This may or may not turn out to be the best Gophers team in history. But one thing is certain. It starts the season higher than any other, No. 14, one spot higher than a year ago.

And it's led by one of the most dominante pitchers in college softball: junior Sara Groenewegen. espnW listed her sixth on its top 25 players in the country.

Groenewegen was the Big Ten player of the year last season when the Gophers finished 49-11 and lost 7-6 in eight innings  to Arizona in an NCAA regional final.

She had a 31-7 record plus two saves, a 1.67 ERA and 379 strikeouts. Oh, yes, she also hit .372 with 12 homers and 44 RBI.

Also returning are three other pitchers, including senior Nikki Anderson who was 10-2 and sophomore Kylke Stober who was 8-2. Their ERAs were nearly identical, 3.36 and 3.35.

Minnesota was an offensive juggernaut last season as well, setting program records in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, runs and homers.

Its winning percentage of .817 was also a program best. That team and the 2014 team both started the season 8-0.

That might be a tough task to duplicate when the Gophers open the season with two games on Friday in the Sporto Kickoff Classic in Las Vegas.

They face Utah Valley (18-41 last year) at 1:15 p.m. at Eller Media Stadium. The Wolverines led the nation in double plays last season. It's the first ever meeting between these two.

Then they play No. 8 Oklahoma at 3:30 p.m. The Sooners are the four-time defending Big 12 champions and are favored in a preseason coaches poll to finish first in the conference again.The Sooners return six of eight all-region players and have an ace in sophomore Paige Parker. She had a 1.65 ERA last season, nine shutouts and 28 wins.

The Gophers lost seven seniors, including two stars, first baseman Kaitlyn Richardson and shortstop Tyler Walker, whose career batting averages were .374 and .356, respectively.

But coach Jessica Allister has 15 returning players, including second baseman Danielle Parlich who hit a team-high .400 as a freshman and was first team all-Big Ten.

Other key players are third baseman Sam Macken and catcher Taylor LeMay.

Macken, a junior, hit .363 with seven homers and 35 RBI. Pretty good numbers, especially for someone who hit first or second.

LeMay, a senior, has started 113 of 116 games behind the plate the past two seasons. She had a .992 fielding percentage last season and didn't make a single error in Big Ten games. She hit .310 overall, .404 in true road games. The Gophers won 20 of those, tying for the national lead.

Another key returning player is senior outfielder Paige Palkovich. She hit .310 last season with six homers and 31 RBI.

The Gophers should be able to score some runs.