Gophers have some voids to fill in the middle of the lineup

Minnesota, however, is confident its speed and veteran pitchers can do the job.

by Mark Heise

Losing more than half of a starting lineup can cause most teams to struggle, but coach Julie Standering said that the Minnesota softball team won’t be having those problems this year.

However, the Gophers did lose a big chunk of their lineup through departing seniors, and as the season begins, they have quite the task to patch up a gaping hole left in the middle of the order.

Minnesota has just one remaining player who hit in the top five slots last year, as junior second baseman Colleen Conway is expected to take over the leadoff slot. Beyond that, the team has quite a few changes.

“We are going to be a different team offensively and we’ll have to attack differently,” Standering said. “But we will be faster on the basepaths and have more contact hitters.”

While the number of home runs is expected to drop, Standering said her team has “double power,” which along with added speed should be enough.

“I think if we can get three runs per game, we should be in good shape,” she said.

Three runs isn’t much, but with juniors Katie Dalen and Briana Hassett anchoring the defense with their pitching, it may get the job done.

Dalen and Hassett will be the only pitchers on staff this season with the departure of Rene Konderik, but both have shown the ability to pitch well, as batters hit just .217 off of Hassett and .257 off Dalen last season.

Junior catcher Shannon Stemper said that the duo should be a big part of the team’s success.

“They’re looking great,” she said. “They’ve got a lot of pop on the ball and a lot of movement. They’ve worked hard in the off-season and that’s going to show.”

Another strength for the Gophers should be their outfield, which didn’t suffer many losses. Standering called the outfield one of the strongest in the conference, and defensively it will be one less question mark for Minnesota.

Senior outfielder Colleen Powers said her team would be in good shape this season, but instead of mentioning anything tangible, she said it would be leadership that would keep the team of 10 underclassmen together.

“I know people are saying we’re young and that’s true, but I think this group of upperclassmen is probably the best group of leaders I’ve experienced here,” Powers said. “I feel like this is the group that will take us the furthest.”

But with holes riddled across the infield, there will be a need for some newcomers to step into a producing position. Senior utility player Amber Nelson may fill the empty position at first base, but the left side of the infield is either unfilled or unproven at this point.

Despite the uncertainties, Stemper still set a high goal, saying she expects her team to finish top five in the Big Ten.

“We’ve got a quick team, we’ve got a young team, we’ve got an explosive team,” she said. “We’re pretty excited about this spring. Personally, I think we can make top five this year.”