The Gophers softball program made national headlines last May when a 54-win team ranked No. 1 in the country failed to garner one of the 16 seeds from the NCAA tournament selection committee.
Many seemed to want Minnesota to prove the committee wrong and go on a run, but that motivation wasn’t enough to get past the regional in Alabama.
A year later, the Big Ten tournament champions are in a familiar spot: unseeded and traveling cross-country to another tough regional.
The road to the program’s first Super Regional since 2014 will require the Gophers (39-15) to play Texas (32-24) on Friday night in Seattle and, assuming host school Washington (44-8) advances, the No. 5-seeded Huskies, the next day. Boise State (40-14) is the fourth team in the double-elimination regional.
“I don’t know if it’s disappointment; I think sometimes you’re surprised,” first-year Gophers coach Jamie Trachsel said about the seeding process. “I know it was a tough year last year for these kids, but this is our year.
“If you have aspirations for the World Series, you’ve got to go through anybody anyway.”
If you caught the highlights of the Gophers’ third consecutive Big Ten tournament title run last week, you know they’re prepared for anything. Instead of a seeding-snub debate, Minnesota received national attention this year for being part of an unusual and quirky eight-hour win against Wisconsin. ESPN’s SportsCenter aired a clip of Gopher players passing time during a helicopter-drying-the-field weather delay dancing to the “Cha Cha Slide.”
The Big Ten tourney showed the U’s perseverance, depth and chemistry. The Gophers had all those qualities last year, too — but they also had a dominant pitcher and a 25-game winning streak going into their NCAA regional.
It’s a different situation this May, but the Gophers have won 19 of 20 to once again inflate postseason expectations.
“Staying confident but keeping your composure,” Tracshel said about some keys to winning Friday. “A big thing is supplying your own energy and being excited. There’s no pressure on us when we go out there.”
Former Gophers coach Jessica Allister (now Stanford’s coach) left Trachsel with offensive firepower in two-time Big Ten Player of the Year Kendyl Lindaman, batting .368 with 19 home runs.
The biggest difference from last season is the absence of Sara Groenewegen, a two-time Big Ten pitcher of the year. Amber Fisher ranked second in the conference with a 1.48 ERA during the regular season, but it was mostly a team effort to make up for Groenewegen’s loss.
“You don’t have a Sara G on the mound — that’s something that’s hard to replace,” Big Ten tournament MVP Maddie Houlihan said. “But I give this pitching staff so much credit for coming out, just being balanced and going right at batters and giving us a chance to win every game.”
• Four Gophers were named to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Great Lakes’ All-Region teams. Fiser and catcher Lindaman made the first team, outfielder Ellee Jensen the second and second baseman MaKenna Partain the third.