When Hope Brandner transferred from Oregon State to Minnesota this past fall, one of the first people she met from the Gophers softball team was All-America catcher Kendyl Lindaman.
Yet their relationship didn’t really start until Brandner could no longer just drop by Lindaman’s apartment. Not without a cross-country flight in-between, anyway.
Within a few months, Lindaman had transferred to Florida in pursuit of better competition in the powerhouse SEC.
Suddenly, the Gophers’ single-season home-run record holder and two-time Big Ten Player of the Year had left the building. And the spotlight swiveled to the big hitter who now looked to have joined the team just in time to step into Lindaman’s shadow.
So Brandner turned to the one person she knew who also experienced leaving a team she loved behind and joining a new one with heavy expectations: Lindaman.
“Just having someone to talk to and just relate to what you’ve been through,” Brandner said, “I think was something that we both needed.”
With that support, Brandner has flourished on her new team. She has started all 50 games for the Gophers, hitting .354 with a team-high 16 home runs and 53 RBI. She’s just four homers away from Lindaman’s single-season record as the Gophers (39-11) prepare for their first Big Ten tournament game Friday in Bloomington, Ind. As the No. 3 seed, they’ll face either No. 6 Rutgers or No. 11 Purdue in the quarterfinals.
Between Brandner and freshman standout Natalie DenHartog (15 homers), the Gophers have filled Lindaman’s power vacuum and then some. The mantra for the squad this year has been about how one player doesn’t define a team, how it should be empowering to play for teammates who want to be there.
Lindaman leads Florida with 14 home runs and 50 RBI and is batting .354 in 54 games.
Brandner obviously does, as the California native chose to uproot her West Coast life to be a starting first baseman in the Midwest. At Oregon State, she led the team in homers (12), RBI (36) and slugging percentage (.530) as a freshman. But under coach Jamie Trachsel and hitting coach Katie Rietkovich, Brandner has evolved her game beyond just being a one-dimensional, home run or bust slugger.
Finding her place on a Gophers team going through some emotional upheaval also took some trial and error, as she felt like she was “disturbing that family.” Her presence in the Minnesota lineup, though, quickly became one of her most important contributions, besides her obvious production.
“To anyone, she’s like, ‘Hey, we got this. Here’s what this kid is doing. That’s what she’s throwing me,’ ” Trachsel said. “She’s so, like, confident in the information and having a plan and making adjustments within the game, within at-bats.”
Junior MaKenna Partain is an Oregon native and said she and Brandner have bonded about their shared love of the Pacific Northwest and wanting to commemorate their time there with tattoos. Partain also said with Brandner and DenHartog behind her in the batting order, she’s never been more confident in the Gophers’ ability to score runs.
“Hope is insane. She smashes the ball,” Partain said. “Honestly, there is not a better transfer we could have got in to come to our program. She has brought this energetic vibe. She’s lively. People want to be around her. She’s full of positivity, and she just makes you feel good. And obviously, she’s a terror on the field.”
Coming to the Gophers, Brandner just did her best to add to a team facing many external doubts about what it could accomplish without Lindaman. She’s succeeded in solidifying herself as a two-way player and diversifying her hitting beyond just home runs, improving her doubles and on-base percentage while slashing her strikeouts.
That spotlight is still on her, but now it’s for no other reason than her own accomplishments.
“She is Hope Brandner, and she doesn’t have to be anyone else,” DenHartog said. “Because what she does is amazing.”