U looking to end winless streak against ranked competition

The Gophers are 0-3 against ranked teams so far; No. 8 Michigan is up next.

by Noah Seligman

So far this season Minnesota’s softball team is 0-3 against ranked teams.

This weekend the Gophers (28-17, 7-5 Big Ten) will have an opportunity to end the slide.

After an eight-game home stand, Minnesota treks to Ann Arbor, Mich., to take on eighth-ranked Michigan (40-7, 11-1).

Minnesota coach Lisa Bernstein said her squad will have to execute well and cannot afford to make mistakes against a dominating Michigan team.

“They’re solid; they’re confident,” she said. “They have an air about them.”

That swagger is with good reason. The Wolverines are first in the Big Ten and have won four straight, including 23 of their last 24.

Offensively, Michigan ranks second in the conference in hits and RBIs and third in batting average and runs. The Wolverines are first in home runs – with three of the top four individuals in the long ball category – total bases and slugging percentages.

Not to be outdone, Michigan’s defense has done its share too. The Wolverines have a league best 0.59 ERA and a sparkling .984 fielding percentage which is also tops in the Big Ten.

But despite having lost nine of their last 10 games against Michigan, and the impressive resume the Wolverines boast, the Gophers are sticking to their routine.

“We’re just going to go in and play our game,” freshman Megan Higginbotham said. “We’re not going to change anything. It doesn’t change with ranked teams.”

Minnesota said with the parity in the conference this year – five teams have seven wins or more – nobody is an underdog.

“Anybody can beat anybody,” junior Stephanie Sward said. “That’s the Big Ten this year.”

The Gophers said they are excited about the opportunity to match up with the top team in the conference.

“They’re going to be very good competition,” Bernstein said. “I’m ready to get after it this weekend. This team is not intimidated in any way.”

Rewriting record books

Senior Piper Marten has continued her assault on Minnesota’s record book this season.

The Farmington, N.M., native currently sits either first, or tied for first, in five of eight statistical pitching categories.

“She’s tremendous,” Bernstein said. “She’s stubborn, she’s a competitor. It’s been fun coaching her.”

Last weekend Marten set the record for appearances pitching in all four games to move her career total to 165.

She tied the record for wins on April 16 pitching a three-hit shutout to earn her 84th victory.

Marten moved into first place all-time in innings pitched this season and shutouts. She entered the season first in strikeouts and has padded her lead. Marten is 22 strikeouts away from doubling-up Angie Recknor, who is second on the all-time list with 540 strikeouts.

Marten is 0-4 in her career against Michigan and is expected to start both games this weekend.

Women’s hockey

Minnesota women’s hockey coach Laura Halldorson has announced that forward Whitney Graft from Wayzata, Minn., has been accepted to the University and plans to play for the Gophers next season.

Graft led Wayzata High School to a 21-4-1 overall record and a perfect 11-0-0 in conference play in her senior season. She was named a top 10 finalist for the 2004 Ms. Hockey Award.