter was still a new coach and wasn’t ready for the head coaching responsibilities. When Allister left after 2017, she was ready professionally but not personally, with a 6-month-old at home.
“But this time around I thought, this is what this is, I’m here for the long run. I know I am,” Ritter said. “I was ready to take that jump.”
When Ritter learned of Trachsel’s decision, she gathered the team on video chat to let them share their feelings and work through their reactions.
“None of the student-athletes maybe felt as alone because they kind of expected me to be here,” Ritter said. “Whether I was going to be a head coach, they might not have known, but they didn’t ever see me going anywhere.”
Ritter was still surprised how many of her players didn’t seem to have an inkling she would be the next coach. Upon hearing, they were all excited and relieved, comforted that a familiar face would lead them forward.
But not everything is going to be exactly the same. While Ritter will still call pitches in-game and be hands-on when working with pitchers and hitters, she acknowledged she has to keep tabs of every facet now, including budgets and academics. She is looking forward to shaping the program, starting with doing some staff hirings of her own.
“It’s going to be pretty intense, and the girls know it,” Ritter said, suggesting more “efficient” and streamlined practices — with less music.
At least the changes will come from a longtime coach who plans on staying for the long haul.
“I can’t say it’ll be 50 years,” Ritter said. “But this transition, it’s something that I don’t really want the student-athletes to ever have to feel [again].”